After being criticized for remarks during a televised debate comparing his campaign tactics to the civil rights movement, a self-proclaimed “Progressive Independent” vying for a seat at the Massachusetts State House this November is claiming his comment wasn’t as nefarious or controversial as has been claimed.
Mike Connolly, who is running for State Representative in the 26th Middlesex District, which oversees parts of Cambridge and Somerville, said when he called Rosa Parks’ courageous efforts to stand up for African American rights a “gimmick,” what he meant was it was “a device…used to attract attention.”
“I am not saying she is a gimmick or what she did was a gimmick…and it makes me cringe to even say those words,” said Connolly, who is running against 20-year incumbent State Rep. Tim Toomey. “That’s not what the context of it was. What I was conveying, is there is substance in taking an action that throws attention to an important issue.”
An issue like the Civil Rights Movement, he said, which is something he uses to draw inspiration in his own life.
During a debate in Cambridge this week with Toomey and Republican candidate Thomas Vasconcelos, Connolly said he was defending allegations that his campaign tactics were a “gimmick” when he used Parks as a metaphor.
“I think my campaign, sure there is a marketing element to it, but it’s also grounded in substance, take Rosa Parks for example, when she refused to get out of her seat, in some ways that was a gimmick,” said Connolly, during the debate earlier this week. “If she really wanted the bus to take her where she was going, she would have got up and moved when she was asked to leave. But what she was doing is, she was trying to make a point, and that’s what we are trying to do with our campaign.”
Parks was an African-American civil rights activist arrested in 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat to a white male passenger on a segregated bus.
Connolly, a lawyer by trade, has been coined as “No Money Mike,” for refusing to take outside contributions during his run for state representative.
The comment during the debate drew ire from Toomey, who is trying to hold his seat representing Cambridge and parts of Somerville.
“I was genuinely stunned by Mr. Connolly’s remark that equated Rosa Parks’ historic act of civil disobedience to a ‘gimmick,’” said Toomey in a statement sent to BostInno. “What Parks did was an act of true bravery in the face of true injustice. There are few parallels between the situations of Parks and Mr. Connolly and I hope he will come to realize that fact.”
Connolly said, however, that he was just defending accusations from contenders that claimed his use of a “no money” campaign was gimmicky.
In an interview with BostInno on Thursday, Connolly said when he was pressed to explain and defend his campaign motives during the debate, the example of Parks came to mind.
“To the people saying I am comparing myself to Rosa Parks, it’s just not accurate,” he said. “Essentially it gets into the thing about tactics, and in general, to transcend the system that won’t budge. One of the tactics you use is to come up with a way to raise awareness.”
Clarifying what his comment really meant, Connolly said his tactic of denying financial contributions during the election, and running a truly grass-roots campaign, is a way to fix a system he views as “really broken.”
“Last summer as I was watching the debacle about the debt ceiling, it seemed embarrassing. I started thinking I would like to run for office and not raise any monetary contributions to help demonstrate the commitment to stand apart from the status quo,” he said. “I am genuinely serious about the job and passionate about the issues at stake, and there is a lot that can be improved on Beacon Hill….that’s sort of the real substance for running.”
He said comparing his campaign to Parks during the debate was a way of saying “the political process isn’t working” and engaging in “direct action” and “acts of civil disobedience,”—like denying financial contributions or refusing to leave a seat on a bus—are devices to use to get a point across.