They crowded under a tent pitched in a vacant Dorchester lot on a rainy Tuesday evening. One of the candidates had to mow the lawn.
While the gathering was far from a glamourous affair, the candidates-of-color forum organized by a group of community activists fostered a substantive dialogue between several of the six minority candidates, despite controversy that almost led to its cancellation.
The meeting was booted from its original venue—Freedom House in Dorchester—after some of the campaigns raised concerns that organizers did not invite the six white candidates.
The local group putting on the forum—For the Community, By the Community—did expand the forum and invite the white candidates, but the forum remained focused primarily on allowing residents from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan to interact with the minority candidates.
“This is the first time that this community has six candidates,” said Stanley Porter, an organizer from Mattapan. “We wanted to have a voice and give this a community a chance to direct ask questions of the candidates.”
The tent was set up next to the Freedom House (candidate Charles Clemons showed up early to cut the grass). More than 100 people questioned the candidates, who spoke passionately about the need for better accessibility to city services for Boston’s minority communities.
Four candidates of color—Clemons, John Barros, David James Wyatt, and Charles Yancey—sat at the front of the tent taking questions. City Councilor Felix Arroyo and former state representative Charlotte Golar Richie did not attend.
Standing as they addressed the crowd, Barros, Yancey, and Clemons each called for more attention to be paid to Boston’s minority communities, often earning them applause.
Wyatt, the race’s only Republican, also earned some applause. But he riled up the crowd by saying he would keep Edward Davis as police commissioner.
Two of the white candidates, state Representative Martin Walsh and Bill Walczak, co-founder of the Codman Square Health Center, also showed up.
Walczak delivered a passionate two-minute address in which he trumpeted his work to revive once-blighted communities around Boston. Walsh, meanwhile, took a softer tone and ask those in attendance to consider voting for him.
“I’m asking everyone in this tent for your vote.” Walsh said, prompting a woman seated near the front of the forum to call out: “First you need to hear our needs. You need to address our needs.”
After taking a moment, Walsh responded: “I do, I know your needs.”Wesley Lowery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.