By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A state representative with strong ties to Boston's labor movement and a former teacher turned city councilor focused on improving the school system emerged as the top two contenders in Boston's preliminary mayoral election on Tuesday.
State representative Martin Walsh and Councilor John Connolly, both Democrats, took the top two spots in the city's non-partisan first-round vote, and will face off in November in the general election to succeed the city's longest-serving mayor, Thomas Menino.
Walsh had 18.4 percent of the vote and Connolly 17.5 percent, in a crowded 12-candidate field in the city's first competitive mayoral race in decades, according to unofficial city election department figures.
"This is a race about who we are - about values, and about whether Boston will be a city for all its people, in every neighborhood, not just some," Walsh said. "Tonight's a great start, but it's only a start, and we have a lot more work to do over the next six weeks."
Connolly said he looked forward to facing Walsh in the November 5 election.
"I have never been so glad to be in second place," said Connolly, joined by his wife, Meg, who carried their newborn child through a crowd of cheering supporters. "I would be incredibly proud to be your education mayor."
Liberal-leaning Boston has not elected a Republican mayor since 1926.
Menino took office in 1993, when his predecessor Raymond Flynn resigned to become U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
Menino's impending departure has already begun to have consequences. On Monday, Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who earned praise for his calm and effective work after the April Boston Marathon bombing, said he would retire from his position to clear the way for Menino's predecessor to pick his or her own police chief.
Boston mayors do not face term limits and are rarely defeated in re-election campaigns.
Recent polls had shown Connolly, the one candidate to enter the race before Menino said he would not seek an unprecedented sixth term in office, with a narrow lead.
Walsh had also stood among the top contenders, alongside county District Attorney Daniel Conley and state Representative Charlotte Golar Richie, who would have been the city's first black and first female mayor.
Richie finished third with 13.6 percent of the vote, while Conley came in fourth with 11.4 percent.
Walsh has served in the state legislature since 1997, while also holding senior roles in the city's local laborers' union. His campaign has enjoyed strong support from local construction unions, with members playing a big role in his campaign organization.
Connolly's campaign has focused much of its energy on education, with calls for lengthening the school day and by simplifying the process in which students are assigned to local schools.
The large field also included city councilors Felix Arroyo, Robert Consalvo, Michael Ross and Charles Yancey, former school committee member John Barros, former police officer Charles Clemons, and community organizer Bill Walczak. Former teacher David James Wyatt was the race's one Republican.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Andre Grenon and Eric Beech)