Politics as Unusual: Look who’s filling the mayoral campaign war chests

June 12, 2013
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It’s both sad and typical that candidates with fat pockets are always considered frontrunners, both in the current sprint for Boston City Hall and in any other race. More often than not, those sitting on the tallest money piles are the most likely to do damage in the name of despicable private interests, from major mortgage lenders, to polluters and defense contractors. Take, for example, virtually every Republican in the House of Representatives, not to mention an alarming number of Democrats.

While it’s unfortunate that finances often translate to electoral dominance, it’s also silly to take a candidate for mayor seriously if he or she has yet to raise much dough at all. Though hardly New York or Chicago, Boston has too big of an electorate to reach with a ragtag squad of old friends and homemade placards. Considering that reality, I thought to peruse the Office of Campaign and Political Finance’s excellent website, and put a microscope on the finances of all eight candidates who have more than 50 grand on hand. Politicians generally are what they eat, so if money must be a determining factor, then it’s important to acknowledge who’s feeding them.

With just a sliver over $51,000 in the bank, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Executive Director John Barros has the least out of all competitors with mentionable means. Look a bit closer, however, and $20,000 of that came from his own pocket, with family members chipping in here and there. Bill Walczak is in a similar position, with the Codman Square Health Center co-founder turned Shawmut Design and Construction vice-president contributing more than a third of the $127,000 that he’s raised.

With a family reputation for fighting against odds, City Councilor-At-Large Felix G. Arroyo appears to be hitting out of his campaign finance bracket. While he only has about $128,000, the Jamaica Plain resident has garnered support the old-fashioned way, luring the likes of individual teachers, City workers, and attorneys. He’s also ensured that Boston Herald columnist and Whitey Bulger publicist Howie Carr won’t be backing him, as Arroyo has pocketed union funds from his old pals at the SEIU, among others. District Councilor Rob Consalvo fares about the same, with $135,000 on hand, and recent jolts coming from City workers, cops, various Washington, D.C. firms, and a spattering of lawyers, from the U.S. Attorney’s office to major Boston firms like Foley Hoag.

As usual, lawyers have instrumentally bolstered the bankrolls of nearly every candidate in this race, and especially those boasting the most robust coffers. State Rep. Marty Walsh, who currently has about $378,000, has taken in excess of $18,000 from attorneys this year. District Councilor Mike Ross, who has $75,000 more than Walsh under his mattress, has also gorged on barrister cash, much of which came from Prince Lobel Tye, a Cambridge Street firm that he occasionally works for.

With Walsh and Ross occupying the high-middle ground of the monied slate, it may be important to note where they’re trending in order to predict what they’ll attract in the future. A few token donors like the CEOs of KleerMail and GoDaddy indicate that Ross may be the choice for tech entrepreneurs, who as a group have sat on their wallets so far. For his run, Walsh has rallied the most professionally diverse base, accumulating small and large sums from the owners of such businesses as pubs, flower shops, gyms and insurance companies, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars from individual union workers—roofers, carpenters, you name it. In 2013, Walsh has also bagged more than $17,000 from homemakers, which makes him a shoo-in to have the tastiest potluck fund-raisers.

Finally, there are the clear financial frontrunners. Though he currently has less than $600,000 to play with, City Councilor John Connolly has both raised and spent more than any other candidate, taking in more than half of a million dollars since announcing in February. For that, he’s amassed an impressive range of individual and corporate money of all types—attorneys, restaurant owners, real estate brokers. While Connolly has accepted loot from employees of some evil banks and vulture capital firms, he’s also been the premier choice for many small and medium-sized companies that make Boston tick without plundering its lower classes.

Which brings us to District Attorney Dan Conley, who, with nearly $1.15 million, has more than twice as much firepower as anyone. A lot of those riches have come from the usual players; in 2013, he’s gotten nearly $65,000 from attorneys, $4,700 from cops, and roughly $13,000 from miscellaneous state and City employees. The always reliable resource of public workers, however, only accounts for a fraction of Conley’s war chest. In fattening himself, the DA has also dined at the trough of Northeast Utilities executives, all the while taking thick envelopes from honchos at such upstanding enterprises as Bank of New York Mellon, Wells Fargo and AIG. It’s yet to be seen if America’s masters of the foreclosed universe who toppled the economy will have much of an impact on this race, but like everybody else with disposable income and an interest in influencing, they’re sure as heck giving it their best try.

Chris Faraone is a former Boston Phoenix reporter and author of “99 Nights with the 99 Percent” and the upcoming “I Killed Breitbart” (ow.ly/lY9gS). He lives in Jamaica Plain.

Corrected version: A previous version of this column described City Councilor John Connolly as the “top vote-getter” among councilors at-large. Connolly won the most votes in the 2009 election, but won the third-most votes in 2011, behind Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo.

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