Changing of the Guard

November, 5, 2013, BOSTON- Pamela Carver (left), a scheduler for Martin Walsh, reacts after Walsh is elected as the mayor of Boston.(KIva Kuan Liu/BU News Service)
November, 5, 2013, BOSTON- Pamela Carver (left), a scheduler for Martin Walsh, reacts after Walsh is elected as the mayor of Boston.(KIva Kuan Liu/BU News Service)

By Brittany Comak and Paula Sokolska
BU News Service

State Representative Martin J. Walsh emerged victorious in Tuesday’s Boston mayoral election, defeating City Councilor John R. Connolly and claiming 51.55 percent of votes, according to unofficial results from the Boston Election Department.

“Together we’re going to make Boston even stronger,” said Walsh in his victory speech.

Walsh will replace Boston’s current mayor, Thomas Menino, who is leaving office with an 82 percent approval rating, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Herald survey conducted last July. Menino boasts a 20-year legacy in which his administration experienced no scandals, ushered in a series of progressive measures like Greenovate Boston and Boston Bikes, and most recently coordinated the massive response effort to the Boston Marathon Bombings. Menino is the city’s longest serving mayor, having held office since 1993.

Bostonians were ready for the change, as 51 percent of registered Boston voters expressed the desire for a mayor with a “different style,” the same study cited. Menino’s decision to not seek re-election ignited a crowded preliminary race of 12 possible contenders. Walsh led the preliminary election with Connolly at a close second, and the two advanced.

Voter turnout for Tuesday’s election reached 40.19 percent, the Election Department unofficially reported.

Outside of the James F. Condon Elementary School in South Boston, a polling station for ward 6, precincts 1, 2, and 3, a steady stream of voters filed through a courtyard littered with discarded pamphlets and candidate stickers to cast their ballots at the end of the work day.

A black pickup truck cruised down West Broadway promoting Walsh for Mayor over a stereo system in its trunk. Canvassers for both candidates could hear its muffled advertisements, as they stood in the cool night air appealing to residents in a last effort to sway votes.

“It was a hard decision,” said Anna McGrath, a teacher who voted for Connolly. McGrath expressed frustrations over the lack of diversity in the candidates’ platforms. When asked how she made her decision McGrath said, “I think it comes down to the feeling that you have.”

Faced with a choice between nearly identical platforms, McGrath and other voters turned to gut feelings and intuition in their decision making. “Unable to distinguish themselves on the issues, City Councilor John Connolly and state Rep. Marty Walsh turned to biography,” noted a recent WBUR article after the candidates’ final debate. However, even on this personal front, voters found little difference between the candidates.

“They’re both white guys with Irish last names,” said Mike Phippen, 34, a recent law school graduate who voted for Walsh.

The lack of diversity that frustrated Phippen was evident in the candidate’s stances on major city issues. Their only explicit contention was in regards to the mayor’s term length. Connolly expressed support of a restriction, Walsh did not, according to a infographic comparing their platforms.

“I thought it was very difficult to distinguish between the two, and that I found disappointing,” said Phippen.

But the mood at the Walsh headquarters at the Park Plaza was jubilant as the newly elected mayor assured voters of his commitment to move the city forward.

“Stand with me, because I’m ready to stand and work with you,” he said. “If we set our sights high, then Boston, I promise you, the best is yet to come.”