^ “the next mayor has to come in dedicated to bridging the equity gap” — John Connolly speaking at a huge rally in Jamaica Plain tonight

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NOTE : Here and Sphere has endorsed John Connolly for Mayor. I’ve done my best to be objective in this report. You decide.

Two weeks ago, as Marty Walsh struggled to become something other than “the union giuy” and as John Connolly began to amass a large and diverse war chest of people and money, it looked as if the November result would be not close. The prospect looks different now. Walsh found a way to change the conversation — instead of “the union guy” he is now “the progressive tribune of workers’ rights” — and four major Boston politicians of color (three of them former Mayor candidates) have endorsed him, with more such to come soon. Which has forced Connolly to change HIS conversation too.

Until Walsh’s change began to show itself, Connolly had been “the education candidate.” As Boston public schools are by far the largest and most expensive city function, and as there are some 57,000 Boston Public School parents, being “the education candidate” seemed a shrewd choice. It was. It got him into the November Final. But being the education candidate is no longer big enough, and Connolly has had to expand his message hugely.

It has taken him two weeks to do so. I think that he has been stunned, after all the years of bold outreach to Black Bostonians (less apparently so to Boston’s Hispanics), to watch as one after another Black politician endorses his opponent. Yes, his campaign kept on reaping that outreach; yes, it has won him many endorsements by Black religious leaders and by some political action committees. In particular, almost the entire campaign apparatus of Charlotte Golar-Richie joined his campaign, and some supporters of John Barros as well, even a few supporters of Felix Arroyo. But his campaign to Boston’s communities of color has proved much harder than seemed likely a month ago, and Connolly has had to change his approach. I think this has saddened him; one hears it in his remarks. I don’t think he is happy to compass winning by the votes of upscale white people. It’s not what he spent years preparing to be.

as he worked to speak to the changed electoral landscape, Connolly’s speeches stayed close to the education theme. But then came the big break-through : almost the entire leadership of Boston’s “Italian” wards came aboard his campaign. And though the endorsers talked not about issues specific to their neighborhoods — no bread and butter city administration stuff — but about better schools, in speeches that often sounded canned, a smile returned to Connolly’s cheeks and an excitement to his voice.

The endorsements of Connolly by Councillor Marc Ciommo, former Councilo candidate Philip Frattaroli, State Senator Sal DiDomenico, former Councillor Paul Scapicchio, North End State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, and — most importantly of all — by Councillor Sal LaMattina (East Boston State Representative Carlo Basile had early on joined the Connolly side) strengthened Connolly’s hand considerably. He was no longer just the candidate of mostly white young techies and concerned publiic school moms. News came of a fundraiser hosted by said Carlo Basile at which, it was said, $ 100,000 was donated to the Connolly brand. At the same time another fundraiser, by Roslindale real estate developer Vinnie Marino — said to be very close to Mayor Menino — raised yet further funds, and it was announced that Connolly had imbibed a whopping $ 610,000 total during the two weeks just ended.

This turned many heads. What the turned heads now s aw — and heard — was a Connolly on wide angle. Jobs — he said “careers” — safe neighborhoods, all of us connected to one an other, it was all part of his new speech. In the First Debate, on Tuesday night, the new, confident, bold Connolly was on full display as, in a voice pitched high and somewhat melodic — his passion voice =– he spoke of education, certainly ( and often ) but even more masterfully about city finances, revenue, union contracts, and budgets. Suddenly listeners saw not “the education mayor” but the Master of City Money. At many turns in the city finances discussion he had Walsh on the ropes.

This was a surprise to me — probably to many. At numerous Mayor Forums and at “Mondays with Marty” I had heard Walsh speak authoritatively about many city issues and, of course, State House legislation. Less so at the First Debate. He seemed cautious — as well he might be after Connolly’s revelation of a bill that Walsh has filed, five times, to take away from City Councils the power to review labor arbitrators’ contract awards. For that revelation has been at least as significant in moving Connolly beyond being a mere “education Mayor” as any other move he has made or that has been made on his behalf. At the Debate, Walsh could not escape its implications. the mire that moderator Jon Keller asked city budget questions, the ,more that Walsh’ s union-friendly legislation came to mind.

But at street level, Connolly’s attack on Walsh’s labor legislation has opened him to accusations by Walsh supporters that he is “not a progressive,” maybe even a “Mitt Romney in Robert Kennedy words,” as one notable Walsh spokesman said. That the attack has hurt was seen tonight when, at a huge rally in Jamaica plain, Connolly said “I’m sick of being told I’m not a progressive ! Giving a good education to every child in the city, that IS progressive !”

It was a superb speech, the best i have heard Connolly give. He spoke of careers; of “bridging the equity gap”; of the City being “two different cities, one safe, one unsafe.” He made fun of himself. He talked of his teaching career (“despite what you see about me on the internet, yes, I was a teacher,” he grinned.) He talked of restaurants and liquor licenses; of streamlining the city bureaucracy; and, yes, of school reform in all its details including, pointedly, a longer school day. The crowd cheered him; cheered each of his points — and well they ought, because he stated them with a clarity I had yet to hear him bring so much of. He sounded less the slogan-eer, more like… a Mayor. It was a speech just that commanding, pitched perfectly at his fan base of upscale young urbanites and concerned school parents.


^ the Mayor of upscale young urbanites and concerned school parents greets his voters at tonight’s Jamiaca Plain rally

This speech, along with his campaign tactics talks (brimming with insight and laughs) to supporters at donation gatherings, bring Connolly a conversation changed utterly. It’s big presence, a podium persona. Can Walsh raise his game to this level ? we shall soon find out.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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