A gay-friendly field

Boston mayor’s race offers gay voters plenty to choose from

If the goal was to draw out differences among candidates for mayor on issues of concern to the gay community, last week’s forum sponsored by the Dorchester gay political group DotOUT was a miserable failure. As a show of the degree to which a gay rights platform has become a mainstream platform in municipal politics, on the other hand, the event was a huge success and may even stand as something of a watershed moment in Boston politics.

One after another, the candidates stood before the crowd gathered on an outdoor patio at Ledge Kitchen & Drinks in Dorchester’s Lower Mills neighborhood and tried to outdo each other in showcasing the depth of their commitment to the gay community and sensitivity to its issues, often in personal terms.

Charlotte Golar Richie speaks at last week’s forum sponsored by the Dorchester gay political group DotOUT.

Bill Walczak said the Codman Square Health Center that he co-founded was the meeting place for an early gay civic group in Dorchester. Dan Conley told of how much progress has been made by relating the story of his son’s best friend, who came out as a 17-year-old in high school — and was met with support, not ostracization, from his classmates. Mike Ross told of growing up with a mother who was openly gay. John Connolly ran the campaign of a gay candidate for state Senate in West Roxbury and has sponsored a city council resolution to bring the Gay Games to Boston. Marty Walsh called his vote to uphold gay marriage the proudest of his tenure on Beacon Hill. John Barros talked about the gay founder of the Roxbury nonprofit he has led, who served as an inspiring mentor to him. And on it went.

When the forum moderator, NECN’s Alison King, fired a set of yes-or-no questions at the candidates in a lightning round, all eight of the candidates present at that point said they would not march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston until it was opened up to gay organizations.

Mark Haley, DotOUT’s treasurer, called that “a milestone,” saying it was the first forum the organization held at which every candidate agreed to that. “Everyone is on the same page in terms of gay friendliness,” he said.

The fact that there was so much agreement among candidates on issues affecting the gay community is as clear a sign as any that this isn’t Dapper O’Neil’s Boston anymore. “It’s a relief that we’re at this point,” said Haley. The candidate stands on gay issues are yet another indication of how far the center of political gravity in Boston has shifted to the left, especially on social issues.

School bullying and transgender discrimination remain issues that need a lot of attention from public officials, said Haley, and he was glad to hear the candidates acknowledge that.

Before long, however, the forum pivoted to the same issues dominating the countless candidate events taking place across the city, with the questions touching on everything from schools to public safety to housing and city services. “We definitely lose people who move out to the suburbs,” Haley said of gay families with children who lack confidence in city schools.

The group decided to not even try taking an endorsement vote for the preliminary election. The organization’s rules require two-thirds support for any endorsement, a bar that even Mayor Tom Menino, who is widely admired in the city’s gay community, couldn’t get over in his race four years ago against Michael Flaherty. The group may consider making an endorsement when the field is narrowed to two candidates for the November final election.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Even then, it may not be easy. Following last week’s forum, Haley said he talked to members of the DotOUT board who still were unsure of whom they’ll be voting for. Meanwhile, he said some who arrived at the event certain that they were backing a particular candidate confessed that a number of candidates impressed them and they were no longer as sure about their vote afterwards.

It’s a nice position for members of any advocacy group to be in.