It was just a ribbon-cutting for a playground, the kind of ceremony that happens so often under Mayor Thomas M. Menino that it usually passes without notice. But on Monday, the mayor choked back tears as he marked not only the beginning of a new public space, but the end of an era.
The election Tuesday will usher into power Councilor at Large John R. Connolly or state Representative Martin J. Walsh, both of whom have subtly promised a break from Menino’s rule, by emphasizing a more participatory style of governance or a bolder policy vision.
A new City Council will also be elected, and in East Boston voters will decide whether to host a casino, a development that would forever alter the historic immigrant neighborhood. Revere voters will also cast ballots on the casino.
Both Connolly and Walsh spent the last full day of the race dashing from neighborhood to neighborhood in a furious sprint to lock up as many votes as possible before the polls open.
Connolly sharpened his argument that Walsh will struggle to be an independent broker after receiving so much financial and field support from labor unions. Walsh, who has opened an edge in the polls, avoided directly confronting his rival, promising instead to be attentive to the needs of residents throughout the city.
Both candidates have stepped gingerly around the mayor’s legacy, praising his personal connection with voters, while making it clear they would put their own imprint on the city. Connolly promises a more determined focus on improving schools. Walsh speaks of a less autocratic style of leadership.
“I certainly want to know what’s going on in the city, and I will as mayor,” Walsh said Monday. “But I also think that we’re going to hire people in Cabinet and management positions, that I’m going to put faith in them and trust in them, that they’re going to do a good job.”
As the candidates hopscotched across the city talking about the future of Boston, a wistful, almost somber Menino reflected on his two-decade reign in City Hall.
Head bowed and clutching a cane, Menino become emotional at the naming of a playground in his honor at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown, where he spent several weeks recovering from a battery of ailments last year.
“It’s just a tough day, a tough day,” he said after the unveiling of Mayor Thomas M. Menino Park.
But if the mayor was struggling on the eve of the election, the candidates worked to project a sense of confidence.
“We’ve been working hard every day of this campaign,” Connolly said at the Forest Hills MBTA Station in Jamaica Plain, where he greeted commuters at 7:20 a.m. “And we’re going to win tomorrow.”
Still, he conceded: “This thing is a jump-ball. Every last voter interaction counts.”
Connolly also made stops at a senior center in Mattapan, a Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain, and a shopping plaza in Roxbury, where he gave an impromptu stump speech in a McDonald’s before grabbing a burger and coffee.
When he arrived at the Forest Hills T stop, however, he ran into a group of about 10 Walsh supporters holding signs at every door, a reminder of the large field organization Walsh commands. So Connolly staked out a spot near the entrance, where he extended his hand to riders as they paid their fare.
“How’re you doing, John!” said one man, who quickly shook the candidate’s hand as he jogged to catch a train. “You know you’ve got my vote tomorrow!”
Connolly ended his final day on the trail, in friendly territory, greeting evening shoppers at Roche Bros. in West Roxbury, where he lives.
Through the day, Connolly’s message stayed consistent: His opponent, he said, is a good man whose hands are tied because of the heavy outside spending by labor groups. Connolly’s campaign amplified that attack, blasting out an e-mail with the subject line, “Boston’s not for sale!”
Walsh rejected Connolly’s argument that his campaign is being fueled by a flood of outside support from unions.
“These thousands of volunteers that are supposedly being shipped in from all over the country, I haven’t seen them, and they’re not coming in,” Walsh said. “The people on the ground are my campaign, and we have volunteers from all over the city of Boston.”
He made stops at an elderly housing complex in Roxbury and a strip of shops on Adams Street in Dorchester, the neighborhood where he has lived his entire life.
“This is as home turf as I can get,” he said with a laugh in Greenhills Irish Bakery, as a plate of Irish soda bread was passed around the shop.
Walsh ended the evening standing speaking to a packed audience at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. He was joined by a host of public figures who have endorsed him, as well as by Terry O’Sullivan, who is the general president of the Laborers International Union of North America. Walsh is president of Laborers 223, a chapter of that union.
During a stop at Holgate Apartments in Roxbury, Walsh said he had spoken to Menino by phone on Monday, and had asked him for his vote. But Menino was noncommittal, he said, instead just wishing him luck and telling him he “ran a great campaign.”
Connolly said Monday that he speaks to the mayor often, but has not formally asked him for his vote. Nevertheless, when he was asked by reporters if he thinks Menino will be voting for him on Tuesday, Connolly smirked and said he would love the mayor’s vote.
But Menino has carefully avoided wading into the race to replace him. He has not said whether he will vote Tuesday for Connolly or Walsh. The choice of a new mayor, he said, is not his to influence.
“The case has been made,” he said. “Now, it’s the voters’ turn.”