Full city apparatus at work in mayoral campaign






As Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s reelection campaign picked up steam, his administration sent an e-mail newsletter this month to 90,000 subscribers, offering something that only he has the authority to deliver: city jobs.

“The City of Boston is now hiring,’’ said the newsletter, which featured video clips of four black or Hispanic people describing what it feels like to be among the city’s 17,000 employees.

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Boston officials said the release of the “Now hiring” newsletter is part of a rebranding campaign and has nothing to do with politics. But the timing of it — in an election year — places focus on the massive apparatus the mayor has at his disposal to solidify who is the boss of this city.

Boston mayors have traditionally wielded enormous power and influence, political watchers say, putting potential opponents at a disadvantage. By tradition and law, the mayor’s role includes establishing relationships with city councilors, overseeing city employment, appointing people to key committees, and working with the powerful development and business interests of Boston.

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“I do not know of any other mayor who has more power than the mayor of Boston,’’ said Lawrence DiCara, a former city councilor and local political historian.

It’s a story as old as politics in Boston. When Kevin White ruled the city, he created Little City Halls to have a presence in all corners of Boston. His successors Raymond Flynn and Thomas M. Menino
perfected and expanded White’s idea through the Office of Neighborhood Services, and Walsh has refined it even more, said Michael McCormack, a former city councilor and Boston attorney.

“Essentially, these are full-time . . . political operations,’’ McCormack said. “It’s not like Marty Walsh revived his campaign recently. His campaign has been moving like a 12-cylinder Cadillac for a long time.”

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After he took office, Walsh launched coffee hours and “Mondays with Marty” community talks to hear from residents across the city. The mayor selected John Laadt, director of the city’s 311 call center — the hub for constituent complaints, and someone with a crucial understanding of street-level concerns — as his campaign manager. The mayor said Laadt, who had worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, only served a short time in that role for the city.

The mayor has also taken steps to make allies out of his onetime rivals. Indeed, three of Walsh’s 2013 competitors are members of his administration: John Barros, chief of economic development; Felix G. Arroyo, chief of health and human services; and Rob Consalvo, chief of staff to Superintendent Tommy Chang.

The husband of Councilor Ayanna Pressley is an aide in the Walsh administration. Pressley is an ally of Walsh’s top opponent in the mayor’s race, Councilor Tito Jackson.

Walsh, in an interview before a Wednesday event, said he has not done anything differently this year than in previous years leading the city. Any suggestions that his or his administration’s actions have been politically motivated is “not a fair assessment,’’ he said.

“I mean everything I do is going to be deemed as politics. The scrutiny has to be on both sides,’’ said Walsh, in an apparent reference to Jackson, whom he did not mention by name.

Walsh has been especially successful in making allies within the City Council, which, like any legislative body, can serve to check and balance the authority of the executive branch.

Aside from a few dissenters, the council has largely backed the mayor. The council did not launch a hearing after the IndyCar bid imploded, or press the Walsh administration on why it spent nearly $2 million in legal fees on a failed casino fight. When two city aides were arrested in a federal investigation, none of the councilors called for hearings. Only Jackson later asked the mayor to “come clean” about the probe.

Walsh has been campaigning with the councilors. He was the special guest at Councilor Timothy McCarthy’s campaign kickoff at the Fairmount Grille in Hyde Park on May 7. The appearance followed Walsh’s announcement last month that his administration was investing $1.4 million to improve safety and traffic conditions in McCarthy’s neighborhood of Readville.

McCarthy said in an e-mail that he did not know Walsh before they were both elected, but they have become “great friends.”

“I reject this notion that being an effective check and balance on the mayor requires councilors to be constantly negative and critical,” he wrote.

McCarthy’s colleagues, Annissa Essaibi-George, Mark Ciommo, Salvatore LaMattina, and Frank Baker, a longtime friend of Walsh, were collecting campaign signatures for Walsh one weekend this month, according to pictures posted on Twitter with the hashtag #TeamWalsh.

“I am going to work hard in my neighborhoods to get him reelected,’’ said LaMattina, who acknowledged that he has not opposed any of the mayor’s initiatives over the past three years.

Walsh was also a key guest at Essaibi-George’s birthday fund-raiser in December. The two grew up on the same Dorchester block and share supporters, she said.

“I would not characterize myself as being in the pocket of the mayor,’’ said Essaibi-George, who voted against Walsh’s school budget last year. “I would say that I am a longtime friend of the mayor who is very happy and proud to have a constructive and productive relationship with the mayor.”

At a fund-raiser Sunday, Councilor Matt O’Malley heaped praise on the mayor at the Irish Social Club of Boston in West Roxbury.

“I am proud to stand here and support his reelection,” said O’Malley, who had backed Walsh’s opponent in the 2013 general election.

Walsh said he is “honored” to have the support of the councilors and pushed back at suggestions that he was too cozy with them.

“Just because somebody is a councilor doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to support somebody for mayor,’’ Walsh said.

But McCormack said the coziness between mayors and councilors can appear unsettling. “It certainly has evolved into a mayor and a city council where the checks and balances are not as strong perhaps as they should be,’’ he said.

Prior to his defeat, former councilor Charles Yancey stood out as the most vocal voice of opposition on the council. Jackson has since emerged as a chief Walsh critic on such issues as education and the failed Olympics bid.

Still, Jackson’s supporters pointed out that a day after the councilor entered the race, the city’s corporation counsel Eugene O’Flaherty sent out an e-mail Jan. 13 reminding city workers that they were forbidden from using public resources for campaign purposes or to campaign for a candidate on city time.

The “Now hiring” e-mail on May 12 also raised eyebrows, since it highlighted only people of color, triggering questions about whether the Walsh administration — which initially faced criticism for slow progress on diversity — was enticing minorities with jobs in an election year.

“It is interesting that his administration is putting out this e-mail in the middle of his reelection campaign,’’ said Ron Bell, a Jackson adviser, who added that he supports jobs for residents. “It’s like he’s trying to buy votes.”

City officials rejected that assertion, saying the revamped jobs site was a year in the works. The mayor said he was not aware of the e-mail, but said it is not being used as a political tool.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

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