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Elizabeth Warren appeals to voters at Hibernian Hall

Kenneth J. Cooper | 4/25/2012, 7:05 a.m.

Elizabeth Warren has already avoided one of the mistakes that Attorney General Martha Coakley made running against Scott Brown for the U.S. Senate. Warren is showing up early — and promises to return often — to court black voters in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.

Brown’s likely Democratic challenger this fall held a public meeting in Roxbury last week, Warren’s second so far in the unfolding campaign. The first was a rally to sign up 1,000 campaign volunteers at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center last November.

A mostly black audience filled the ballroom at Hibernian Hall to hear Warren introduce herself and outline her populist values.

“By her presence here this evening, Elizabeth Warren is making a statement that this community won’t be taken for granted,” City Councilman Charles Yancey said in warm-up remarks.

After Brown defeated her in a special election two years ago, Coakley was criticized for running a nearly invisible campaign in the city’s black community, where she did not hold a single campaign rally and turnout fell to almost 20 points lower than the statewide average of 53 percent.

Warren concluded her stump speech at Hibernian Hall with a direct appeal to voters in the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods.

“Tonight is an organizing meeting. It’s to help us get started,” Warren said on April 17. “I need your help from Dudley to Mattapan Square. I need you. That’s what this is going to be about. Please be with me in this.”

Warren paced energetically in front of the lectern. The populist consumer advocate related her roots in a working-class family in Oklahoma, early marriage and child-bearing, and move to Massachusetts two decades ago to be near her husband Bruce’s family — and to take a teaching job at Harvard.

“I’m the daughter of a maintenance man who ended up a fancy-pants professor at Harvard Law School,” she said, attributing her rise to the country’s investments in the future. But national values have shifted since the 1980s to selfishness, which she mocked: “I’ve got mine. The rest of you are on your own.”

City Councilman Tito Jackson and Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who dropped out of the Senate race last September after Elizabeth Warren jumped in, endorsed her.

Elizabeth Warren received a warm reception. She drew applause or friendly laughter many times during her 16-minute monologue, the loudest coming when she referred to President Obama and when she decried that the country no longer invests as much in future generations.

The first-time candidate has repeated Coakley’s mistake of not showing up, but she and her campaign made a couple of other mistakes. The campaign billed it as a “town hall meeting,” but Warren did not take questions from the audience.

She did work the room, shaking hands, after the speech. One woman angrily confronted her for not answering questions. Others indicated they were disappointed.

“I like her very much,” said Mimi Jones, a consultant to nonprofits who lives in Roxbury. “I think this is a real missed opportunity for her not to hear from the mouths of people what’s really important to them.”