Boston Winnows Field to Replace Long-Serving Mayor Menino

Massachusetts state Representative Martin J. Walsh and City Councilor John R. Connolly beat out 10 other candidates yesterday in the race to replace Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the city’s longest-serving chief executive.

Walsh, 46, captured 18.5 percent of the vote in a preliminary round, according to unofficial city results. Connolly, 40, had 17.2 percent. The two Democrats will compete for the city’s top post in a Nov. 5 final election.

“This is a race about who we are -- about values, and about whether Boston will be a city for all its people, in every neighborhood,” Walsh said in a prepared statement.

Connolly, speaking at his election-night party at Hibernian Hall in the city’s Roxbury neighborhood, said: “This city never stands as tall as when we stand together.”

“We face a daunting equity gap that threatens to undermine our future,” Connolly said.

The men emerged from a field of 12 who sought to succeed Menino, 70, in Boston’s first open mayoral election in two decades. During the campaign to lead New England’s largest city, few divisive issues took center stage in what Menino described as “a popularity show” that included pick-up basketball games between candidates and some defending others during debates.

“The race will definitely be a little more acrimonious,” said Conor Yunits, a Democratic political strategist at the Liberty Square Group, a Boston-based consulting firm. “We will have two people with a really good shot at being the next mayor.”

Fundraising Surge

There will also be a surge in fundraising and both candidates will rush to sew up endorsements and support from the losers, Yunits said.

Walsh, a Boston College graduate and former union leader, won with the help of organized labor. That support helped him turn out voters yesterday yet also opened him to criticism from opponents that he would be beholden to unions as mayor.

Connolly distinguished himself as the first to get in the race -- seeking the office before it was clear that Menino wouldn’t run again. A Harvard University graduate, he stressed improving the city’s education system on the hustings.

The Boston mayoral contest is nonpartisan, though 11 of the candidates who ran in the preliminary election are Democrats. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans about 8-to-1 in the city, while 38 percent of voters are independents.

Popular Mayor

Menino, who struggled with health issues in the past year, tossed the post up for grabs in March by saying he wouldn’t seek a sixth term. The mayor had a 74 percent approval rating from city voters at the time, according to a survey for the Boston Globe. A Suffolk University poll released last week said 79 percent of likely voters had a favorable view of him.

As Boston’s first mayor of Italian-American descent, Menino has overseen an era when the city became safer, better-educated and more diverse. He pays close attention to neighborhoods, keeping a punishing public schedule and spending so much time at community events that polls show more than half of Bostonians have met him at least once.

In 1993, Menino, then the City Council president, became acting mayor to replace Ray Flynn, who had been named ambassador to the Vatican. Menino won the post in the 1993 municipal elections and has faced few serious challenges for the office since then.

Changing Metropolis

During Menino’s tenure, Boston’s homicide rate dropped to 10 per 100,000 residents in 2011 from 25 per 100,000 in 1990, according to FBI crime data. Meanwhile the share of residents with a bachelor’s degree or more rose to 43 percent in 2010 from 30 percent in 1990, U.S. Census Bureau data show.

Income levels grew to about $33,200 per capita in 2010 from an inflation-adjusted $27,400 in 1989, according to Census figures. By 2010, 53 percent of the population were members of a minority group, while 47 percent were white, down from 63 percent in 1990.

Menino, who carefully guided downtown development, left a lasting legacy along the South Boston waterfront, where a new federal courthouse anchored the spread of office and condominium towers on what was once a swath of parking lots and warehouses frequented by convicted murderer James “Whitey” Bulger and his gang. Now the so-called Seaport District features the award-winning Institute of Contemporary Art and a convention center.

Rising Demand

Office vacancy rates fell to less than 10 percent early this year for the first time since 2009, spurring renewed construction activity, the Globe has reported. The median sale price of a single-family home downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods soared to $1.9 million last year from $500,000 in 1990, according to the Warren Group, a Boston-based real estate research firm.

Still, the city faces challenges. Among Boston’s almost 637,000 residents, 21 percent live in poverty, compared with 11 percent statewide and 19 percent in 1989, Census figures show. Standardized test scores in city schools lag behind state averages. Lack of affordable housing and an aging transit system are two issues that repeatedly arose during the campaign.

One of the new mayor’s first actions will be appointing a police commissioner. On Sept. 22, Ed Davis, who steered the city though the Boston Marathon bombings, told Menino he would step down after seven years on the job.

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