State Rep. Carlos Henriquez faced two challenges at his Thursday night community meeting: Low turnout and a Republican, far afield from his Beacon Hill home, demanding his resignation.
Maybe it was the New England Patriots' first preseason game. Or maybe it was the humidity of a Thursday night in August. But few people trekked out to the Dorchester House to hear Henriquez, a first term Democrat seeking reelection this fall while fighting allegations that he kidnapped and assaulted a 23-year-old student he was dating.
At least one person was seeking confrontation, which would turn into an awkward back-and-forth: Thomas Dooley, a Republican challenging state Sen. Anthony Petrucelli (D-East Boston).
Clad in a red jacket and with a female companion in tow, Dooley struck up a conversation with Henriquez once the lawmaker arrived for the community meeting. After chatting amiably with him about the campaign trail and the weather, Dooley looked nervously at the assembled media and then to Henriquez, asking him to resign.
“At this point you are a distraction to your party,” Dooley said.
Henriquez maintained his innocence and said he hasn’t missed community meetings or votes.
The back-and-forth continued until a Dorchester resident waiting for the meeting to start broke in. Henriquez is “innocent until proven guilty,” said John McGrath, who lives near the Dorchester House.
Dooley eventually left. Henriquez, his aide and McGrath, among others stayed, discussing the so-called “three-strikes” bill recently signed into law, prostitution in the Freeport St. area, and environmental issues.
They were joined by an environmental activist, a young woman, former candidate for City Council Sean Ryan, a Dorchester House employee and Claudette Jordan.
Jordan said she has seen Henriquez attend community meetings since the assault and kidnapping charges surfaced. “As long as he [does] his job, I don’t care,” she said. “And everybody makes mistakes. I don’t look at that. He does his work.”
Henriquez, who will be facing off against former state Rep. Althea Garrison in November, said a plea deal for him was not in the cards. “I can’t plead to something I’m innocent of,” he said.
Asked about the low turnout, Henriquez said he has dropped literature promoting the community meetings. A similarly low number of people attended last week’s community meeting elsewhere in Dorchester, he said.
“It’s tough, but you gotta stay at it,” he said.