Double-booked forums send council candidates scrambling

All seven candidates vying to fill the vacant second district city council seat made it to both a candidate's forum in South Boston and the monthly meeting of Dorchester's McCormack Civic Association on Tuesday evening despite fears that the double booking would force them to leave the McCormack meeting &endash; which covers a small portion of the Southie-dominant district &endash; out in the cold.

A candidates' forum moderated by Francis Collins, leader of the South Boston Residents Group, began at 6:30 p.m. at the South Boston Educational Complex, just half an hour before the start of the regularly scheduled monthly McCormack gathering, to which all the candidates had been invited.

The scheduling conflict arose despite pleas from the camps of all seven candidates to adjust the South Boston event, which some claim Collins organized with full knowledge that it would conflict with the McCormack forum.

McCormack leader Millie Rooney says that she announced at a January meeting in City Hall that all candidates in the special election to fill the council seat of deceased Councillor James Kelly would be invited to speak to McCormack members in March.

The city hall meeting, organized by City Councillor Michael Flaherty as a gathering of all neighborhood leaders who had worked closely with Kelly, was attended by Collins as well as Bob O'Shea and Brian Mahoney, who are both now candidates in the election. Mahoney and O'Shea confirmed Tuesday night that Rooney had announced the March forum at the January meeting, while Collins did not specify a date for his own forum.

But Collins maintains that he was unaware of Rooney's plan to host the candidates this week, and says he decided over a month ago to host a forum on Tuesday March 20.

"I told Millie over a month ago," said Collins. "And I bumped into a couple of the candidates at the St. Patrick's Day breakfast, and they said they had just heard about the McCormack forum a couple of days before."

According to O'Shea, all seven candidates in the special election had asked Collins to reschedule his forum.

"To a person, all seven of us agreed it was the right thing to do," said O'Shea. "He [Collins] put us in a bad situation having to chose, and we all said we would have to get up and leave his forum at 8 p.m."

Several candidates mentioned the conflict at one of the two forums. Bill Linehan was the first to leave the Southie forum for McCormack around 7:50 p.m., and Mahoney apologized to the McCormack crowd if the snafu had stolen some of their thunder.

"We did everything we could to stop the disrespect shown, and I'm sorry that knucklehead went about it this way," said Mahoney of Collins. From the back of the room, O'Shea seconded the notion.

"It was important that we got here. That's why we all had cars waiting outside South Boston high school, engines running," O'Shea said.

In the end, all seven candidates made it to the McCormack meeting at a function hall at Blessed Mother Teresa parish and spoke for the five minutes they were allotted.

Rooney said she was content with the end result.

"[All the candidates] showed up, which means they're aware McCormack is a part of the district," said Rooney. "Twelve years after we started we're established, the police and politicians know we're over here."