Mayoral candidates start singing their songs

Nine of the candidates aiming to capture the seat Mayor Thomas Menino will be leaving at the end of the year met under a church steeple on Monday night, introducing themselves to voters and honing their talking points.

About 30 people turned out for the low-key forum, put together by the West Roxbury Courthouse Neighborhood Association in Jamaica Plain. The candidates included Dorchester community activist John Barros, Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley, City Councillors At-Large John Connolly and Felix Arroyo, District 5 Councillor Rob Consalvo, former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie and current state Rep. Marty Walsh. The co-founders of the low-frequency TOUCH 106.1 FM radio station who are running for mayor, Charles Clemons and John Laing, also attended.

Connolly, who chairs the Council’s Education Committee, sought to separate himself from the crowd, noting that he was the only councillor to vote against the recent teachers’ contract because he felt it didn’t go far enough. Connolly also pointed to his announcing his candidacy in February, ahead of Menino’s announcement that he would not seek a sixth term.

Conley, who stood up from the table so the crowd could see him better, said he makes “tough decisions each and every day” as the prosecutor for Suffolk County. “If you’re interested in public safety, that is obviously what my background is,” he said.

Golar Richie, who formally announced her entry into the mayoral race last week, billed herself as a “champion for neighborhoods” and pointed to her experience running the Department of Neighborhood Development under Menino. She pledged she would be “building on the success of the Menino administration.”

Arroyo, who was elected to one of the four at-large slots in 2009, touted his proposal for banks to “invest in Boston,” which calls for the city’s money to sit in banks that lend to local small businesses and home buyers and hire Bostonians. Boston is a prosperous city, Arroyo said, and “that prosperity hasn’t reached every neighborhood.”

Barros, who served as executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and on the School Committee before jumping into the race, called for the creation of “platforms for engagement and innovation,” while Walsh said he would “treat every neighborhood the same” as mayor.

After the forum, which lasted almost two hours, Liz O’Connor, co-founder of the civic association, said the candidates sounded polished. “I almost feel like it was a dress rehearsal,” she said, adding that she expects a spirited race – “long, crowded, but great.”

Twenty-four people in total have expressed interest in running for mayor, and many have spent the last week and a half attempting to gather enough signatures to make it onto the ballot. Each campaign needs 3,000 certified signatures from Boston voters.

The fact that two at-large councillors – Arroyo and Connolly – are running for mayor has caused two openings and led to 23 people expressing interest in running. The two incumbents, Ayanna Pressley and Stephen Murphy, are running for reelection.

And out of the incumbent district councillors running for another term, Dorchester’s Frank Baker appears to be the only one not facing an opponent this year – so far.

But Michael Flaherty, the former councillor at-large, is taking another shot at City Hall’s legislative body, after losing the mayor’s race in 2009 and coming in fifth place in a bid to return to his at-large seat in 2011. “I have the experience of working on behalf of all of Boston’s neighborhoods and residents, as well as our local and downtown business communities,” he said in a statement announcing his second City Council bid in two years. “Having that kind of experience on the city council will be more necessary next year than ever, and I look forward to working with the new mayor on the challenges and opportunities we face as a city.”

Kevin McCrea, who also ran for mayor in 2009, has applied for at-large nomination papers, as has Ramon Soto, a top aide to Menino. Althea Garrison, a perennial candidate for public office, has pulled nomination papers for mayor and at-large.

South End resident Jeff Ross, who ran for a state Senate seat in 2007, has formally announced his at-large candidacy.

“I want to continue the development going on in the city, to bring companies here in order to grow the tax base and reduce resident property taxes,” he said. “Small businesses are a big part of the economic engine of our city and they need a champion.”