Mike Connolly’s commitment to social and economic justice and civic engagement comes from his personal experiences. Through hard work and a supportive community, Mike went from living in poverty in a single-parent household, to academic success, law school, and becoming a licensed attorney. Since moving to Cambridge in 2011, Mike has established himself as one of the most effective and committed progressive leaders in the city.
Mike was born in Dorchester on June 3,1980. When he was five, his parents divorced and Mike and his mother moved to Washington Heights – a low-income public housing project in Norwood, Massachusetts.
Mike and his mother had few advantages, and Mike remembers relying on government assistance and programs that existed for families like his. He was enrolled in Head Start, a federal program providing early education. He received free lunch at school, and his family benefited from fuel assistance and help from a local food pantry. Mike also spent some time in foster care as his mother struggled with mental health issues, and he witnessed scenes of violence and substance abuse on Jefferson Drive, the street where Washington Heights is located.
Despite these challenges, Mike had a supportive family, including his father who moved to Norwood for his son’s benefit. With the help of loving parents and community mentors, Mike was able to succeed both academically and on the football field. He earned a full athletic scholarship to Duke University and received numerous awards, including the Nannerl O. Keohane Award for academic excellence. In addition, he was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Honor Roll.
Mike graduated from Duke in 2003 with a degree in computer science and a minor in political science. Following his graduation, he worked in the private sector and enrolled at Boston College Law School. While in law school, Mike was successful in the first year writing competition, earning a spot as a Staff Writer with the Third World Law Journal (now known as the Journal of Law and Social Justice), a progressive law review dedicated to underrepresented populations. In his final year, fellow students elected him to the position of Managing Editor. During law school, Mike also participated in the Appellate Advocacy program, where he broke with convention by choosing to work with the Committee for Public Counsel Services.
Also while attending BC Law, Mike met his future wife, Kacy Karlen, while listening to live music in Porter Square.
After graduating from law school and passing the Massachusetts Bar Exam, Mike briefly returned to the private sector and moved to Cambridge in 2011. Mike’s first foray into Cambridge politics came in the wake of the infamous Citizens United decision. Mike worked with sitting councilors to pass a resolution voicing opposition to the notion that corporations could make unlimited campaign contributions. Mike participated as an organizer and legal observer during the Occupy Boston protests. Following his experiences at Occupy, Mike launched a “no money” campaign for State Representative against a 20-year incumbent. While he did not win, he says he is proud of the effort, which engaged thousands of voters, organized over 100 volunteers, and raised important issues about the influence of money in politics, garnering coverage on the Huffington Post, WBUR’s Radio Boston program, CommonWealth Magazine, the Boston Phoenix, and other major news outlets.
Since then, Mike has organized around sustainability and affordability in Cambridge. He became active in the Cambridge Residents Alliance and the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods and drafted a widely-published essay that called on the city council to require that MIT provide more housing for its graduate students. He then went on to lead the grassroots effort to establish a net zero carbon emissions standard for the city. And as legislative aide to councilor Dennis Carlone, he played a vital role in initiating the Citywide Planning process.
He also worked to bring all of the stakeholders to the table to advance the Grand Junction Multi-Use Path project, and he worked to reconcile competing versions of the Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance. In addition, he has done research that has led to his recognition as a leading expert on keeping Cambridge affordable for renters and homeowners.
Married in 2013, Mike and Kacy live on Harding Street with their two cats, Oona and Bear.