Boston’s first open race for mayor in a generation has yet to attract a candidate from the ranks of business, an executive in the mold of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg who could tap a vast fortune to finance a bid for City Hall.
As in baseball, Boston plays a different game than New York when it comes to politics, a house-to-house shoe-leather contest that can make the Hub of the Universe seem like a small town. Mayoral candidates here can expect to spend muggy days in August pounding on the doors of triple-deckers, pitching their candidacy to any voter willing to listen.
“This isn’t New York. It’s not an air war. It’s not something where you can do this gigantic media buy,” former city councilor John M. Tobin Jr. said. “It’s expected you’re knocking on doors.”
There are executives weighing a run, and a candidate may materialize in the next few weeks, according to John F. Fish, chief executive of Suffolk Construction Co. Fish declined to identify potential candidates but said he would not enter the race.
But political observers and corporate executives say Boston voters may not necessarily be looking for a candidate to emerge from a downtown boardroom — someone, say, in the mold of former advertising mogul Jack Connors. And business leaders may be comfortable with many of the candidates who hail from Boston’s political class.
“The city works. You don’t need a Jack Connors or a John Fish to come in on a white horse and be the business candidate,” said Kevin Phelan, an executive with the real estate firm Colliers International. “I think we’re trying to create a Mike Bloomberg or [former Los Angeles mayor] Richard Reardon, but I’m not sure that exists here.”
One potential candidate with a business background is Bill Walczak, a founder of the Codman Square Health Center, who said in an interview that he planned to meet Saturday with advisers to ask tough questions about whether he could run a successful bid for mayor. Walczak’s business savvy was earned in the city’s neighborhoods, not in downtown salons.
Over 30 years, Walczak built a base anchored in Dorchester, starting as a probation officer in 1976. He cofounded the Codman Square Health Center in 1980, and as chief executive officer, used it as a vehicle to revitalize the neighborhood. He traveled in business circles as he raised more than $70 million for the health center, which eventually came to employ more than 300.
Walczak is president and cofounder of the Codman Academy Charter Public School, and from 2011 to 2012 served as president of Carney Hospital, part of the Steward Health Care System. He is now vice president at Shawmut Design and Construction, where he represents the company before government and community groups. Now, he said, he would like to do more.
“The ability of the mayor of Boston to get things accomplished and improve the quality of life in the city is enormous,” Walczak said Friday. “This is something that comes along once in a generation and the opportunity has to be looked at seriously.”
Four elected officials have already entered the race: Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley; city councilors John R. Connolly and Rob Consalvo; and state Representative Martin J. Walsh. Two other candidates — Will Dorcena and Charles Clemons — have also said they are running. Several other people have said publicly they are considering a campaign.
On Friday, Conley addressed the 265 employees of the district attorney’s office to explain why he launched his bid earlier this week. “We serve people who have no one else to speak for them,” Conley said. “I decided to make this run for mayor because I hope that we can carry our cause and theirs beyond the justice system and into the realms like economic opportunity, housing, education, and more.”
Conley asked his staff to pay careful attention to the laws governing employees’ involvement in political activity and said he would not accept political donations from staff at the district attorney’s office.
The race to succeed Mayor Thomas M. Menino is only a week old. Candidates have until May 13 to file for nomination papers, the first step in getting on the ballot for the Sept. 24 preliminary election. The top two vote-getters will face off Nov. 5.
“There is still time to get into the race and for the business community, there is going to be time to assess the candidates,” said Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
For the preliminary election, at least a half-dozen candidates appear likely to battle over the 100,000-plus voters expected to turn out. That may mean a candidate who garners 20,000 votes — the equivalent of a small town — may be catapulted into the final round.
“Right now, I think people need to take a deep breath and allow this campaign to develop a little,” said Fish, of Suffolk Construction. “The more it develops, the stronger the conversation is going to be.
“It’s going to get better with time,” Fish said. “Like wine.”