By Kathleen Burge, Globe staff
Three days before the election for four City Council seats, black clergy and civic leaders gathered in Dorchester yesterday to urge members of their community to vote and prove wrong predictions of a meager turnout.
Sean Daughtry, chairman of the political action committee of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, told the audience at Freedom House that this year’s election -- without races for high-profile offices like president, governor and mayor -- is similar to the 2007 contest.
“Turnout was dismal,” he said. “We can’t afford to have dismal turnout again.”
The groups that hosted yesterday’s event, including The Boston 400: Who’s Who in Boston’s Black Leadership, are nonpartisan and none of the speakers urged listeners to vote for particular candidates. However, a few audience members wore buttons supporting Ayanna Pressley, who became the first black woman elected to the city council in 2009.
Pressley is one of four at-large councilors fighting to keep their seats, and she is seen by some as the most vulnerable. Former city councilor Michael Flaherty, who left the council to run for mayor two years ago, is hoping to reclaim one of the open seats.
The song “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” played before the speeches began and organizers of the event urged audience members to volunteer at a phone bank to call registered voters and ask them to go to the polls Tuesday.
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate minister at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury and executive director of the TenPoint Coalition, urged ministers to speak to their congregants this morning about the importance of voting.
Yesterday’s event was emceed by Ron Bell, founder of Dunk the Vote and the UC2 Foundation, and now senior advisor for community affairs to Gov. Deval Patrick. Bell was arrested on drunken driving charges in Brookline last month and is on unpaid leave until the court case is resolved.
Several speakers voiced support for Bell, and said they would be at his next court hearing, Nov. 21.
“Most people, when they get into trouble, they tend to run and hide,” said Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers. “Thank you for staying out front.”
The crowded applauded. Later, in an interview, Bell referred to his upcoming court date and said, “I expect to be exonerated.”
Many members of the audience belonged to Ellison’s group, which has been urging the Boston Police Department to place more minority officers in positions of power.
Ellison said low voter turnout among people of color makes it difficult for his group to get elected officials, in a city where 54 percent of residents are minorities, to pay attention to their complaints.
The Rev. Rodney Muhammed of the Nation of Islam urged voters to “look politicians in the eyes” and tell them they wanted safer neighborhoods.
“You tell them we’re tired of our younger brothers and sisters dying in the streets of Boston,” he said. “We’re tired of our babies . . . buried 6 feet underground.”
Kathleen Burge can be reached at email@example.com.