In 2012, Mike Connolly proudly wore the nickname “No Money Mike.” Running as an independent candidate against longtime state Rep. Tim Toomey, the Cambridge resident with Occupy Boston ties refused to take any political donations while campaigning for the House seat representing parts of Cambridge and Somerville.
The oddity generated media coverage, and Connolly got some decent bang for his buck, riding the get-money-out-of-politics stance to more than 4,000 votes — about 25 percent of the ballots — in a losing general election contest.
On Thursday, four years later, Connolly vanquished Toomey in a Democratic primary and is all but certain to head to Beacon Hill in January.
Connolly, an attorney and activist, was one of four Massachusetts state legislative candidates backed by Our Revolution, the 501(c)(4) organization set up to advance Bernie Sanders’s goal of a progressive “political revolution” at the local, state, and federal levels of government. Of the four, Connolly was the only non-incumbent.
Connolly ran to the left of Toomey, who has been in the State House since 1993, and won yesterday’s primary by about 400 votes, 54 percent to 46 percent.
During the four years after his defeat, Connolly remained civically active in Cambridge. He pushed the city on sustainability initiatives, and later began working as an aide on the Cambridge City Council. He made an unsuccessful run at that body last year, before deciding to mount another run for state representative last winter — this time, in a primary against Toomey.
“In the initial run, the 2012 run, it was about highlighting this one issue,” said Connolly, who championed affordable housing and public transportation during this campaign. “I think what I realized is that there are so many issues that I’m really passionate about…and that I wanted to work with others on,” he said, referring to issues like affordable housing and public transportation.
He also advocated for marijuana legalization — striking a contrast with Toomey during a campaign in which the candidates often agreed on major issues.
No longer “No Money Mike,” Connolly professionalized this time around. He had a get-out-the-vote effort that featured more than 200 volunteers. In addition to Our Revolution, he won the endorsement of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, as well as a pair of high-profile progressive Cambridge academics in Lawrence Lessig and Noam Chomsky.
And yes, the Sanders supporter accepted donations — about $47,000 in total since January, according to state records. You need money to reach voters, Connolly said.
“When I first ran as ‘No Money Mike’ in 2012, we were very explicit that our campaign was in some ways an experiment to see, if we tried to engage in the political process without raising funds, what would happen? I was very gratified to see that there was a strong response – there was a lot of attention, we received a respectable vote tally,” he said. “What I came to realize is that, particularly when you’re targeting small-dollar donations and when you’re running a campaign on a very strong progressive platform, you can really advance a progressive agenda and make that the focus of the campaign.”
Connolly said his immediate goals before reaching office are “to be listening, engaging, learning from those who will be my future colleagues.” But he will probably be hard to miss once he gets to Beacon Hill, standing at 6’8.
Toomey, who is also a Cambridge city councilor, could not immediately be reached for comment. He posted on Facebook last night to concede and congratulate Connolly.
“My deep trust and respect for the voters of the 26th Middlesex District continues on,” he wrote.
In the same neck of the woods, a state Senate race played out on inverted lines, with a longtime incumbent labeled as a progressive defeating a younger challenger. State Sen. Patricia Jehlen, who has been at the State House for two decades and whose district includes Somerville and Cambridge, was also endorsed by Our Revolution in a victorious primary against Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung. She won in a rout, 80 percent to 20 percent.
That race caught many political observers’ attention in recent weeks as it became a charter school proxy battle ahead of a big upcoming ballot question on the issue. The pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform spent nearly $100,000 in untraceable money to advocate for Cheung, while the Massachusetts Teachers Association spent even more in support of Jehlen, who is a skeptic about the charter school ballot question, a position more commonly aligned with progressive-wing Democrats.