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20 black ministers endorse Menino

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / October 11, 2009

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A group of 20 black ministers endorsed the reelection campaign of Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday, saying he was the best choice for a community eager for solutions to chronic problems such as unemployment and lack of opportunity.

The endorsement by the ministers from Boston and one suburb, made at a news conference at Eliot Church in Roxbury, spotlighted the increasing importance of religious leaders and the ethnic and minority communities they represent in the city’s mayoral politics.

The event took place as a prominent black minister told the Globe that he is endorsing Menino’s challenger, City Councilor Michael Flaherty, and that many more black ministers from Boston and the state would come out in support of Flaherty this week.

“That 20 might support Menino, but they don’t represent the black community,’’ the Rev. Thomas Cross, who oversees the Church of God in Christ, said by phone last night. “The mistake that some white readers and some might get is that all black ministers are monolithic in their thinking, and they’re not.’’

At yesterday’s press conference, the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, a Menino supporter, said the decision by the 20 was a pragmatic choice by religious leaders who have a responsibility to provide spiritual and political guidance to their supporters.

“Black preachers, as leaders of our com munity, are politically responsible to represent the long-term interests of our constituents,’’ Rivers said. “Black preachers are doing this because they are smart and they live in Boston.’’

Cross countered that those 20 ministers represent a small percentage of the black faithful in Boston. “The mayor had 20 come out. You’ve got more than 20 churches on Norfolk Street alone,’’ he said.

Cross also accused the Menino administration of trying to “split the black church.’’

“If you don’t do what he says to do, then you’re blackballed,’’ said Cross, who would not mention any specific cases. “He has called pastors to tell them to not have anything to do with other pastors.’’

Responding to Cross’s comments, Menino campaign spokesman Nick Martin said, “I think today, he can call it what he will, but today’s endorsement speaks to the power of partnership. These are people that the mayor worked with throughout his career. These people have helped him build a stronger Boston.’’

Natasha Perez, a spokeswoman for Flaherty, said, “We’re absolutely thrilled by the support from the faith-based community. This is an important step in the growing movement for change.’’

The city’s growing ethnic and minority communities have become a critical base of support in the mayoral race, with the percentage of minorities in Boston at about 50 percent last year, up from about 38 percent in 1990.

While some critics said the mayor has not done enough for minority communities in his four terms, he won traditionally black neighborhoods in Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester by lopsided margins in the preliminary election Sept. 22.

At the news conference, the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, a Dorchester resident and executive director of the TenPoint Coalition, called Menino a friend of the minority community who has joined it in fighting crime.

Bishop Gideon Thompson, founder of Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan, said he believes Menino has united the city. “I believe that in the economy of God, Thomas Menino is called of God to be one that is not only a leader, but an example of leadership in our city,’’ he said. Thompson acknowledged he lives in Walpole, but said many members of his church live in Boston.

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. John M. Guilfoil at jguilfoil@globe.com