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Coakley lukewarm in black community

Yawu Miller | 1/27/2010, 4:14 a.m.

As one poll after another predicted a tight race for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy, political activist Bob Marshall grew worried.

The day before the election, he called candidate Martha Coakley’s campaign office and asked if they needed help giving people rides to the polls. He waited for a response, then called again.

“They took down all my information, but they never called me back,” said Marshall, a retired teacher.

The lack of a response betrayed the lack of a field operation. There was no one to give rides to because the Coakley campaign never conducted voter identification, had no plans for voter mobilization and no visible presence in Boston’s black community.

No signs, no rallies, no campaign appearances save for an endorsement event in the South End in November. And no volunteers on the ground to make things happen on election day.

Last Wednesday, as the nation awoke to front-page photographs of Scott Brown, the state senator who waged a stunning upset to replace the U.S. senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy. As the 41st republican, Brown could block President Obama’s health care proposal and stall the Democratic agenda — all the more reasons that  many were left wondering how Coakley squandered a double digit lead.

Anyone in the black community — the state’s most loyal Democratic stronghold — had an up-close view of the problem. As Horace Small points out, the things that normally happen in a statewide campaign, didn’t.

“Martha Coakley lost because she ran a bad campaign,” said Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods. “There was no voter identification. No voter mobilization. That’s what works. Not robo-calls from Washington state.”

Coakley campaign spokeswoman Gail Jackson-Blount did not return phone calls for this story.

To put Coakley’s loss in perspective, consider Dorchester’s predominantly black Ward 14, where 99 percent of the voters filled in the bubble for Coakley.

Or Roxbury’s Ward 12, where she got 95 percent of the vote. Not even liberal bastions like Northampton or Cambridge could deliver a vote that solidly Democratic.

Yet turnout in those two wards, which contain the highest concentration of black voters in the state, was just 35 percent. A get-out-the vote effort in the black and Latino communities could have increased Coakley’s votes.

But there was no visible campaign presence in the community.

“I think it was disrespectful,” said Sarah Ann Shaw, secretary of the Ward 12 Democratic Committee. “We were ignored. I look back at what Mike Capuano did. He did his open mikes. He opened an office in Dudley Square.”

Coakley’s nearest office was in Charlestown.

As news of Coakley’s disappearing lead spread in the days leading up to the election, labor unions and other organizations made last-ditch efforts to mobilize voters in other Massachusetts cities — Fall River, New Bedford, Lawrence, Springfield and Worcester.

But it was too little, too late, according to Small.

“How do you go into a campaign two weeks out with no field organization?” he said.