Voter turnout on Tuesday was higher than in past elections as residents decided the most competitive mayoral race Boston has seen in 20 years.
The election had a 40.19 percent participation rate from the 372,064 registered voters, up from the last mayoral election in 2009, which saw a 31.19 percent participation rate. Boston Mayor-elect Martin Walsh won 51.55 percent of the vote, a 72,514-vote total, compared to Connolly who garnered 48.06 percent, or 67,606 votes. He will become the first new mayor since Boston Mayor Thomas Menino took office more than 20 years ago.
John Carroll, professor of mass communication at Boston University, said since Menino has been in office, the population of Boston has changed significantly.
“You have a Boston that is more diverse in that it is now a majority-minority city,” he said. “There are far fewer white voters than there were before, but the voters are more educated, they are more upscale, and essentially there are more and more non-native Bostonians.”
Thomas Whalen, a social science professor at BU, said an additional factor that may have affected voter turnout is that the election occurred within a week of the Boston Red Sox World Series win in Boston.
“Back in 1975 there was a World Series here in Boston, but that was much earlier, so voters had a couple weeks to figure out who they wanted to best support,” he said. “Here, we’re talking just a couple of days, and I think it’s going to be very costly. People aren’t in that political mindset, and I think that will affect voter turnout.”
Both candidates relied on voter numbers to stay ahead in the race, Carroll said.
“Voter turnout is critical because it is notoriously low in municipal elections,” he said. “Even in a situation like this, where it’s a [first] really competitive race in Boston for the mayor’s office in 20 years, it’s all about organizations.”
Whalen said since the candidates were so much alike, candidates’ personalities likely played a major role in determining results, and the lack of clear differences caused people to choose the candidate they liked better.
“Walsh did a better job in the debate in terms of making himself seem like an everyday guy,” he said. “You could argue that Connolly won in debating points, but he came off as kind of condescending and patronizing to Walsh, and I think that didn’t go over well.”
Some residents said despite the difficulty of finding differences between the candidates, voters were largely concerned with the future of education in Boston and how the candidates approached the issue. Education was a major part of both of their platforms.
Ryann Harrell, 31, assistant athletic director in Dorchester, said he voted for Connolly because his children go to Boston Public Schools.
“I knew his child went to the Trotter School,” he said. “You don’t see too many Caucasians on Humboldt Avenue, historically. For him to have that trust in Trotter, even though it was a level five school [needs to improve], to send his kid there, I think that’s huge.”
Alan Kroman, 88, of Beacon Hill, said he was wary of Walsh’s ties to the unions.
“It makes it difficult for a mayor to be mayor when he’s tied in [with] the unions,” he said.
For many voters, expansion of public transit was a particularly important issue. Stacy Kasdin, 30, of Back Bay, said investing in late-night T service would provide cultural and economic benefits for the city.
“It is really important [to have] the T stay open later and businesses stay open later,” she said. “I think that would be a huge move in the resurrection of the city of Boston. We are such a large city, and we do tend to close a little earlier than most cities of comfortable or larger size.”
Several voters said they wanted to see improvements in low-income neighborhoods such as affordable housing as a major priority for the new mayor of Boston.
Nestr Pinet, 50, a bodyguard and professional trainer, said Walsh would be a successful mayor if he follows in Menino’s footsteps by addressing the economic issues unique to each neighborhood.
“It’s necessary to go to neighborhoods and talk to low-income families, people around the area, like the way Tom Menino did,” he said. “He went around Dorchester and Roxbury, he put up new housing and created new parks for the kids. So I know Walsh can follow that.”
Taryn Ottaunick and Mina Corpuz contributed to the reporting of this article