As Finneran Leaves (Officially), Milton Candidate Joins 12th Suffolk Field

Caesar may have regretted heading to the Senate on March 15, but the Ides of March this year will make one politician very happy.

The House of Representatives scheduled a special election to fill the 12th Suffolk House seat vacated by former Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, planning a primary for March 15 and a general election on April 12. In the heavily Democratic district, the earlier date likely will decide the next rep.

Finneran officially vacated the seat at 5 p.m. on Dec. 30, closing the legislative chapter of a controversial public figure's life three months after he announced his intention to do so.

The calendar's turn and announcement of election dates are expected to instill a greater sense of urgency in the campaign.

Last month, the field added a fifth candidate. Kerby Roberson, a Milton resident with a law practice in Hyde Park, has been lining up support and hustling to close the gap between him and the city candidates who have been on the trail for months.

Roberson, a 47-year-old Haitian immigrant, said he hopes to draw on the network he built with his law practice from its beginnings in Codman Square, through Milton politics, and during his volunteer work in the Haitian community. He has served as a member of the Haitian-American Public Health Initiative in Mattapan, on the board of the Haitian Multi-Service Center, and as a member of the Dorchester Merchants Association. He has run unsuccessfully for the Governor's Council, twice for the Milton board of selectmen, and has won a race for Milton town meeting.

Roberson's entrance adds a Milton candidate and brings the number of Haitian-Americans in the race to three, including Linda Dorcena Forry and Emmanuel Bellegarde. Stacey Monahan and Eric Donovan, the other two candidates, are Irish-American.

Even before the election date was settled, candidates had begun renting office space and ratcheting up their fundraising.

While candidates aren't required to file their 2004 campaign finance records until January 20, Forry claimed a lead in outside fundraising, estimating her take at $22,500. Donovan said he has hauled in roughly $20,000. Monahan, who was the last candidate to declare and did not form a committee until November 23, more than six weeks after Forry and Donovan, said she has raised close to $15,000. Bellegarde said he has invested $25,000 of his own money, and said he didn't know the outside fundraising figures. His treasurer did not immediately return a call Wednesday morning. Roberson's campaign is just beginning the process.

Monahan, whose father is a top official in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103, has racked up the the bulk of the organized labor endorsements, including those from Local 103, and unions of painters, carpenters, sheetmetal workers, roofers, masons, and laborers. She said she also has the endorsement of Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, for whom she serves as district director. Monahan said she and Lynch were planning to decide at the end of the first week in January when she will leave her post. Her campaign, managed by Dianne Mulvey and MaryAnn Brown, is setting up shop on Dorchester Ave. across from Ashmont Station.

Forry, the wife of Reporter Managing Editor Bill Forry, counts on labor backing from floor coverers and carpenters unions, as well as the endorsement of state Rep. Marie St. Fleur. Her camp, managed by Stuart Rosenberg, is still searching for headquarters, she said, but unveiled last week a towering billboard in Mattapan Square. She left her post as an aide to Boston housing chief Charlotte Golar Richie in late November.

Donovan said he has landed the support of Local 2222, a large telecommunications union. As for elected officials' endorsements, he said, "I don't have any and I don't expect to have any." His brother Andrew is managing the campaign, which opened an office in Adams Corner, above the China Sky restaurant. Donovan said he planned to leave his job as assistant House counsel on Jan. 6.

Bellegarde, who left state Senator Jack Hart's office in late October, plans to run the campaign out of three rooms in his Walk Hill home, but said that "may change depending on if I need more space." As for endorsements, he said, "Linda, Stacey, and Eric - I guess they've got those on lock right now," adding that he was seeking some of his own. Bellegarde's campaign manager is Mukiya Baker-Gomez, whose recent efforts mobilizing the vote in minority neighborhoods has helped lead to wins for Sheriff Andrea Cabral and Councillor Charles Yancey.

Roberson said his campaign is in its nascent stages, still scheduling fundraisers and scouting office space; in the meantime, he said, the campaign is operating out of his law office. Ann Constable, a Boston attorney, is the campaign manager. Roberson said he has not garnered any high-profile endorsements, and acknowledged that the compressed election cycle renders time of the essence.

"We need to organize to do what needs to be done in a very short period of time," he said Jan. 4 during a phone interview.

One endorsement whose impact and process have not been tested will come from a newly-formed gay advocacy group, DotOUT. The group scheduled an endorsement meeting the night of Jan. 10 at the Harp & Bard on Dorchester Avenue in Savin Hill, planning then to decide whom to back. Launched in May, the group has yet to endorse a candidate formally in any race, and members were conflicted this week over whether the meeting would be open to the public.

At least two leading members have committed already to Forry: Richard O'Mara, owner of Cedar Grove Gardens and a driving force behind the rebirth of Lower Mills' civic group, and Michelle Gillen, a cousin of Forry's husband. O'Mara said all candidates would be grilled fairly.

With no track record, the group's clout has puzzled race watchers, who see the district's philosophical, economic, and ethnic diversity as a challenge to easy calculations. But O'Mara said candidates' appearances carry symbolic weight as well as pragmatic. "I think it's very important that the candidates make an appearance for the sake of recognizing that the people who are involved in DotOUT are an important constituency," he said.

Hart, who is remaining neutral, called fundraising and endorsements a key facet of any candidacy, and noted that he raised close to $80,000 in his winning 1996 House race over eventual City Council President Michael Flaherty. But, Hart said, retail politicking could make the difference in a short race.

"Whoever knocks on the most doors, or impresses people the most, wins," Hart said.