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A missed opportunity

Kenneth J. Cooper | 10/4/2011, 10:26 p.m.

With 55 percent of voting age population, District 3 minority residents had a chance to increase diversity on the City Council during the recent preliminary election. It didn’t happen.

Residents of color in parts of Dorchester and Mattapan missed a political opportunity in the preliminary election for the open seat on the City Council representing District 3.

The retirement of longtime Councilor Maureen Feeney created a chance to expand minority representation on the council without taking on an incumbent. The vacancy attracted a field of seven candidates — five white men and two black women.

From the results of the Sept. 27 preliminary, it is hard to tell that the voting age population in the District 3, which takes in the eastern part of Dorchester and a sliver of Mattapan, is 55 percent minority.

The top finishers who will face each other in the Nov. 8 runoff, Frank Baker and John O’Toole, drew strong support from their own neighborhoods, where turnout was relatively heavy among the white voters who predominate in both areas. Baker, from Savin Hill, lead the field with 32 percent, followed by O’Toole, from Cedar Grove, with 26 percent, according to the city’s unofficial count.

The two black candidates combined for a paltry 8 percent share of the vote, finishing fifth and sixth. Mary-dith E. Tuitt, chief of staff to state Rep. Gloria Fox, received slightly more than 300 votes; Stephanie Everett, former deputy chief of staff to state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, attracted fewer than 300 votes.

Both Tuitt of Dorchester and Everett of Mattapan were unable to raise enough funds to run competitive campaigns and build name recognition. Late in the campaign, Tuitt papered the diverse Fields Corner area with her campaign signs.

Although minority residents make up more than half the district’s voting age population, their percentage of registered voters is less than half, partly because of the numbers of Cape Verdean, Vietnamese and other immigrants who are not naturalized citizens.

Still, minority voters could have determined the outcome if their turnout had matched that in white neighborhoods

With no mayoral contest on the ballot in the off-year preliminary, there was less awareness among District 3 voters of the city council race, despite the large field.

 The limited minority engagement with the race was apparent the week before the election, when five of the candidates participated in the last forum of the preliminary campaign. The focus was on health, an issue of concern in the city’s minority communities, and the moderator was Michael Curry, president of the Boston NAACP.

Yet there were only a handful of African Americans in the audience of 60 at Harbor Health Services on Morton Street in Dorchester.

The two top candidates who emerged in the subsequent preliminary election acknowledged the district’s diversity.

“It is probably the best reflection of the city that you can find in a particular district, from Lower Mills to Savin Hill and everything in between. I think each and every ethnic group is represented,” said O’Toole, 47. “As I went through the district, I realized that everybody wants the same thing. They want good schools, safe streets, good city services and they want Dorchester to remain and grow as a better place to live.”