The race for mayor in Boston intensified on Wednesday night as dozens of leaders and activists from the city's African-American communities met behind closed doors and considered asking some candidates of color to abandon their campaigns and rally behind the remaining hopefuls.
Kevin C. Peterson, who helped spearhead the gathering at the Second African Meeting House of the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, described the meeting as "pretty heated up" in an update outside the building halfway through the nearly four-hour session.
"There is some concerted interest in asking two or three of the minority candidates to step out of the race and endorse one or two" other candidates of color, said Peterson, who directs the New Democracy Coalition and who is a longtime friend and active supporter of candidate Charlotte Golar Richie.
One option that was discussed, Peterson said, was asking the six candidates of color to meet and identify three hopefuls who would step aside. Those three candidates would then be urged to each endorse two candidates of color, he said.
However, organizers made no public statement after the meeting on that plan or any other to possibly whittle down the number of minority candidates.
In fact, Mel King, a longtime activist and former mayoral candidate who was described by multiple attendees as a lead organizer of the meeting, denied afterward that any such plan was discussed.
Organizers said much of the meeting was also devoted to identifying the issues relevant to people of color that they would like the candidates to address.
State Representative Carlos Henriquez, a Dorchester Democrat supporting John F. Barros, said outside the church that he objected to any effort to clear the path for a particular candidate.
He added that the city's white political establishment does not appear to be engaged in any such effort.
"There's not 70 white people in a room in Hyde Park saying, 'You know what? We have too many white candidates running for mayor,' " Henriquez said.
The race for mayor remains fluid, with polls showing none of the 12 candidates breaking away from the pack, although three white, non-Hispanic candidates — City Councilor John R. Connolly, state Representative Martin J. Walsh, and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley — have tended to outpoll competitors.
The goal of Wednesday's meeting, according to a letter signed by Peterson and 10 other black leaders, was to get the black community to coalesce behind a single candidate. The gathering was held less than three weeks before the Sept. 24 preliminary election, when Boston voters will take the first step toward selecting a successor to Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who is retiring after 20 years in office.
Peterson served as campaign manager for Golar Richie's first run for state representative in the 1990s. Many of the other black leaders who signed the letter have publicly endorsed Golar Richie or donated to her campaign.
One significant exception is King, a former state representative who is the first, and only, person of color to make it to the final election for mayor of Boston. He has endorsed Charles Clemons.
Even with King's name on the letter, some black leaders said they suspected the meeting was driven by supporters of Golar Richie.
"Walking into to it, it doesn't feel balanced," said Mariama White Hammond, 34, a community organizer from Dorchester who is supporting Barros's mayoral bid, in an interview before the meeting.
"At the end of the day, I'm not sure we can get to behind one candidate. I think there's a generational divide."
Peterson rejected the suggestion that the meeting was set up for Golar Richie, although he said his candidate did have substantial support.
"It's not just people supporting Charlotte, but the black community is leaning that way," Peterson said. "Mel is a Clemons guy. It's not a Charlotte show. It's not an okey-dokey, wink, wink thing. It's a serious discussion among serious adults about politics in Boston."
As the meeting began, attendees were asked to introduce themselves and name the candidate they are supporting. Their answers covered a range of hopefuls, including Golar Richie, Clemons, and Barros.
Before the meeting, King said the goal was to "just to be open, straight out, and talk with folks."
He said he was not interested in the personalities of individual candidates but wanted to be sure that marginalized communities gain power in the election to make Boston "a city where all the tribes are welcome and all the gifts are shared."
Another black leader who signed the letter was Carroy "Cuf" Ferguson, a longtime professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Ferguson said he has not backed a candidate but thought the meeting could prove helpful if black leaders coalesced behind "one or two candidates for mayor."
"It has a lot to do with affirming the potency of the black community around this election," Ferguson said before the meeting.
"It's one of the few opportunities that's allowed the possibility to elect a mayor of color."