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Black leaders split on mayoral race strategy

Boston’s black community is divided about the best strategy for winning the mayor’s seat, with some leaders urging that the field of six candidates of color be whittled down before the preliminary election, and others staunchly opposing that effort.

Some supporters of Charlotte Golar Richie have taken flak for wanting to prune the field, going so far as holding a meeting this week to get the black community to consider coalescing behind one or two candidates. But on Thursday, the day after that meeting occurred, Golar Richie tried to vigorously distance herself from the gathering, saying she knew nothing about it.

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“This had nothing to do with my campaign,” she said of the meeting that some have deemed a short-sighted and elitist approach to determining who has the best shot at being elected. “I did not know about the meeting. I can tell you definitely my campaign did not call that meeting.”

Instead, it was spearheaded by Kevin Peterson, who directs the New Democracy Coalition and is a longtime friend and supporter of Golar Richie, serving as campaign manager during her first run for state representative in the 1990s. About half of those who signed the Aug. 28 letter to “Boston’s black leadership” that served as a meeting invitation have publicly endorsed Golar Richie or donated to her campaign.

The letter said it was time “to come to a consensus on who is the consensus candidate from the black community.”

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And while Golar Richie said the effort to rally behind a candidate is “not a novel idea,” she also stressed that all 12 candidates, including the six of color, have a right to run. However, she added, if there are candidates “who feel like they are not going to win this race and they are going to look at the candidates who are more viable, that’s their prerogative. And that goes for black, white, and Latino candidates.”

James Jennings, a noted specialist in race and politics at Tufts University, said a field with so many candidates signals a vibrant democracy and assures that issues important to communities of color are heard.

‘That’s one of the wonderful things about this country. . . . We can freely elect our leaders.’

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“I don’t have a problem with all of the people who are running,” said Jennings, a supporter of mayoral candidate John F. Barros. “I think that is going to be very positive in mobilizing people in the general election.”

The three candidates of color who responded to interview requests from the Globe on Thursday — Barros, Golar Richie, and City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo — dismissed the notion of suspending their campaigns. Among the six candidates of color, they are the top three fund-raisers. And each said the field will inevitably be narrowed — by voters in the Sept. 24 preliminary election.

“We have a process for that. It’s Election Day,” said Arroyo, the only Latino running for mayor. “I truly believe that if someone wants to run for office, they should run. That’s one of the wonderful things about this country that we live in. We can freely elect our leaders.”

Barros, who draws enthusiastic, sizable crowds on the stump, said this election is an opportunity to increase voter turnout in communities of color.

“We should be in expansion mode,” he said. “We should not be narrowing the field.”

Talk of winnowing the number of candidates of color has generally focused on the three who have raised the least in campaign cash, City Councilor Charles C. Yancey, radio station co-founder Charles L. Clemons Jr., and David James Wyatt, the lone Republican.

Boston stands on the precipice of change. For the first time in a generation, the city is in the midst of an open mayoral election without an incumbent vying to keep the seat of power.

The last time the city was in this position was 30 years ago, when Ray Flynn and Mel King competed to become mayor. King, a former state representative, is the first, and only, person of color to make it to the final election for mayor of Boston.

Now, some activists say, the city is primed for another person of color to ascend not just to the finals, but to the mayor’s office. And that presents an opportunity to remedy issues that disproportionately affect black and Hispanic communities, where a quality education, affordable housing, crime, unemployment, foreclosure, and health care remain a struggle.

But the question has become one of how to get there, and competing strategies have emerged within the black community.

Only the top two vote-getters will make it past the Sept. 24 primary election, and with a field crowded with 12 candidates, each hopeful is scrambling to get as many votes as possible.

“You’ve got six candidates of color who want to be mayor of Boston, but the likelihood is that some of them are going to find themselves on the unemployment line,” said Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “So, who is going to be the bearer of bad news?”

Peterson, who stated Thursday that he helped organize the black leadership meeting as “a private citizen,” said that while he does not expect any candidate to drop out of the race at this point, it still is something worth talking about. “What remains a critical part of the conversation, is should someone drop out? I think, in-and-of-itself, it’s good to have that argument,” he said.

It is a moot point to argue because the community must decide, said Maggie Brown, a community organizer who was at the meeting. Just because candidates are black or Latino doesn’t necessarily mean they will be better attuned to the social and economic well-being of those communities, she said.

“We need to hear from all the candidates,” said Brown, who is helping to organize the For the Community by the Community Mayoral Forum for Candidates of Color next week. “It’s not for a group of people who are supporting a candidate to tell” another candidate to drop out.

“We need to bring the candidates to the forefront, so the community can hear and listen to see if we would even vote for them,” Brown said.

Trying to whittle the field of candidates of color before the primary election is a short-sighted and narrow political view, Jennings said. To focus on rallying around a single candidate deflects attention from the root issues that should animate discussions, he said.

“What’s the agenda that we want to push forward?” he asked. “We could have a black, white, Latino, Asian person in office who may not resonate with an agenda of political and economic power in the city of Boston.”

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com.
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