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Adrian Walker

Tito Jackson kicks off mayoral campaign as champion of those left behind

Tito Jackson, Roxbury City Councilor shook hands with a potential voter moments after announcing his mayoral candidacy at Dudley Square’s Haley House on Thursday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Kicking off his campaign for mayor of Boston, Tito Jackson made one thing clear: He hates the deal that is bringing General Electric to Boston.

He repeatedly pointed to it — one of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s signature accomplishments — as an example of what he sees as the mayor’s penchant for backing the high and mighty at the expense of working families who are being pushed out of the city.

In the process, Jackson revived one of the most durable storylines of Boston politics, the timeless tension between downtown and the neighborhoods. It’s a line of attack every mayor has faced for years.

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Jackson contrasted GE’s treatment with the soaring rents and increasing violence in his district.

“While all of this is occurring in our Boston, another Boston is receiving a $276 million incentive package for General Electric, one of the largest companies in the world,” Jackson said.

“Included in that package is a publicly funded helipad. At a time when members of Mayor Walsh’s administration say that our educational system is costing too much, they are preparing to write checks for a publicly funded helipad for millionaire executives of GE — on our dime.”

Jackson, who has represented Roxbury on the City Council since 2011, is so far Walsh’s only serious challenger in his bid for a second term.

How serious a challenge Jackson can mount may not be clear for months.

But his speech Thursday — which repeatedly invoked the social cost of underfunded schools, gentrification, and income inequality — made his strategy clear.

He is running to be the mayor of those who feel left behind, even as much of the city is booming.

“Folks are struggling to stay in the city — the city they grew up in, have opened businesses in, have gone to school in, have bought property in, have raised their children in. They have invested in this city and now it is abandoning them,” Jackson said.

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Jackson’s announcement drew heavily on his personal story.

Born to a 13-year-old victim of sexual assault, he was adopted by activists Herbert and Rosa Jackson, who raised seven children while serving as foster parents to dozens more.

Jackson, 41, spoke nostalgically of the Roxbury of his youth as he decried the way the city has supposedly lost its shared concern for our common good.

Jackson’s belief that Walsh is beatable rests heavily on the campaign four years ago of John Connolly, who came close to beating Walsh by focusing almost solely on the city’s schools. While Jackson’s solutions are different, he repeatedly accused Walsh of failing Boston Public School students.

The challenge facing Jackson shouldn’t be glossed over.

The first problem is money; by mayoral standards, he has barely any. He thinks he can make up for that through media coverage.

But every underfunded candidate thinks that, and most turn out to be wrong.

Also, Connolly wasn’t running against a sitting mayor. Jackson will have to make a compelling case to kick Walsh out of office.

I wouldn’t say he cleared that bar at his announcement Thursday. Portraying Walsh as out of touch with working people won’t be easy, mainly because it isn’t true.

But while Connolly’s campaign may offer a blueprint of Walsh’s vulnerabilities, Jackson’s real role model is clearly his old boss, former governor Deval Patrick.

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Running as an underdog in 2006, Patrick galvanized throngs of voters who had been written off or taken for granted by conventional thinkers.

For Jackson to stand a chance, he will need a heavy turnout from the 70 percent of registered Boston voters who usually sit out municipal elections.

That’s a daunting challenge, but not impossible.

Jackson’s insurgent bid rests on the idea we are hurtling toward two Bostons: rich and poor, black and white, comfortable and chronically insecure.

There is real truth in that. Jackson is betting that it can be the catalyst for a historic change at City Hall.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist.
He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.