Overflow Crowd Forces Delay in Ward 13 Caucus

Mayor's Supporters, Marty Walsh Square Off for Delegates

An unprecedented turnout at last night's Ward 13 Democratic Caucus on Jones Hill forced party officials to send more than 200 people home without voting. The overflow crowd resulted from a bitter tug-of-war between State Rep. Marty Walsh, who chairs the Ward 13 Committee, and loyalists of Mayor Tom Menino for control of the ward's delegates.

The caucus was being held to elect delegates to the state convention in June, where Democrats will nominate candidates for various offices and, most notably, for governor. The delegate seats are coveted by politicians who often use the convention votes as barter to enhance their own agendas.

Walsh, who lives in Ward 13, typically runs a "slate" of delegates hand-picked to represent the ward at the convention. While any registered Democrat can run for the position, the ranking elected official in the ward usually controls the nomination process and can sway decisive blocs of votes.

This week, it became clear that Walsh's slate of five men and five women would be challenged by a rival group (dubbed the 'Patriot Slate'), made up of local people known to have strong ties to Mayor Menino's political machine. Although it is not unusual to have opposing slates, last night's ward 13 caucus was clearly remarkable for its turnout.

The conference room of St. Mary's Women and Infants Center on Jones Hill, a frequent site of ward 13 committee meetings, was the chosen meeting place for the caucus. However, the room could only accomodate about half of the estimated 200-plus who showed up to vote. Many voters were lined up in an adjacent hallway and many even were forced to hover outside the jammed building.

After about an hour of waiting, Walsh presided over a ruling to postpone the voting, based on party rules that say all voters must be in the same room for the balloting process. That decision produced grumbling from Menino supporters, who say that Walsh should have gone ahead with the election, but was concerned that he did not have the votes needed for his slate to win.

The caucus will now be re-scheduled, and although it is not yet known where and when it will be convened, it will most certainly have to be held in the largest possible venue in Ward 13.

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