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Environmental Group Wades Into Boston Mayoral Race

BOSTON — Seeking new influence in Massachusetts politics, a leading environmental group is wading into the mayoral race Thursday — with plans to get involved in the governor’s contest and state legislative elections next year.

The Environmental League of Massachusetts, a 115-year-old advocacy group, plans to launch an online advertisement Thursday morning meant to draw attention to the threat of climate change in Boston.

The group is also conducting a poll on the mayor’s race and a green agenda for the city — including enhanced recycling, more renewable energy in public buildings and a push for businesses and universities to help underwrite public transportation.

And next week, the Environmental League and several other environmental organizations will convene a forum with mayoral finalists John Connolly and Marty Walsh at the Old South Meeting House downtown.

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League, said the organization wants the candidates to lay out clear plans for addressing climate change in the coming days. If one mayoral hopeful is obviously superior on the issue, he said, the group’s political wing will endorse before the Nov. 5 election.

Connolly, a former chairman of the Boston City Council’s environment committee, said he welcomes the organization’s push to put the “greening” of the city “front and center.”

“I think Boston should strive to be the greenest city in the world,” he said.

Walsh, who is planning to release his environmental plan in the coming days, touted his record in the state Legislature and framed environmental protection as a public health concern.

“We have problems in our inner-city neighborhoods with high asthma rates,” he said. “We have to do it for our future.”

Bachrach said the activity around the mayoral race and planned intervention in state contests are designed to enhance the clout of a movement too often ignored by Massachusetts politicians.

“The environmental community is concerned that candidates often pay lip service to environmental protection and climate change,” he said in an interview in his office across the street from the State House. “We want more than that.”

Bachrach said most elected officials in Massachusetts are well-intentioned when it comes to environmental concerns. But too often, he added, they prioritize other issues.

Kevin Franck, a former spokesman for the state Democratic Party now working as a consultant for the Environmental League, said advocates cannot allow that to happen anymore.

“It’s easy for candidates to say, ‘Yeah, I want to do the right thing for the planet, I want to do the right thing to fight climate change,'” he said. “But there’s no arm to hold them accountable if they don’t.”

The environmental movement has been active in electoral politics for decades, of course. Just this year, the League of Conservation Voters knocked on doors for then-U.S. Rep. Edward Markey in his successful bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

The Environmental League of Massachusetts itself endorsed Markey in that race and Elizabeth Warren in her U.S. Senate bid last year.

But there has also been recent evidence of the movement’s political shortcomings — most notably the repeated failure of legislation to expand the state’s bottle redemption law to include more beverages.

Environmental advocates are now working to circumvent the state Legislature — collecting signatures to put the bottle measure on the ballot.

Efforts to influence the mayor’s race began in July, when several environmental groups staged a forum during the 12-way preliminary election.

But the push will enter a new phase Thursday morning with the release of an eye-catching Internet ad, showing a torrent of water rushing down Boylston Street in Copley Square.

The view is from the perspective of a gasping man trying to stay afloat — his boots just poking up through the deluge.

On screen, a question: “When the next superstorm hits Boston, will our new mayor be prepared?” The ad also directs viewers to an online petition demanding the candidates articulate plans for a “greener future.”

The spot is a reference to Hurricane Sandy, which spared Boston last year but caused major damage in New York — focusing national attention on the dangers of climate change.

A follow-up ad, to be released in the coming days, will depict a survivor climbing to high ground and looking down on a flooded city. And the spots will be accompanied by still images, including one of Fenway Park underwater and another of an inundated commuter rail train.

The Environmental League says it raised over $100,000 in recent weeks for its political project. But it is not committed to spending all of the money in the mayor’s race — possibly holding substantial sums for state-level races next year.

And even if it spent the full $100,000, the investment would amount to just a fraction of the most comprehensive independent expenditure effort in the campaign; unions and union-funded groups have spent almost $1.2 million to date on behalf of Walsh, a longtime labor leader.

Education reform groups have spent about $63,500 in support of Connolly, according to state records.

Still, the Environmental League insists it can be a significant force in the mayor’s race — and beyond.

The next governor, Franck said, will have to “go through the environmental movement.”

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