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Coakley flexes union support at Dorchester rally

Attorney General Martha Coakley, flexing her organized labor support less than a month before the decisive state Democratic convention, appeared at a rally today with hundreds of health care workers in Dorchester.

"You get it. You understand that when you organize, when you work and you get your message out, you get things done," she said at the Boston office of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which endorsed Coakley's gubernatorial bid on Wednesday.

"I know you've got my back," she said to applause, "and I've got yours and we're going to make this happen!"

After her remarks, Coakley was mobbed by dozens of purple-shirted union members hoping to snap a cellphone photo with her or get her autograph on a "Healthcare Workers for Martha Coakley" sign.


The nod from the powerful and politically active union was not unexpected in political circles: Tim Foley, Coakley's campaign manager, was its political director as recently as last year.

But the rally was a clear marker by the Coakley campaign that it has the support of a big union — 1199 says it represents almost 50,000 health care workers in the state and nearly 400,000 on the East Coast — and a pillar of the Democratic establishment before the convention.

Delegates at the convention will determine which of the five Democratic gubernatorial candidates qualify for the Sept. 9 primary ballot. To make the cut, a candidate must get at least 15 percent of the vote.

Scott Ferson, a Democratic strategist, noted that some of Coakley's opponents, including Treasurer Steven Grossman and former homeland security official Juliette Kayyem, have gone on the attack against the attorney general in recent weeks.

"She's just trying to shut the door on them — probably a smart strategy," he said.

Coakley's opponents brushed off the endorsement.


"Martha Coakley is the frontrunner in this race," Grossman said in an interview Wednesday night at an ice cream shop in Cambridge.

"The most important endorsement I can think of between now and the 9th of September is the endorsement of the convention," he said, after polishing off a small cup of rum raisin ice cream.

A spokesman for Donald M. Berwick, a former federal health care official who is also running for the Democratic nomination, said, "Don has already stood by the side of workers throughout his career and will continue to do so in the corner office."

A spokesman for Kayyem and a spokeswoman for the fifth Democratic candidate, biopharmaceutical executive Joe Avellone, had no comment.

The campaigns of some of Coakley's Democratic rivals campaigns noted that Coakley has not locked up all of the state's organized labor endorsements, even from SEIU. While she picked up 1199's nod, the SEIU State Council — an umbrella group that includes other Massachusetts unions — has not endorsed in the governor's race.

Besides the five Democrats, there are two Republicans, a Libertarian and three independent candidates seeking to succeed Governor Deval Patrick, who is not running for a third term.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.