BOSTON (AP) - State Rep. Martin Walsh and City Councilor John Connolly emerged from a crowded field Tuesday to spots in the November election that will determine a successor to Thomas Menino, Boston's longest-serving mayor.
Unofficial returns showed Walsh and Connolly as the top vote-getters among the dozen candidates who hoped to succeed the popular Menino, who first took office in 1993. Menino announced earlier this year that he would not seek a sixth term following a series of health problems and hospitalizations.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Walsh had 20,838, or 18 percent of the vote, while Connolly had 19,420, or 17 percent.
Tuesday's result ensures a Democrat, either a union labor favorite with working-class roots or a former school teacher who made education a primary focus of his campaign, will become only the city's fourth mayor since 1968.
A Dorchester resident and son of Irish immigrants, Walsh, 46, has attracted strong labor backing for his campaign. He worked as a union laborer before being elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1997 and remained active in union affairs as a lawmaker.
Walsh called Tuesday's vote "a great start" but reminded supporters there would be a lot of work ahead in the six weeks before the Nov. 5 general election.
"What makes this election so big and so important is that after two decades of Mayor Thomas Menino, his trusted leadership, we are stepping into a new era," Walsh said. We recognize the next 20 years will be different from the last _ new problems, new opportunities and new challenges."
Walsh survived cancer as a young child and overcame a bout with alcoholism as a young adult, mentioning both struggles in his signature TV ad during the preliminary election campaign.
Connolly, a 40-year-old father of three and former schoolteacher, has made education the central focus of his campaign. Among other things, he advocates extended learning time at every Boston public school and the development of a "principal pipeline" to make sure all schools have strong leaders.
"I have never been so glad to be in second place in my life," Connolly told jubilant supporters Tuesday.
The son of former Massachusetts Secretary of State Michael Connolly, he said he grew up in a very different city, one "deeply and bitterly divided along class and race lines," a reference to the aftermath of court-ordered school desegregation in the 1970s.
"I received the best this city had to offer, but I was always mindful that so many in our generation did not," said Connolly.
In what many at the time viewed as a politically bold _ if not daring _ act, Connolly declared his intention to run for mayor before the popular Menino announced he was retiring _ the only candidate in Tuesday's field to do so.
Menino opted not to run again as he battled a series of health problems in recent years, including prostate surgery in June and a fractured leg in April. He was hospitalized for about six weeks last year with a respiratory infection and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Walsh and Connolly's nearest contenders were former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley.
The other hopefuls included City Councilor Felix Arroyo; former school committee member John Barros; radio station owner Charles Clemons; City Councilor Robert Consalvo; City Councilor Michael Ross; community organizer Bill Walczak; former schoolteacher David Wyatt; and City Councilor Charles Yancey.
Menino has pledged to stay neutral in the race.
Turnout was modest, although up from the last preliminary election for mayor in 2009, when Menino faced three challengers.
Among the challenges facing the next mayor will be choosing a new police commissioner to replace Edward Davis, who announced Monday he would be stepping down later this year after seven years in the post.
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