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U.S. Senate candidates trying to court voters of color

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
U.S. Senate candidates trying to court voters of color
State Rep. Gloria Fox introduces Congressman Michael Capuano during the opening of his campaign’s Dudley Square office. Looking on are state representatives Marie St. Fleur, Linda Dorcena Forry, City Councilor-elect Felix G. Arroyo and Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts Bay President/CEO Darnell Williams. (Photo: Yawu Miller)

In the South End two weeks ago, mayors elect Setti Warren of Newton and Willy Lantigua of Lawrence joined Fitchburg mayor Lisa Wong for a public endorsement of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s campaign for Senate.

Last week in Dudley Square, U.S. Rep Michael Capuano’s senate campaign opened an office as state representatives Gloria Fox, Willie Mae Allen, Marie St. Fleur and Linda Dorcena and City Councilor elect Felix G. Arroyo made public their support.

While the two Democratic front-runners have the lion’s share of endorsement from black, Latino and Asian political activists, blacks are playing key roles in City Year founder Alan Khazei’s senate campaign. Political activist Ron Bell has been working as a senior advisor to the campaign and Boston Foundation program officer Robert Lewis is volunteering with Khazei.

Blacks make up just five percent of the state’s population and Latinos, six. But with the four candidates vying for the Dec. 8 Democratic primary, locked in a fierce battle for votes to fill the seat vacated by the late Edward Kennedy, every constituency is of utmost importance.

And with pundits predicting that a candidate will need between 150,000 and 200,000 votes to win, endorsements in this special election may be more important than usual.

“The validation that people hear from their co-workers, friends and elected officials matters,” Capuano said during the opening of his Dudley Square office. “Most voters are still undecided.”

Because all four Democratic candidates offer similar positions on most major issues — health care reform, immigration reform, banking reform, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — voters have focused in on the candidate’s styles and histories.

And many have thrown their support behind the candidate with whom they’ve had the most history.

St. Fleur cited Capuano’s help in securing federal funding for projects important to constituents in her Dorchester district like the reconstruction of the Fairmount commuter rail line.

“He went into Congress and fought for that and brought the money back,” she said. “He understands the issues around civil rights. And he’s a regular guy who gets the lives of everyday people. We need more people like him in the Senate of the United States.”

Joel Barrera, who heads the Commonwealth Legislative Seminar, cited his long working relationship with Coakley among the reasons he is supporting her.

“I’ve known her for years,” he said. “She’s been very accommodating. Her staff has been responsive.”

He also cited Coakley’s support for immigration reform and wage enforcement.

“She has said that immigration status doesn’t matter,” he added.

Coakley’s endorsers include former Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph Martin and former City Councilor Bruce Bolling.

Bell cited his 22-year professional relationship with Khazei, during which he worked with the City Year nonprofit Khazei founded.

“He’s thoughtful,” Bell said. “He’s very intelligent. He’s an agent of change and he’s an organizer. This was a no-brainer. He’s more well-rounded than the other candidates.”

Among Khazei’s endorsers are Sufolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, former state Rep. Mel King, former Boston University School of Social Work Dean Hubie Jones and banker and social activist Gail Snowden.

In addition to those present at his office opening, Capuano endorsers include first lady Diane Patrick, state representatives Ben Swan, Jeffrey Sanchez, Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, Geraldo Alicea and City Councilor Charles Yancey.

If his office opening was any indication, Capuano also has a good deal of grass roots support. Present were veteran Roxbury political activists, including Louis Elisa, Mimi Jones, Darnell Williams, Bob Marshal, Ego Ezedi, Angela Yarde and Faye Morrison, whose organization, Black Women for Obama for Change, endorsed Capuano.

In fact, Stephanie E. Myers and Dr. E. Faye Williams, the National Co-Chairs of the Black Women for Obama for Change, wrote and widely distributed an essay detailing their support.

“We encourage all voters — particularly African American voters and women, to support Mike Capuano — a tireless advocate for social and economic justice,” they wrote. “We need his determined support to back President Obama’s agenda in the U.S. Congress and to continue Senator Ted Kennedy’s efforts on behalf of disenfranchised and underserved constituencies in our society. His reputation as a street fighter and tough negotiator is needed during these difficult economic times.”

Councilor-elect Arroyo cited his work with Capuano on health care reform among his reasons for supporting the congressman’s candidacy.

“I think more than just a liberal vote in the Senate, we need a liberal champion,” said Arroyo, who worked with Capuano on health care reform. “That’s what Michael Capuano is.”