Voters Will Hear Out House Candidates in Series of Group Appearances

A string of recently-scheduled debates will give voters in Dorchester, Mattapan, Milton, and Hyde Park a chance to hear from the candidates to replace former House Speaker Thomas Finneran. Three events, set for Feb.16, Feb. 22, and March 10, are thus far the only scheduled forums for residents across the district.

While lawn signs proliferate and media attention sharpens, the campaign is still being fought largely in the background, with candidates netting endorsements and logging the door-knocking hours that observers insist will prove crucial in a special election primary on March 15. Smaller groups have held and scheduled forums and endorsement hearings, but forums and debates serve as the candidates' chance to address broader audiences.

Next Wednesday, Feb. 16, City Councillor Maureen Feeney will moderate a forum at the Foley Building on River Street in Mattapan, beginning at 7 p.m. The Ashmont-Adams Neighborhood Association will host.

The first official debate is marked for Mattapan's Mildred Avenue Community Center on Feb. 22 from 6-8 p.m., while MassVOTE, which is hosting the events with eight other non-profit groups, has not announced a time or location for the second.

Meanwhile, the bidders are vying for the official kisses of endorsing institutions that might sway votes or fatten campaign accounts. Linda Dorcena Forry, wife of Reporter managing editor Bill Forry, announced backings from a string of liberal groups, including NARAL, the state's top pro-choice group, and the Commonwealth Coalition, an umbrella group for progressive lobbies. She also added Massachusetts Nurses' Association and the National Association of Social Workers to her list of union endorsements.

Monahan, seen widely as the race's organized labor champion, won support from the AFL-CIO, the nation's most powerful union coalition.

Emmanuel Bellegarde has drawn support from former Roxbury City Councillor Gareth Saunders and current Councillor Chuck Turner. Turner, the Roxbury liberal, has helped drive turnout in recent campaigns for Charles Yancey, Felix Arroyo, and Andrea Cabral.

Bellegarde said Wednesday that he is uncomfortable with the way his stance on gay marriage has been portrayed publicly. Gay marriage, a likely bullet on the Beacon Hill agenda during the next two years, has been a high-profile issue in the House race. Forry and Monahan support it, while Roberson and Donovan oppose it. Bellegarde said, "I don't support gay marriage, but I support the civil rights of everyone."

He said that marked a clarification of, rather than a change in, his opinion.

The MassVOTE e-mail initially sent out to trumpet the debates contained one geographical error. In naming the candidates' hometowns and neighborhoods, the group said Eric Donovan lives in Savin Hill. Donovan lives on Granville Street in Cedar Grove. Savin Hill is not part of the 12th Suffolk.