BOSTON (AP) — The two candidates who emerged from a crowded field as finalists to succeed longtime Mayor Thomas Menino now face the difficult task of winning over an electorate that still seems decidedly uncertain over the city's next generation of leadership.
State Rep. Martin Walsh, a favorite of organized labor, and City Councilor John Connolly, a former teacher who has focused on education in his campaign, were the top vote-getters out of 12 candidates in the preliminary election Tuesday, but with only 18 percent and 17 percent of the vote, respectively, according to unofficial returns. Walsh had 20,838 votes, while Connolly collected 19,420.
The two Democrats have six weeks until the Nov. 5 general election to try to win over the tens of thousands of voters who cast ballots for the other candidates or who sat out the preliminary round altogether.
Menino, the city's longest serving mayor, announced earlier this year he would not seek another term after more than two decades in office. He has battled a series of health problems in recent years.
Many Boston voters had never participated in a mayoral election in which Menino was not on the ballot.
"What makes this election so big and so important is that after two decades of Mayor Thomas Menino, his trusted leadership, we are stepping into a new era," Walsh told supporters late Tuesday night. We recognize the next 20 years will be different from the last — new problems, new opportunities and new challenges."
Walsh, 46, was a union laborer before being elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1997, and has remained active in union affairs while a state lawmaker.
He survived cancer as a 7-year-old boy and overcame alcoholism as a young adult. He has made it a point to mention both struggles in campaign appearances and commercials.
Connolly, the son of former Massachusetts Secretary of State Michael Connolly, joked that he had never been so happy to finish in second place.
The 40-year-old father of three told supporters he grew up in a very different city, one "deeply and bitterly divided along class and race lines," a reference to the aftermath of court-ordered school desegregation in the 1970s.
"I received the best this city had to offer, but I was always mindful that so many in our generation did not," he said.
Connolly was the only candidate who entered the race before Menino announced that he would not run again.
Tuesday's vote assures the city will again have a mayor of Irish-American background. Menino was the city's first Italian-American mayor, ending a streak of Irish-American leaders dating back to the early part of the 20th century.
The results were likely to be a disappointment to some who had hoped that election might produce Boston's first black or Latino mayor. Charlotte Golar Richie, a former state representative who was the only woman in the race and one of five African-American candidates, finished in third place with 14 percent of the vote.
City Councilor Felix Arroyo, the only Latino candidate, finished fifth with 9 percent.
Winning over the support of the unsuccessful candidates and of voters in neighborhoods with large minority populations may well prove the key to success for either Walsh or Connolly in November.