Schools will be focus of his campaign, says Connolly

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Feb. 27, 2013

City Councillor John Connolly and his wife Meg at his announcement on Tuesday. Connolly for Boston imageCity Councillor John Connolly and his wife Meg at his announcement on Tuesday. Connolly for Boston image

John Connolly didn’t get much sleep on Monday night. A few hours, tops.

On Tuesday morning, before driving to Brighton for the announcement of his mayoral bid, the 39-year-old city councillor at-large drove his kids to school and then headed back to his West Roxbury home to practice the speech in front of his wife, Meg. Then, shortly after 10 a.m., with about 30 Boston parents behind him outside of Brighton High School, Connolly took the plunge, becoming the first heavyweight to enter in this year’s race for mayor and opening up one of the four at-large seats on the council.

While Mayor Thomas Menino has not publicly declared whether or not he’ll be seeking a sixth term, Connolly was frequently pressed throughout the day on his thoughts on the longtime occupant of City Hall’s top job.

“Listen, he’s absolutely up to the job, we know that,” Connolly said when asked about the mayor’s age and a pair of lengthy hospital stays last year. “His commitment to the city is unquestionable. It’s impossible not to love the guy. His heart and soul is in it.”

Should the mayor run? “That’s up to him,” he told another reporter.

Sharman Sacchetti, a television reporter with Fox 25, pointed to previous challengers: Peggy Davis-Mullen, Maura Hennigan, and Michael Flaherty all were handily defeated. “Look at the last three people who challenged him,” she said. “Nobody even remembers their names.”

“If I really came from the political establishment, I don’t know if I’d be making this run,” Connolly responded. “So this is really about my heart telling me we’ve got to have a debate about our schools and we’ve got to have a debate about the city’s future.”

Connolly acknowledged that he grew up “in politics.” His father, Michael, is a former secretary of state and his mother, Lynda, is stepping down as chief justice of the district court system in March.

Menino was asked about Connolly’s possible candidacy last week before he spoke at a youth rally at Faneuil Hall for summer jobs. “No, I have no thoughts about that at all. I’m just doing my job,” Menino told reporters.

Connolly, who has been spent the last few months building up his campaign kitty as the mayor’s fundraising efforts have slowed, said Tuesday that he had called Menino in the morning, leaving him a message about his announcement. The mayor called him back in the early afternoon and they had a cordial conversation, Connolly said in television interviews on Tuesday night.

“He said that he thought that we would have fun and focus on, you know, all the issues and I very much said the same thing,” Connolly said on WGBH’s “Greater Boston.”

When the host, Emily Rooney, pressed him on whether he had any sense that Menino would be running again, Connolly said, “I don’t know. With him, you know, the conversation certainly would indicate that. But I’ll just say this: I mean, I don’t think he’s going to let us know anytime soon.”

Connolly, a former middle school teacher who joined the City Council in 2007 and chairs the Education Committee, said he would focus his campaign on the city’s school system. One of his mayoral campaign slogans on the website that was launched on Tuesday is “Our Future Starts With Our Schools.”

About 30 supporters were in Brighton for Connolly’s announcement. “Brighton High School is emblematic of the fallout from a deep failure of leadership that has left us with a $500 million hole on needed repairs and maintenance across our schools,” said Connolly, who has frequently used his perch as Education Committee chair to critique the school system.

School officials have pointed to improvements, such as a recent switch to a funding formula focused on students, and an increase in the graduation rate.

Connolly said he plans a “bottom-up” campaign with an “army of moms and dads” and with a community organizer’s mindset, similar to President Obama’s campaign for the White House.

“It’s not going to resemble machine politics,” he said.