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Runner-up Flaherty is ready to ‘change Boston’

Candidate stirs workers with rousing speech

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / September 23, 2009

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Michael F. Flaherty Jr.’s campaign aides were already beginning to clear an aisle for his speech when a collective groan went over the crowd inside the Venezia restaurant ballroom. The latest election results, broadcast on two television screens in the front of the room, showed that Flaherty had slipped behind rival Sam Yoon.

The crowd quieted and waited. Then they saw themselves on the screens, aired live from inside the ballroom, and began to chant “Michael, Michael,’’ a sudden and seemingly undue demonstration of confidence.

With Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s preeminence a foregone conclusion, the preliminary mayoral election results last night were still something of a squeaker with Flaherty ultimately defeating fellow city councilor Yoon and continuing on to the November election. But Flaherty came out swinging nonetheless.

The councilor at large with a political pedigree and a well-established base took the stage at his election night celebration to the thumping beat of the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping up to Boston,’’ for an unusually rousing speech.

“If everyone in this room stands with me, rolls up their sleeves, and helps me throw a shoulder into this effort, we will change Boston,’’ he said, drawing cheers.

Until then, the crowd of about 400 in the Dorchester waterfront restaurant had not been very exuberant, or even relaxed. They were drinking and eating and waiting for Flaherty to arrive. They had already heard Menino’s remarks claiming victory and calling Flaherty the runner-up.

Flaherty’s supporters last night had hoped Menino’s vote total would slip below 50 percent and give Flaherty a mantle for change. Instead, he had to take it up himself, as his supporters waved his campaign signs showing the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge and the message “Courage to Change.’’

The voting results showed Flaherty winning 19,459 votes, well behind Menino’s 41,026 but only outpacing Yoon’s 17,179 by 2,280 votes. Menino captured 50.5 percent of the vote to Flaherty’s 24 percent and Yoon’s 21 percent. Kevin McCrea garnered 4 percent.

“Folks, it’s time,’’ Flaherty said, pointing to Menino’s campaign ads. “It’s time to put that mayor behind the empty desk.’’

As the 40-year-old Flaherty roused the group, supporters unleashed whoops and cheers, responding to his sense of urgency to run for mayor this year.

He told the crowd he had been advised to wait, because it would probably be Menino’s last term.

“I said, ‘The city can’t wait,’ ’’ said Flaherty, sparking wild applause. “For . . . mothers I’ve met over the course of this campaign who have lost their sons to senseless violence, I say, we can’t wait. For children across the city who dropped out of the Boston public schools or who currently are in underperforming schools, I say we can’t wait. For those who’ve been threatened, bullied, intimidated over the course of the campaign, I say, we can’t wait.’’