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The Boston Globe

Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Will women turn tide for Charlotte Golar Richie?

“I’m Every Woman” — a circa 1978 disco hit — blasted in the background as Charlotte Golar Richie faced a packed crowd at “Women for Charlotte” at the Bell in Hand Tavern.

“Making history” was the underlying theme of the night — what Golar Richie would do if she becomes the first African-American and the first woman to win election as mayor of Boston. But she began by downplaying that riff.

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“Uh-uh,” she said. “It doesn’t work like that. We are more sophisticated . . . There is more to us than that. You have set high bars for Charlotte to cross. Is the candidate qualified for the job is the first one.”

Her take on the Golar Richie competence test: “The fact that maybe I am overqualified — if you look at the others — takes it off the table.”

She’s a former state representative, who served in Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration as chief of housing and director of neighborhood development and worked as a top adviser to Governor Deval Patrick. Her supporters like to mention that she and District Attorney Dan Conley are the only mayoral candidates with experience managing a major agency with a big budget and staff.

For much of this campaign, Golar Richie’s resume played second fiddle to gender, race, and a positive marketing message.

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But for much of this campaign, Golar Richie’s resume played second fiddle to gender and race and the positive marketing message a victory would send about Boston 2013. Her campaign has been criticized for vagueness and lethargy, and she lags in fund-raising. But an uptick in her showing in recent polls and the sense that anything could yet happen in this race make the candidate with the double X chromosome the X factor on election day. Potential help from Menino’s machine adds to the possibility of an election day surprise.

“She is the wild card in this race,” said Susan Tracy, a former state representative turned political consultant, who attended last Wednesday’s fund-raiser. “She is a significant person, a woman of color. It’s a nice message for Boston to have someone like Charlotte as mayor.” Quickly, Tracy added: “She is qualified to do that. She is a competent, confident, caring candidate for mayor.”

Still, if Golar Richie makes it to the final, the political world will see it as affirmation of Menino’s observation that her victory would be “a national story.” Resume doesn’t elevate it to that level; gender and skin color do.

Female candidates and their supporters walk a delicate line, even without race as an added complication. All candidates — male and female — play first to a natural base, whether rooted in neighborhood or ethnicity. Yet, women still must prove they bring more to the table than “just” being female. And in this election cycle, making that case has been a challenge for Golar Richie.

She is smart, elegant, and articulate. Public relations consultant Colette Phillips, who cohosted the “Women for Charlotte” fund-raiser likens the candidate to Clair Huxtable, the TV character on “The Cosby Show,” who played the role of wife and lawyer. What Loretta Dickson of Mission Hill describes as Golar Richie’s “pedigree” has appeal, Dickson said, because it “crosses lines.” Golar Richie has two master’s degrees; her mother was a teacher, and her father was a judge.

But the candidate has struggled when it comes to articulating a strong message, and backing it up with details. At last week’s fund-raiser, she alluded to the criticism, telling the crowd, “Of course I have a message . . . (it is) uniting our city around shared goals. People want to get together, to work together . . . I am the best person to unite us.”

There’s no question a Golar Richie victory would mean a lot to the “Women for Charlotte” crowd — which included “firsts” like Sarah Ann Shaw, Boston’s first African-American female television reporter, and former Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Murphy, the first Massachusetts woman to win statewide office.

“I know Charlotte. I trust the experience she has. She has the credentials, she has the heart for it,” said Liz Walker, the first African-American woman to coanchor the news in Boston at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Added Walker, who is now a minister, “It’s time for women to galvanize.”

There’s nothing subtle about that appeal. Its strength is about to be tested.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.

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