2 incumbents top a diverse council slate

At-large field winnowed to 8; Voters rely on known names

Volunteer John Nickulas and his dog, Chloe, gladhanded for incumbent Councilor John Connolly in South Boston yesterday. Volunteer John Nickulas and his dog, Chloe, gladhanded for incumbent Councilor John Connolly in South Boston yesterday. (Wendy Maeda/ Globe Staff)
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / September 23, 2009

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On Monday night, City Councilor John R. Connolly welcomed his first son into the world. Yesterday the proud dad slipped out of the hospital briefly to vote for himself and celebrate a first-place finish in a deep, diverse, and experienced field of 15 candidates vying for at-large seats.

“This is a two-day whirlwind for me,’’ Connolly said late last night in a phone interview from a campaign party in Roslindale, after leading the field with 35,115 votes. “The early returns were my son Teddy, which was all I needed to make my day. . . . Then to have this happen is the cherry on top.’’

Connolly and fellow incumbent Stephen J. Murphy claimed the top two spots as voters in yesterday’s preliminary election narrowed the field to eight for the general election Nov. 3, when they will choose the four at-large councilors who represent all of Boston.

The others who made the top eight are Ayanna S. Pressley, a key aide to Senator John F. Kerry; Tito Jackson, a job-creation official in Governor Deval Patrick’s administration; Andrew P. Kenneally, a former City Hall and congressional staffer; former Nantucket selectman Doug Bennett; and community organizers Tomas Gonzalez and Felix G. Arroyo.

In one of three contested preliminary races for district councilor, incumbent Chuck Turner easily led a four-candidate field in his bid to retain the seat covering Roxbury and parts of the South End, Fenway, and Dorchester - less than a year after his arrest on federal charges that he accepted a $1,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent. His case is pending.

In the at-large race, two of the eight finalists are Latino and two are African-American, including one woman, making it the most diverse pool ever in Boston.

The finalists edged a group of contenders that included a former MBTA executive, a classically trained conductor, and a couple of experienced community organizers - an unusually large and experienced pool that contributed to a turnout of more than 81,000 voters yesterday, the highest level the city has seen in years. In 2007, only nine candidates ran for the at-large seats, prompting the city to cancel the preliminary altogether.

Pressley, finishing fourth as a first-time candidate, praised the field for its ethnic and cultural diversity and called it noteworthy “not only in numbers but in skill set.’’

The lone woman in the race, she built on contacts she amassed through Kerry’s links to city, state, and federal officeholders.

“I’m absolutely overwhelmed,’’ she said last night by phone from a celebration in Dorchester. “Overwhelmed and grateful.’’

Arroyo, a community and labor organizer and the son of former at-large councilor Felix D. Arroyo, finished a strong third yesterday, nearly 9,000 votes ahead of Pressley.

Kenneally, who spent 10 years as an aide in Congress and to multiple city councilors before entering the private sector last year as a consultant, placed fifth. Jackson, a Grove Hall native who now serves as director for the information-technology sector in the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, finished sixth.

Bennett, a former Nantucket selectman and onetime Republican candidate for state Senate, placed seventh, just two years after moving to Boston. Bennett’s candidacy was a testament to persistence in a contest that competed for attention with the four-way mayoral race and a high-profile race to fill the Senate seat of Edward M. Kennedy.

Bennett, who launched his campaign nearly a year-and-a-half ago, said he knocked on more than 80,000 doors and distributed more than 3,000 signs. But even he sounded stunned by the results.

“The fact that I was able to grow a base that fast . . . that’s like the biggest story of the night,’’ Bennett said in an interview while en route to the Hong Kong bar downtown to celebrate.

Gonzalez, a former Latino liaison for Mayor Thomas M. Menino and former chief of staff for the city’s Elderly Commission, edged Ego Ezedi for the eighth and final spot. Gonzalez received 10,108 votes. Ezedi, who took a leave from his role as executive director of the Roxbury YMCA to run, collected 9,245 votes.

Hiep Q. Nguyen, a 27-year-old Vietnamese immigrant and certified public accountant, finished 10th.

In other district races, City Councilor Mark S. Ciommo and challenger Alex Selvig emerged from a four-way field in the race to represent Allston-Brighton. In District 1, covering East Boston, the North End, and Charlestown, incumbent Salvatore LaMattina cruised to first in a three-way field, and will face Chris Kulikoski in the final.

Yesterday’s vote capped weeks of campaigning by the large field - walking the neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and working phones and the Internet. The candidates packed into multiple forums around the city, put fliers under windshield wipers on cars parked in key neighborhoods, and touted their endorsements from organized labor and other influential figures.

Connolly, a Harvard-educated former teacher and lawyer, campaigned for a second term under the banner “One Boston’’ - working for safer streets, stronger schools, and greener neighborhoods.

He spent much of the final weeks of the campaign with his BlackBerry at the ready, waiting for the fateful buzz that would signal to him that his wife, Boston College doctoral student Meg Kassakian Connolly, had gone into labor.

On the eve of the election, she gave birth to their second child: Edward Ronan Connolly, weighing 7 pounds, 9 ounces. “Both Mom and Teddy are doing great!’’ he tweeted on his campaign’s Twitter feed, just before midnight.