When she came to Boston in 1979 for an internship following her junior year in college, Charlotte Golar Richie’s family worried about her.
The city was reeling from a racially turbulent decade defined by the school busing crisis and questions about whether its white ethnic and African-American working class communities could bridge their differences.
African-Americans, in particular, were leery of “the reputation of the city,” she recalled Wednesday. “My family wasn’t really any different, but that didn’t stop me from coming.”
Now, as a wife, mother, homeowner, and nonprofit executive, Richie has decided to run for mayor of the city her family once worried would not welcome her.
“I think I would be able to build on the accomplishments of the Menino administration and take the city to the next level.”
The former chief of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development and a onetime top aide to Governor Deval Patrick becomes the first major candidate who is an African-American woman in a field that now counts two dozen hopefuls. But the 54-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native said her demographic singularity is far from the front of her mind as she begins a six-month campaign that will give Boston its first new mayor in more than 20 years.
“I’m so happy it doesn’t feel that way,” Richie said, smiling, during an interview in a conference room at her campaign manager’s office on Charles Street in Beacon Hill.
Richie, who lives in Meetinghouse Hill in Dorchester, is more focused on promoting economic development, good-quality education, and public safety. She said she is proud that the city issued permits for 18,000 housing units during her term as housing director.
Before joining Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration, Richie was a state representative, from 1994 to 1999. Prior to her inaugural run for office, Richie, a Peace Corps alumna, said she had not considered a career in politics. But after she moderated a local candidates’ forum, her neighbors encouraged her to draw on her experience as a television reporter and staff member at a state housing agency to challenge the incumbent, state Representative Althea Garrison.
“She totally wowed a lot of people, and everybody said, ‘Aha, who is this person?’ Everybody said this person’s going to be going places,” said Davida Andelman, a health worker and Bowdoin-Geneva activist who became a member of an informal advisory group that Richie consulted once in office.
Back then, Richie decided to run in part because of her frustration over what she calls the major media’s focus on negative stories about Dorchester, rather than the positive stories.
After she was elected, she assembled an advisory committee of 20 to 30 neighbors and activists, a template she said she would consider using as mayor.
“People do hold that up as a way to encourage the involvement of people,” she said.
As House chairwoman of the Legislature’s Committee on Housing and Community Development, Richie helped shepherd a housing bond bill, which, she said, caught Menino’s attention. After eight years with the mayor, Richie was captivated by Patrick’s candidacy.
“The energy and the excitement, I don’t know if that could ever be duplicated,” she said.
Richie’s tenure with Patrick was relatively brief. Internal friction, according to sources close to Patrick, led to Richie’s transfer to the governor’s political committee.
Richie said Patrick aides encouraged her to run for mayor, but she acknowledged that her time on Patrick’s staff was not always smooth.
“In a situation that is fast paced and politically charged and you have to be able to pivot on a dime, you are going to find, with the people who are part of that cohort of advisers, times when you agree on things and times when you don’t,” she said. “All of us had the governor’s interest at heart.”
After a year with Patrick’s political operation marked by concerns about its fund-raising, she joined YouthBuild USA, a national nonprofit focused on affordable housing and underprivileged youngsters. Richie is still deciding whether to take a leave or resign from YouthBuild USA, with a decision expected in the next 10 days. Now, she says, she is ready to return to City Hall as mayor.
Richie becomes the latest entry in a crowded field that was out in full force Tuesday, gathering signatures at polling places around Boston during the US Senate primary elections. Twenty-four candidates have filed for nomination papers, although several are not regarded as viable.
Richie’s campaign manager is James McGee, president of Newgrange Consulting Group, a Boston political strategy firm. She plans a formal campaign launch within the next week, putting her behind a parade of candidates who have gone public with their intentions earlier, after Menino announced in late March that he would retire.
Each candidate must gather signatures from 3,000 registered voters to appear on the ballot. The preliminary election is Sept. 24, with the final vote scheduled for Nov. 5.