It's Sunday at noon, and Mike Connolly is prepping with his troops by the Gold Star Memorial Library in East Somerville. There are eight volunteers in today's posse, including a climate scientist, a college professor, an attorney, and a dedicated member of Occupy Boston. After 15 minutes of chitchat, the first-time candidate gathers the gang in a circle and asks everyone to introduce themselves. Despite standing at 6-foot-8 and having played football for Duke, Connolly's everybody counts coaching style is more Bubba than Belichick.
Once everyone's acquainted, Connolly — who's running as an Independent for state representative — outlines the pitch that he's been making to the 26th Middlesex district, which covers parts of Cambridge and Somerville. "I basically knock on doors and ask if people are interested in donating no money to my campaign," he says. "When they ask why, I tell them that we're trying to set an example by getting money out of politics."
From his apartment near Lechmere to Union Square, this has been Connolly's routine since announcing his run several months ago. Since then, the 32-year-old has dubbed himself "No Money" Mike; though facing an entrenched 20-year incumbent, Tim Toomey, Connolly has taken zero contributions, and promises to never raise a penny if elected. For campaign muscle, Connolly is relying on a grassroots network of activists including some he met at Dewey Square during Occupy Boston. Together they've knocked on every Democratic, undeclared, and Independent door in the district, and on several more than once. Frank Gerratana, a fellow Occupier and intellectual property lawyer who is Connolly's campaign manager, says, "The conditions are great. Cambridge and Somerville are full of people who have more time than they have money."
Unlike state reps elsewhere who exist in obscurity, Toomey's a familiar face around his district, partly because he's also a Cambridge city councilor. (David Slavitt, a Republican who ran against Toomey in 2004, got whooped so badly that he wrote a book called Blue State Blues about the experience.) But while the unknown Connolly faces an uphill battle, he's attempting to use the incumbent's "double-dipping" against him, contending that Toomey's role as a Cambridge councilor compromises his Somerville interests at the state level. The pressure appears to have Toomey on edge; since June, the rep has raised nearly $25,000, delayed the debate planning process, and in a desperate move, even called for Connolly and the 25-year-old Republican nominee, Thomas Michael Vasconcelos, to release their tax returns. It's been eight years since Toomey faced a challenge for his House seat, and like Cambridge voting rights advocate Avi Green — who came within 500 votes of winning the district's 2004 Democratic primary — Connolly is no slouch. He even has a pedagogical pedigree that's fit for Beacon Hill, right down to a Boston College law degree. "I'm very progressive," says Connolly, "but I feel like I can hang with anybody. I believe in the things that Democrats talk about."