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LAWRENCE HARMON

A clumsy effort from Charlotte Golar Richie

Charlotte Golar Richie has worked for Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/file

Charlotte Golar Richie has worked for Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick.

Back in the mid-1990s, some poor soul running for a local office I can’t recall walked stiffly into a Boston Globe interview wearing an enormous neck brace, the result of a diving mishap from the roof a nearby yacht club. He groaned in pain while attempting to settle into a chair. Only his obvious discomfort exceeded that of mayoral candidate Charlotte Golar Richie in a recent interview with editors and columnists at the Globe.

Golar Richie’s poor all-around performance during the mayoral campaign is mysterious for someone so talented. Her announcement in May sent shudders through the all-male field. No one wanted to go head-to-toe in the final against a candidate who could make history by becoming both the first African-American and first woman mayor of Boston. Especially one with Golar Richie’s trove of legislative and executive experience.

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Recent polls show Golar Richie, 54, within striking distance of one of the two runoff spots. But a strong showing in Tuesday’s preliminary election won’t be based on the strength of her campaign, which can be described — charitably — as dysfunctional. From her late entry into the race to a recent clumsy effort by one of her supporters to clear the field of other candidates of color, the campaign seems like it can’t get out of its own way. Internal tensions suggest a lack of campaign discipline. It’s an ill-fitting environment for Golar Richie, who is methodical and lacks sharp elbows.

As a result, she has found herself on the campaign trail with no clear message to voters. Other candidates trying to fight their way into the top tier, including Mike Ross and Bill Walczak, are running circles around her with their well-crafted messages, courageous stands, and impressive blueprints for the city’s future. Meanwhile, Golar Richie’s efforts to raise funds from local and out-of-state feminist and progressive supporters have met with only modest success.

If the quality of Golar Richie’s campaign is a reflection of her future administration, then she doesn’t belong anywhere in the vicinity of the mayor’s fifth floor office at City Hall.

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Golar Richie seemed destined for higher office as far back as her 1994-96 freshman term in the state Legislature, when she was appointed to chair the Housing and Urban Development Committee. It was a rare honor for a newcomer on Beacon Hill. Powerful people noticed. Mayor Menino swept Golar Richie into his Cabinet in 1999 where she oversaw the city’s housing policy for about eight years. Then Governor Patrick tapped her as a senior adviser. On the surface, at least, the jobs seemed to be ideal training grounds for a future candidate.

In retrospect, high expectations about her campaigning prowess weren’t realistic. Golar Richie faced extremely weak opposition during her three primary and three final election campaigns for a House seat representing Dorchester during the 1990s. This is the first time she has seen real political action against talented competition. And it has shown during numerous debates where she slips into banalities, while her opponents offer increasingly specific and edgy proposals in their efforts to stand out in a 12-candidate field.

She has found herself on the campaign trail with no clear message to voters.

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In candidate forums and interviews, she has stumbled over open-ended questions on urban school superintendents, police details, and even housing policy, which is her area of expertise. In the Globe interview, she was asked about the city’s recent efforts to reduce the number of required parking spaces in new developments — an issue that other mayoral candidates have used as a starting point for insightful conversations about alternative modes of transportation, housing density, and environmental challenges.

Golar Richie’s response? “I could get my head handed to me. I’ll reserve judgment on that.’’ That’s just sad at this stage of the campaign.

A lot of women activists and people of color see an opportunity slipping away. Pioneer feminist Gloria Steinem emerged recently to support Richie. Actor Louis Gossett Jr. aired an ad on her behalf. Gossett was brilliant in “An Officer and a Gentleman,’’ but his support can’t erase Richie’s own lackluster performances on the political stage. Poignantly, a group of Boston black ministers laid hands on Golar Richie this week as if they could heal her sick campaign.

Golar Richie’s inability to seize this moment has surprised and saddened many who have watched and respected her for more than 20 years. If Golar Richie manages to make it into the final election, it will be because people like the idea of her candidacy more than they like her ideas.

CONFUSED ABOUT THE COUNCIL RACE? Visit www.boston.com/theangle for a guide by Lawrence Harmon and Noah Guiney to the at-large City Council candidates.

Lawrence Harmon can be reached at harmon@globe.com.
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