Race heats up for Fifth Suffolk state rep’s seat; Garrison lawsuit over ballot is tossed out

One special primary election down, one more to go.

Dorchester voters have gone to the polls eight times in the last 12 months, including last week, when they picked former State House aide Dan Hunt as Marty Walsh’s successor in a five-way Democratic primary.

The next one is set for April 1, with five Democrats competing to replace former state Rep. Carlos Henriquez, who was ousted from his Fifth Suffolk seat in February by an overwhelming majority of his House colleagues.

The Democrats who seek to replace Henriquez are facing an even shorter timeline than Hunt and his fellow contenders, who knew in November that Walsh would be taking the mayoral oath of office in January: The primary election in the Fifth Suffolk is less than three weeks away.

The Democrats on the primary ballot include Evandro Carvalho, an attorney with Cape Verdean roots; Karen Charles-Peterson, chief of staff at the state Department of Telecommunications; Jennifer Johnson, a local activist who was involved with Felix Arroyo’s run for mayor last year; Barry Lawton, who has run for this seat previously; and Roy Owens, a perennial candidate.

Voters will get a chance to see the candidates at a forum set for March 23, tentatively scheduled to start at 4 pm. The forum, which will take place inside First Parish Church, is co-sponsored by the church and the Dorchester Reporter. Neighborhood Network News’s Chris Lovett, a Dorchester native, will moderate.

As in the Walsh seat race, voter contact and fundraising will be key in the Fifth Suffolk District, which includes Bowdoin-Geneva, Meetinghouse Hill, Uphams Corner, Fields Corner and a part of Roxbury. And candidates are moving quickly: Charles-Peterson held a kick-off event, which doubled as a fundraiser, at the Blarney Stone on Saturday. Carvalho has opened a campaign office at 268 Bowdoin St. Last Thursday morning, McDermott Quilty and Miller, a powerful Boston law firm, hosted a fundraiser for him. John Barros, a former mayoral candidate who has signed up as Walsh’s chief of economic development, made an appearance.

Lawton, who has run unsuccessfully for the House seat on two prior occasions, issued a statement last week criticizing a Boston School Department proposal to eliminate bus service for 12-14 year old students. Lawton, a former teacher, said the proposal to have students use the MBTA instead would “create more public safety issues, lead to more tardiness and absenteeism…” and would come “at the expense of students.”

Althea Garrison, who like Owens is a frequent candidate for public office, failed in her attempt to get on the Democratic ballot this time. She briefly held the seat for two years in the 1990s, before she was ousted by Charlotte Golar Richie.

Last week, Garrison filed a complaint in Suffolk Superior Court, demanding that state elections chief Bill Galvin halt the printing of the ballots and add her name. But attorneys with Galvin’s office, the state attorney general’s office and the city of Boston argued that she did not enroll as a Democrat in time to qualify for this election.

Judge James Lang agreed with the attorneys, and on Friday, he tossed out Garrison’s case.

In order to appear on a party primary ballot, a candidate must be a registered voter in a party for 90 days before the deadline to file nomination papers with Galvin’s office, according to his office. Garrison, who has switched parties several times during multiple runs for office, enrolled in the Democratic Party on Jan. 16, 2014. The filing deadline was Feb. 26.

“Accordingly, given the foregoing information, you will not qualify to have your name printed on the party primary ballot in the upcoming state election; however, you may run as a write-in candidate in either the special state primary or special state election,” Michelle Tassinari, legal counsel in Galvin’s elections division, wrote in a Feb. 14 letter to Garrison.

Garrison had argued that there is no special provision governing special election laws and specifically, how long one should belong to a party before they can run in a special election.

Despite the legal setback, Garrison said she was probably going to run a write-in campaign in the special primary election.

The winner of the April 1 primary is expected to cruise through the April 29 general election. The winner will fill out the rest of Henriquez’s term, and will have to stand for reelection in the fall.

“I’m going to be running in September anyway,” Garrison said on Friday, after the judge rejected her complaint. “They’re not going to get rid of me that easy.”

Henriquez, who was elected to the Fifth Suffolk District in 2010, is serving six months in jail after being found guilty of assault and battery on a woman. House members ejected him in February by a 146 to 5 vote. He, too, could run in the fall, and has expressed a desire to do so.