BOSTON — The race to succeed retiring Mayor Thomas Menino could feature the largest field of candidates in a generation.
Seventeen mayoral hopefuls submitted nomination papers by Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline, according to city election officials, who must now certify the signatures.
Candidates need the certified signatures of more than 3,000 registered voters to qualify for the September preliminary election ballot.
Menino, the city's longest-serving mayor, set off the political scramble with his announcement in March that he would not run for a sixth full term. The decision set the stage for the first mayoral election in 30 years without an incumbent on the ballot.
Of the candidates who submitted signatures ahead of the deadline, city election officials had certified that Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley and state Rep. Martin Walsh had enough to qualify.
City Councilor John Connolly's campaign said he has also submitted enough certified signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Those who had turned in signatures that had not yet been certified included city councilors Felix Arroyo, Rob Consalvo, Michael Ross and Charles Yancey; former school committee member Robert Cappucci; ex-school committee member and neighborhood leader John Barros; radio station executive Charles Clemons; former mayoral aide Charlotte Golar Richie; community activist Bill Walczak; businessman John Laing; and Roxbury resident David James Wyatt; Dorchester residents Althea Garrison and David Portnoy; and Hyde Park resident William Dorcena.
Former city councilor Lawrence DiCara said the signature hurdle is a formidable one for some candidates, especially those without existing political organizations.
"Candidates who started late or candidates who are not accustomed to getting signatures often falter in the process," said DiCara, a Boston attorney.
A voter can only sign nomination papers for one candidate. A name that appears on multiple petitions would only be counted for the first candidate who turned in papers.
The two top vote-getters in the preliminary advance to the November election.
DiCara was one of eight candidates who ran in the city's last open mayoral contest in 1983, which Raymond Flynn won. In 1993, Flynn left office to become U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and Menino, then president of the city council, was elevated to the mayor's office.
In a crowded preliminary race, DiCara said, candidates often have to make a strategic decision whether to focus on their neighborhood power bases or attempt to reach voters in other parts of the city where they're not well known.
"Do you spend two or three hours of your life going to a candidate's night in a neighborhood where it's unlikely that anyone is going to vote for you? That's the juggling act," said DiCara.
Candidates who can raise enough cash to advertise on Boston TV or radio stations would also enjoy a distinct advantage over the rest of the field, he added.