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Candidates hit the streets in close, crowded Boston mayoral race

With no clear winner, many voters are still undecided

Howard Manly
Candidates hit the streets in close, crowded Boston mayoral race
John Barros (R) joined hundreds of Bostonians on Sept. 15, to celebrate his 40th birthday, where jazz artist Bill Banfield played. Danny Glover (L) and former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport (middle) joined Barros in support of his candidacy. (Photo: Travis Watson)

With six days remaining in the hotly contested mayoral race, most of the 12 candidates are touting their abilities to get out the vote on Sept. 24.

At stake is the corner office held by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, an office that he molded over six terms and 20 years to fit his personality as a man of the neighborhoods. Replacing him in a crowded field in an election-fatigued city will require a ground game unseen in recent city elections.

That partly explains why city Councilor Felix Arroyo informed potential voters that he and his campaign volunteers knocked on 4,512 doors over the last weekend, made 5,553 phone calls and, on Sunday alone, attended about a dozen events in Jamaica Plain, East Boston, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Brighton, Roslindale and Chinatown.

“We know we have the best grassroots campaign, the best message and the best candidate,” said Doug Rubin, a political strategist for Arroyo who successfully helped Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren win their improbable campaigns. “With your active support, we can and we will win.” 

The need for a ground game, even in cyberspace, also explains why former health executive Bill Walczak said his campaign ads have been viewed over 115,000 times by online viewers.

“This is a tremendous development for the campaign,” said Darek Barcikowski, Walczak’s campaign manager. “This shows that Bill’s message is resonating and spreading and we definitely feel the momentum.”

Apocryphal or not, what is true is that the 12 candidates are finding themselves scrambling for last-minute endorsements, attending different events across the city and touting their visions for Boston’s future.

State Rep. Marty Walsh went so far as to get out the vote with a “Women for Marty Walsh” kickoff.

Held at Dorchester’s Florian Hall, “Women for Marty Walsh” collected school supplies for local nonprofit Cradles to Crayons and asked kids to make their own Marty Walsh t-shirts and signs, which have been placed on display at Walsh’s Dorchester headquarters.

By all accounts, the mayor’s race is too close to call. According to a recent poll in the Boston Globe, City Councilor John Connolly held a slight edge with 13 percent. A few points behind were former chief of Housing and director of the Department of Neighborhood Development Charlotte Golar Richie, Mass. State Rep. Martin J. Walsh and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley — in that order.

The poll also reported that nine candidates fell within the poll’s margin of error plus, about 4.8 percentage points, giving many — at least in theory — a shot at becoming one of the two top vote-getters who advance to the decisive final election. These include political newcomers John F. Barros, Bill Walczak and City Councilors Arroyo, Rob Consalvo and Michael P. Ross.

The Globe survey found that only one-fourth of likely voters had definitely settled on a candidate. Connolly was the most recognizable candidate in the field and yet still was unknown to 32 percent of respondents.

Given the crowded field and the lack of a stand-out candidate, political observers have suggested that between 20,000 to 25,000 votes will boost a candidate into the final race.

Those numbers are a far cry from Menino’s last election in 2009, in which he earned 63,123 votes to beat challenger Michael Flaherty by about 17,000 votes. But then again, Menino is the only Boston politician who can claim to have met more than half of Boston’s 625,000 residents

Of the 12 candidates, John Barros has quietly emerged as a person to watch. His story has received a fair amount of attention but it merits closer scrutiny. While no one is predicting a Barros victory this time around, some political observers suggest that he has a bright future.

At 17, Barros was the first-ever youth elected to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) Board of Directors. Even as a freshman at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Barros continued to speak up for the needs of young people in Roxbury and Dorchester.

While at Dartmouth, Barros accumulated valuable experience as the President of the African American Society and as a member of the Casque and Gauntlet Senior Society, an organization that “unites those who have strong character and high ideals, encourages members in worthy activities, promotes their mutual welfare and happiness and renders loyal service to Dartmouth College.”

Upon graduation, Barros landed a position at the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies before assuming an even larger role at DSNI, becoming its vice president while simultaneously serving as the vice president of the community land trust Dudley Neighbors, Inc., an organization committed to the development of permanent affordable housing.

Ultimately, Barros would be asked to lead the organization that he first served as a 14-year-old volunteer, becoming DSNI’s executive director following a three-month stint as interim executive director. It is a position that he has held since the 2000, and it ranks highly among the many experiences that he believes will be invaluable should he be elected as the City of Boston’s next mayor.

“I was born and raised in Roxbury,” Barros said during a recent interview with The Banner. “During the height of gang activity back in the 1990’s, I was introduced to DSNI and it was really an eye-opening experience. It showed me how much of a contribution I could make to my neighborhood and to society in general. I think we all have a role to play in improving the communities — the city — that we live in and love.”

Drawing on this multitude of experiences, which also include more than three years on the Boston School Committee, Barros believes that he is a uniquely qualified candidate.

“No other candidate has worked on the breadth of services that I have,” said Barros. “I have deep experience in affordable housing, youth empowerment programming, small business development, education. I’ve managed complex community-revitalization organizations. As mayor, I would take the work that I’ve done and expand it to scale in the neighborhoods of Boston.”

Though well aware of the lower name recognition that he carried into the race against some of the more high-profile mayoral hopefuls, Barros is confident that quality can trump name recognition if given a chance.

“There’s no question that the early polls showed that I didn’t have the name recognition and that Boston voters didn’t know me,” admitted Barros. “What they also showed, however, is that voters haven’t really committed, in many ways, to the candidates who are already holding political office.”