Union-Backed Walsh Makes Final Push to Win Boston Mayor Primary

Union members are out in force to support Boston Mayoral candidate Marty Walsh in the general election, hoping to recreate the momentum that helped him win the primary. Over 40,000 union members are registered to vote in Boston, making up 11 percent of the electorate. With the race down to two candidates, Walsh and City Councilor John Connolly, members who supported one of the other 10 candidates are now aligning themselves with the Walsh campaign and looking to maximize union turnout on November 5th.  

Richard Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, told the Boston Globe:

We fought a really great fight, but we didn’t have everybody yet.  We’re going to really focus on union members that stayed home in the first round.

Among the unions with the most influence in the race is Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has 6,000 eligible voters in Boston, an amount equal to the Boston Teachers Union. The SEIU has made tremendous progress in minority communities in Boston and will be campaigning for Walsh in the leadup to the general election.  According to the Boston Globe,

Beyond the sheer membership numbers, 1199 has developed an ability to rally support in neighborhoods that candidates find difficult to penetrate, thanks to energetic door-to-door campaigning, according to one Democratic operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to offend other unions.

“They’re definitely the most sought-after union endorsement in the entire state,’’ he said.

By its own accounting, Local 1199 says it helped Elizabeth Warren win her US Senate seat, raising turnout in Boston by 7 percent and even more in Springfield and Lawrence.

Having the weight of the SEIU behind him will provide Walsh a needed boost. Polling taken before the first debate showed that Walsh trailed City Councilman Connolly by eight points, with eighteen percent still undecided.

Also playing a major role in closing the voter gap will be Walsh’s history of personal change. While not a major talking point of his campaign speeches, Walsh’s experience with addiction and recovery is having a positive impact on his political life. Many of the people he has helped along the path to recovery are now volunteering for the Walsh campaign.  In his 20’s, Walsh struggled with alcoholism before receiving treatment and turning his life around. Since that time he has been committed to helping those who are in the same situation he once found himself in.

A recent Boston Globe article went into detail about the lives that Walsh has positively affected and how many of those people have found their way onto the Walsh campaign. Among them is Peter Barbuto, a reformed drug addict who met Walsh after he fell from grace:

Seven years ago, Barbuto faced charges for misappropriating $80,000 from the Cape Cod golf course he managed and squandering more than half the money on Oxycontin. Walsh, 13 years his senior and a coach from his Little League days, stepped in to help, reassuring Barbuto’s parents, getting him treatment, taking him to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, vouching for him with the court. Walsh was by then a state legislator, a recovering alcoholic who knew a thing or two about addiction. Barbuto thought of him only as a friend.

“The guy, he’s gold,” said Barbuto. “Marty was my friend when nobody else wanted to be.”

Now, Walsh is a finalist to become Boston’s next mayor, and Barbuto is among the volunteers who make up the most unorthodox and perhaps most ardent group of volunteers of this campaign season: reformed alcoholics and drug addicts whose shared vulnerability has made them devoted acolytes of Walsh. A constituency that is seldom politically acknowledged and never politically organized, these volunteers are approaching the campaign with uncommon emotional investment. After all, they have been given a new lease on life, and some of them credit their second chance directly to Walsh.

“I love this guy so much. And there are so many guys like me on the campaign,” said Stephen Passacantilli, who met Walsh when he was newly sober and who is now a regional field director for his campaign. “I will run through a wall for him, if that meant he’s going to be the mayor of Boston.”

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