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Connolly: I Don’t Want Money From Outside Groups

BOSTON — An education reform group that planned to spend $500,000 or more to elect John Connolly mayor of Boston is backing off at the request of the candidate.

At a late morning press conference Wednesday, Connolly asked the organization — Stand for Children — to drop any plans for advertising, canvassing and other campaigning on his behalf.

“I did not ask for any money from outside groups and I don’t want it,” he said.

Stand for Children, a pro-charter school advocacy group with chapters in 11 states including Massachusetts, endorsed Connolly on Monday night.

The candidate faced sharp criticism Tuesday from opponents who raised concerns about the role of outside money in the race.

Connolly said at the press conference that he expected a Stand endorsement to come with a traditional door-knocking campaign. He suggested he was comfortable with that sort of grassroots effort, but uncomfortable with talk of an advertising campaign that could “warp” the debate.

Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, who had sharply criticized Connolly after Stand announced its endorsement, applauded his opponent.

“John did the right thing today,” he said, speaking to reporters shortly after Connolly’s announcement.

Conley, himself, was one of four finalists for the Stand endorsement. But he said he urged the group to focus on issue advocacy, rather than backing a single candidate.

He said he was surprised to learn this week that the group planned to spend more than $500,000 on behalf of its endorsed candidate. Connolly said something similar in his press conference.

But WBUR reported in May that education reform advocates, including Stand for Children, were gearing up to spend substantial sums in the race. And there was talk, in political circles, of a multi-million dollar investment.

“It was well known, even back in May, that Stand for Children’s endorsement would come with money,” said mayoral candidate Bill Walczak, a former healthcare executive who was also a finalist for the Stand endorsement. “The only surprise to me was that it was only $500,000.”

Walczak said he would not have rejected Stand’s support.

“If I had won the endorsement, that would have meant Stand agreed with my vision for the future of the Boston Public Schools and I would have accepted the resources,” he said.

The Stand for Children flap focused new attention on the “Boston Pledge” proposed by another candidate — City Councilor Rob Consalvo.

The pledge would require candidates to match half of any outside spending on their behalf with a contribution to the One Fund, which benefits victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Connolly rejected the pledge as a “gimmick” during his Wednesday morning press conference, but later said he would sign it.

State Rep. Martin Walsh, another mayoral candidate who has faced criticism for outside spending on his behalf — in his case, from labor unions — criticized Connolly for shifting positions on the pledge.

“I’m still a little bit confused about where John Connolly stands, but I know this: he was right this morning when he said that the pledge was nothing more than a political gimmick,” Walsh said in a statement. “Unlike John Connolly, I felt that way this morning and I haven’t changed my mind.”

After Connolly’s press conference, Stand’s Massachusetts chapter released a statement saying the group would “respect John Connolly’s request” that it not campaign on his behalf during the preliminary election, set for Sept. 24. That election will narrow the field from 12 candidates to two.

The statement was silent on the final election, set for Nov. 5. And a spokesman for the group declined to comment on what the group might do in that phase.

Democrats for Education Reform, another advocacy group, has been knocking on doors on Connolly’s behalf since last month.

Connolly said he was initially comfortable with DFER’s efforts. But he called on that group to stop, too, now that the “climate has changed.”

DFER pulled its canvassers off the campaign trail after Connolly’s press conference. The group had no comment on its long-term plans.

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