Clad in a plain red t-shirt, khaki shorts, and a cap with a “Dan Conley” sticker on its front, Bobby Madden was working “Marty Walsh” country.
On a recent Saturday morning, the 69-year-old Dorchester fixture, who is an investigator in Suffolk District Attorney Conley’s office, made his way up St. Brendan’s Hill with a young assistant district attorney at his side and a list of super-voters in his hand. They were part of a small group of canvassers looking to identify Dorchester supporters of Conley, who is one of the 12 candidates running for mayor.
Madden, who grew up in the area and lives on Gallivan Boulevard, didn’t need the list. The neighborhood is largely made up of families whose breadwinners are police officers, firefighters, and teachers. He knows most of them, and most of them know him.
At the bottom of the hill, Madden walked up to a well-kept home, saying, “Her husband was the fire chief.” Farther down, pointing to one house owned by a police officer, Madden said, “I think he’s out on disability.” Looking at another house owned by a police officer but without a sign in the front yard, Madden paused, and said, “Good cop. I know he’s with Marty Walsh.”
Madden pressed on, Amy Galatis, the assistant DA, in tow on her time. At the intersection of Milton Street and St. Brendan Road, he saw Larry Feeney, the husband of the former City Councillor and now City Clerk Maureen Feeney, heading into their home. On the other side of the intersection, Maura Doyle, the clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court, sat out on her porch with several family members, taking in the cloudless day.
Madden and Galatis had started the morning at the bottom of Milton Street, parking at Florian Hall and walking over to the home of Loretta Philbrick, a super-voter at age 79 who said she hadn’t made up her mind as Madden was handing her some campaign literature. “I know him pretty well,” she said. “I just don’t want to lose him as DA. He’s doing a good job.”
“We get that all the time,” Madden said.
Down the street, another door opened, and Daniel Walsh, 47, stood in its frame. “I’m a Walsh, I’m related to Marty,” he said. “He’s got a lot of relatives,” Madden responded as he strolled off the porch.
A few weekends later in South Boston, Team Conley fared better. It was Labor Day, and the DA joined a group of 12 canvassers – most of them from South Boston – who hit the doors on East Fourth Street, then went up G Street. They split into two teams, on each side of the street, alternating houses as Conley walked along on the sidewalk. The large group seemed unwieldy and unsure of itself at first, but soon hit its stride as they spread out down the streets, knocking on the doors of the densely packed neighborhood. When a canvasser knocked on the door and a “live” voter answered, Conley was called over to make his pitch in person.
“Lots of luck,” urged one elderly woman, who said she was voting for him. “You got my vote,” added another.
The 55-year-old Conley moved into South Boston at age 26 and left four years later. A West Roxbury resident now, he served on the City Council from 1994 to 2002, when he was appointed district attorney.
His campaign appears to be seeking to soften the image of a hard-edged prosecutor. His recent biographical television ad ends with the word “Democrat” below his campaign logo; he is the only candidate to make that distinction. His ads are running on Lifetime, among other channels. At a forum inside Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall in July, Conley sat at a table with voters and stressed that the district attorney’s office was separate from the city’s police department.
In his response to the Reporter’s campaign questionnaire, he refers to himself as a “practical progressive” and stresses his work with domestic violence victims. “I made Boston what one expert termed ‘the national gold standard’ for preventing erroneous convictions through sweeping eyewitness evidence reforms I oversaw, progressive policies on DNA evidence, and innovative use of the Grand Jury,” he wrote.
On his Labor Day visit to South Boston, Conley was joined by former state Rep. Paul Gannon, who door-knocked with the candidate and introduced him to voters. “He’s the only one who’s lived here,” Gannon told two young men who were moving into a first-floor home on G Street. “It’s a great place to live, you’ll find that out,” Conley added, before urging them to register to vote at their new address.
“They trust him,” Gannon, who was elected to the House in the early ‘90s before losing the seat to Stephen Lynch, said as they switched to H Street. “He’s got a good reputation that goes a long way.”
Hours earlier, at Doyle’s Café, a Jamaica Plain pub with political paraphernalia on every wall, several dozen Conley supporters packed the back room, where photos of Mayor Thomas Menino and members of the Kennedy family hang above the tables.
Like several other candidates that day, Conley was unveiling a jobs plan, which included a call for raising the minimum wage as well as strengthening and expanding the Boston Residents Jobs Policy, which asks for certain percentages of city residents and minority workers to be employed on publicly funded construction sites.
But before he launched into highlights from his jobs plan, Conley served up a little red meat for his supporters. “I will tell you already in these last several months, I have met countless people who said, ‘I’m glad I finally met you, I know your friend so-and-so.’ So I know you’re doing it and I ask you to really do it once again in these next 22 days, because this is going to be a sprint,” he told the crowd.
Conley compared it to a 400-yard dash, an analogy he is partial to that because that’s what his son Jim likes to run. “And we are now turning onto that last corner, and we are right there with maybe one or two other runners, shoulder to shoulder,” Conley said, speaking rapidly and his voice rising. “But there’s a real difference: I got a lot more energy in my tank and I’m going to sprint right past them.”