Once harsh critics, prominent black ministers endorse Connolly in Boston mayoral race

Huddling together in a semi-circle around their candidate, more than a dozen black clergy members on Thursday endorsed Councilor John R. Connolly’s bid to become Boston’s next mayor outside of his Roxbury field office.

The endorsements, spearheaded by the Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Dorchester and Pastor William E. Dickerson of Roxbury, provide Connolly with viable liaisons into the city’s minority communities—which are expected to be a major battleground in the Nov. 5 election.

“For a time like this, we need John Connolly,” Culpepper said. “City Hall needs new blood. “We have found our new blood in John Connolly.”

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Connolly has spent significant time since the Sept. 24 preliminary race campaigning in Roxbury, where he opened a field office last weekend. His campaign has often stressed that his citywide focus will help boost him in communities of color.

“I’m humbled by these endorsements today,” Connolly declared as the clergy members voiced their support. “I want to be a mayor for all of Boston and every child in Boston, every family, and every person in Boston.”

The ministers repeatedly noted that they like Connolly’s opponent, state Representative Martin J. Walsh, of Dorchester, but said that they believed Connolly was the right choice.

“I find him to be a man of integrity ... a man who keeps his word,” said the Rev. Bruce Wall, who was traveling and could not attend the group endorsement, in a statement. “As mayor, his leadership will help to turn Boston around and put our City back on its feet. He is my choice.”

The endorsements were a major departure from the harsh words some of these same clergy members had for Connolly just over a year ago, when they gathered at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Jamaica Plain for a rally in support of former School Superintendent Carol Johnson.

Johnson had come under fire after she failed to discipline a headmaster who admitted to beating up his wife. At the time, Connolly called for her resignation—prompting a major backlash from many leaders in Boston’s communities of color, in which Johnson remained a popular figure.

During that rally, several speakers leveled charges of racism at Connolly—some going as far as to compare him to former school committee chairwoman Louise Day Hicks, who was known nationally for her opposition to school integration through busing in the 1960s. Those speakers also vowed, at the time, to campaign against Connolly if and when he ran for mayor.

While some of the ministers who leveled the strongest attacks on Connolly in 2012, including the Rev. Ray Hammond, were not in attendance, the group endorsement featured at least three clergy who had opposed Connolly—Culpepper, Dickerson, and the Rev. Thomas Cross.

“I had an issue with John Connolly ... but as a man, I stepped to him and we talked,” Dickerson said. “In Boston, we can point the finger a whole lot and hold grudges and all that, but at the end of the day we’ve got to determine what’s best for our city, what’s best for our children.”

Connolly said that he approached each of those ministers after the July 2012 rally and, at their urging, stopped actively campaigning for Johnson’s removal and instead met with the then-school superintendent to figure out how to work together moving forward.

“John Connolly came to my study, right after that, and we talked about that,” said Culpepper. “I convinced him to side with me on that one, this time, he convinced me to side with him.”

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