BY BOB SALSBERG
---- — BOSTON (AP) — State Rep. Martin Walsh and City Councilor John Connolly emerged from a crowded field yesterday 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 votes or 18 percent of the ballots cast, 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 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. He currently chairs the House Ethics Committee.
As a lawmaker, Walsh has remained active in union affairs and served as head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District, resigning the post before launching his mayoral bid.
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 teacher, 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,” Connolly said.
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 teacher David Wyatt and City Councilor Charles Yancey.
The election is nonpartisan, but all but one candidate are Democrats, as is Menino, who had 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.