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Sworn in as MCAD commissioner, Charlotte Golar Richie begins new chapter in public service career

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Sworn in as MCAD commissioner, Charlotte Golar Richie begins new chapter in public service career
Gov. Deval Patrick swears in Charlotte Golar Richie as a commissioner at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. With Richie are daughters Kara, Leigh and husband Winston. (Banner photo)

Charlotte Golar Richie planned to have an intimate swearing-in ceremony, with just her husband, her two daughters and six close friends. But word travels fast on Beacon Hill, and faster still among blacks in state government, many of whom have at one time or another worked with or for Golar Richie.

“You invited nine and 900 showed up,” quipped Gov. Deval Patrick, as he maneuvered Richie and her family members around the packed office to swear her in as a commissioner at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Lining the walls of Patrick’s office were legislators, including Byron Rushing, Liz Malia and Linda Dorcena Forry, former city councilor and current chief of Health and Human Services Felix G. Arroyo, and about two dozen former staffers from her various incarnations in government — legislative aides, staff from the Department of Neighborhood Development and as Patrick’s senior advisor for federal, state and community affairs.

Outside the governor’s elegantly-renovated but space-challenged office, dozens more supporters waited to congratulate Richie on her appointment, mobbing the lobby.

The depth of support came as no surprise to Golar Richie’s friends.

“First and foremost, Charlotte is a genuine person,” said Ron Marlow, who served as assistant secretary for Access and Opportunity at the Executive Office for Administration and Finance in the Patrick administration. “She’s always shown care and respect for her people — people she’s represented, people she’s worked with and people who look like her and feel affinity for her. She’s earned a tremendous amount of respect from people who like her and political opponents.”

In her new role as one of the MCAD’s four commissioners, Richie hears and renders decisions on discrimination cases in employment, housing, lending, public accommodation and other areas. The caseload can be heavy.

“On most days the lobby is full when you walk in in the morning,” says Golar Richie, who has been sitting in on hearings for the last month. “The caseload is an indication that discrimination is still a problem in the Commonwealth. It’s different than it was 50 years ago, but it’s still about human dignity and how people are treated.”

Gone are the days when the overwhelming majority of complainants at the MCAD were African American. Now, with discrimination based on gender, age, physical disability, sexual orientation and other areas, the cases have become more complex and numerous, with an average of 3,000 filed a year.

“Discrimination is more subtle in some ways,” Richie says. “You can never tell exactly whether there’s malicious intent. A lot of discrimination is the result of people not knowing the law — a person putting an ad in a newspaper saying they want to rent to single professionals. A lot of people don’t know what the law is.”

Golar Richie’s stint at the MCAD is the latest chapter in a career of public service that goes back to 1995, when her neighbors in the Meetinghouse section of Dorchester prevailed upon her to run for state representative in the 5th Suffolk District. She won handily, defeating one-term Rep. Althea Garrison.

In the Legislature, she earned high marks for her ability to deliver for her long-neglected Dorchester district and enjoyed a productive, congenial relationship with House leadership. She also cultivated the talents of her staff, among whom Dorcena Forry stands out as the most political. And in an era where most white reps. hired all-white staffs, Richie stood out for the diversity of her staff, which included blacks, Latinos and Cape Verdeans.

When Richie moved from the Legislature to City Hall in 1999, heading up the Department of Neighborhood Development under Mayor Thomas Menino, she maintained a level of diversity in her staff, mentoring black, white and Latino staffers, many of whom, like Dorcena Forry, have gone on to leadership positions in state government. Former staffer Laura E. Younger is Director of Integrated Facilities Management Planning at the Division of Capital Asset Management. Carole Cornelison is Commissioner of DCAM. Reggie Nunnally heads the state’s Supplier Diversity Office. In state offices that until recently were exclusively white, much of the new diversity came through Golar Richie’s efforts.

“She opened a lot of doors in state and city government,” Nunnally said.

Nunnally, who during the 1990s had headed the Enhanced Enterprise Community — a HUD-funded community redevelopment effort, was considering leaving city government when Golar Richie convinced him to work as her government liaison.

“She gave me an understanding of how to deal with the issues of different organizations and constituencies,” he said.

Of course, not all of the newfound diversity in state government is directly attributable to Golar Richie’s influence. With the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick bringing in new blood, the changes in state government have been somewhat widespread. But Golar Richie has been a major force in broadening the network of people of color in positions of influence, Nunally says.

“A few years back, if you were black, you couldn’t just pick up the phone and call someone you know at another agency,” he said. “Now you can.”

While Golar Richie has spent much of her career working quietly behind the scenes to expand opportunities for people who have long been excluded from government, her career took one of its more interesting turns last year when she entered the Boston mayoral race. Her decision did not come as a complete surprise. For years, pundits have floated Golar Richie’s name as a possible contender for the office.

“I had an opportunity to run,” Golar Richie said. “I thought to not do it, I would have had some regrets.”

Her third-place finish in the field of 12 candidates came as a disappointment to many in Boston’s black community. But Richie made a strong showing as the first black woman to mount a campaign, finishing fewer than 4,000 votes behind second place finisher John Connolly in the preliminary. Not bad, considering she entered the race later than any of the other major contenders and had to take time off in the middle of the race to arrange a funeral for her father, Simeon Golar, a former justice on the New York State Supreme Court.

“I was amazed I even made it to the finish line,” Golar Richie said.

Golar Richie’s endorsement of Martin Walsh, the eventual winner in the race, came at a pivotal moment in the race. The fact that she and Walsh served in the House together, in contiguous districts, contributed to her decision. More importantly, Golar Richie says, Walsh agreed with her conviction that the resources of city government be focused on the plight of young people in Boston.

Richie remains involved in the Walsh administration as a member of his transition team’s youth committee, which is headed by Project HipHop Executive Director Mariama White Hammond.

“Young people in our city need attention,” Golar Richie said. “We need for all of our children to be able to make it in our city. I know the mayor is fully committed to following through on that.”

Golar Richie has made her mark in city and state government in the years since her 1995 run for the Legislature. She has remained rooted in her Dorchester neighborhood. Her two daughters have left home, but Golar Richie is still living with her husband, Winston, in her Percival Street home, just steps from Bowdoin Street.

Just minutes before her own swearing in at the governor’s office, Golar Richie’s Percival Street neighbor and former campaign volunteer, Karen Charles, was sworn in as Commissioner of the Department of Telecommunications and Cable. Yet another member of the Richie team making her mark in state government.

“I’ve supported the careers of a lot of people who have gone on to do great things,” Golar Richie said. “And they’re people I continue to work with and admire.”