Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly has selected state Representative Marie St. Fleur, a Dorchester Democrat who is the first Haitian-American to have been elected to the Massachusetts Legislature, to join him as his running mate in his race for governor, a senior Reilly campaign source said yesterday.
St. Fleur, a 43-year old who is often cited as a rising star in Massachusetts state politics, will join Reilly at a press conference in Boston this afternoon.
Reilly's choice of St. Fleur as his candidate for lieutenant governor was praised by his allies, some of whom had expressed concern that the attorney general needed to make a bold move to energize his gubernatorial campaign.
''This will add some pizzazz to the ticket," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has endorsed Reilly's candidacy. ''Tom Reilly's biggest problem is that he is about as exciting as American bread. He is not charismatic. She is charismatic, and she is smart and bold."
Reilly's search for a candidate stirred considerable controversy within Democratic ranks when The Boston Globe reported last week that he was in serious discussions with a wealthy businessman, Chris Gabrieli, the Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial nominee in 2002, who spent almost $5 million of his own money to finance the Democratic ticket.
Those discussions ended Sunday, though Reilly has told confidants that he is eying Gabrieli for a state post if he wins.
Yesterday, Reilly's campaign insisted that St. Fleur, who was on a short list of candidates reported by the Globe last week, had always been his top pick.
''She is his first choice and the only person he offered the position to," said a Reilly campaign source, who refused to be named.
St. Fleur worked for Reilly as a lawyer when he was Middlesex district attorney and when he became attorney general in 1999. She was first elected to the House in a special election in July 1999. She has served as the House chairwoman of the joint Committee on Education and is now the vice chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Reilly has been emphasizing his up-by-the-bootstraps youth in Springfield and endorsed the controversial bill that would have provided in-state tuition rates for immigrant students. St. Fleur has backed that bill.
''There is an excellent personal chemistry between the two," said Steven Grossman, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who is raising money for Reilly. ''They both came from very difficult circumstances and pulled themselves up. At the end, he has picked someone he is comfortable with."
Reilly told his campaign finance committee yesterday in a conference call that he had met with St. Fleur on Sunday in her home in Dorchester and that she was his only choice as a running mate. The committee was urged to raise funds for St. Fleur.
But getting St. Fleur the nomination may require work for the campaign. By Jan. 1, she had $19,000 in her campaign account. To win the nomination, she will need to spend at least $1 million, political specialists say. Reilly must also help her get 15 percent of the delegate vote at the party convention in June for her to qualify for the September primary.
Reilly's choice of St. Fleur will probably appeal to minority and liberal voters, who have appeared to have been backing Deval Patrick, an African-American who is a former business executive and who served as assistant attorney general under President Clinton.
Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is the leading Republican in the field, and Christy Mihos, the convenience-store magnate, is weighing whether to run as a Republican or Independent.
Reilly made the decision days before the Democratic caucuses that will be held around the state on Saturday to pick delegates for the June convention in Worcester.
St. Fleur, who must win the party nomination, will join four other Democrats seeking the office. They are: Mayor Tim Murray of Worcester; Deborah Goldberg, a former Brookline selectwoman whose family founded Stop & Shop; Andrea Silbert of Harwich, cofounder of a nonprofit training center for entrepreneurs; and a Cohasset psychiatrist, Sam Kelley.
St. Fleur had told the Globe last week that she would not join Reilly's ticket because she had committed her support to Goldberg. Through an aide, Goldberg said that she had not heard from St. Fleur, and that she had no intention of dropping her candidacy.
On social issues, St. Fleur has supported same-sex marriage, as does Reilly, although he came late to his position, much to the anger of some gay political activists. The two also support abortion rights, but differ on the death penalty. St. Fleur opposes capital punishment, while Reilly, once an opponent, now supports it. She also supports charter schools.
St. Fleur has some blemishes on her record. In 2003, the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance fined her $750 for trying to sell her six-year-old Honda to her campaign committee for $13,000 and continue to use it. She was also late in filing her income taxes in 2001.
St. Fleur also cast some controversial votes when she became a member of former House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's leadership circle. Her loyalty to Finneran hurt her reputation among his foes and liberals in the Legislature.
For example, she voted to back Finneran's controversial move to gut the Clean Election law, saying her constituents needed the funds.