In his campaign for governor, Democrat Thomas F. Reilly often talks about his humble beginnings. But the sober, soft-spoken attorney general doesn't tell his up-by-the-bootstraps story the way his new running mate, state Representative Marie St. Fleur, told hers yesterday.
St. Fleur's voice cracked with emotion as she officially launched her bid for lieutenant governor at a Dorchester youth center, providing ample evidence of the pizazz that Reilly and his supporters hope she will inject into this campaign.
''I'm a kid whose parents slaved, worked hard, cleaned toilets, worked in nursing homes, cleaned classrooms," said St. Fleur, a 43-year-old Haitian immigrant who grew up in Dorchester. ''That's who I am, and they sacrificed so I could stand before you today. They spoke their broken English. They weren't understood. But they believed . . . in one thing: They believed in the possibility that their children would have much more than they had. And they have succeeded."
Reilly, who overcame his own difficult upbringing in Springfield, beamed as St. Fleur spoke. Hitting a recurring theme of his campaign, Reilly suggested that the experiences that he and St. Fleur have had will allow them to understand the concerns of ''regular, ordinary people of Massachusetts," offering a contrast to the leading Republican candidate, Kerry Healey.
''We understand how they struggle to pay their bills and make ends meet, put their kids through college; we understand all of that," he said. ''Together, we're going to create opportunity for every kid in Massachusetts."
Reilly, who also considered businessman Chris Gabrieli as a running mate, said the selection of St. Fleur was his alone, not influenced by political advisers. ''No one tried to influence this decision," he said. ''This one rested with me."
The people who gathered at the Paul McLaughlin Youth Center, many of them Haitian-Americans or longtime friends of St. Fleur's, repeatedly interrupted her remarks with cheers.
But Reilly's decision to tap her as a running mate got mixed reviews elsewhere. There was anger centered in Worcester County and among mayors who are backing Mayor Tim Murray of Worcester for lieutenant governor.
Reilly acknowledged yesterday that he told Murray last August that he had no plans to choose a running mate. In Massachusetts, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately.
''This has rattled the chains of some people," said Worcester County Sheriff Guy Glodis, who is Reilly's coordinator in the Worcester area. He estimated that ''about 20 percent" of Democratic activists who had been committed to Reilly's candidacy have either dropped away or are rethinking their positions because they feel he has hurt Murray.
Glodis said he will continue to support Murray while working to elect Reilly. He also acknowledged that the political damage that Reilly absorbs in Worcester County may be outweighed by gains in Boston. Mayor Thomas M. Menino was on stage for yesterday's event with St. Fleur.
Mayor John Barrett of North Adams said he will withdraw his support of the attorney general and is considering backing Reilly's Democratic rival, Deval L. Patrick. ''It is a major league disappointment for us," Barrett said. ''We worked hard to get a candidate, and now the attorney general turns around and picks someone from the Legislature, who is for charter schools and has given us no property relief."
Two other Democratic mayors, Michael McGlynn of Medford and Edward Lambert of Fall River, said they remain committed to Reilly, but are still strongly backing Murray and not St. Fleur.
''We were actively looking for a voice on the ticket," McGlynn said, referring to mayors around the state. ''Murray was the best, coming out of the middle of the state with strong ties to the western part of the state. He was the best candidate, no baggage there."