Menino falls short as DotOUT fails to back a mayoral candidate

Mayor Thomas Menino failed to get an endorsement from DotOUT, a Dorchester civic group representing gays and lesbians, despite receiving support from a majority of its members gathered at the Ledge restaurant for a Monday night forum.

Both Menino and City Councillor-At-Large Michael Flaherty stayed until the end of the forum, which featured four rounds of voting in the mayoral race that led to no endorsement due to the group's rule of a candidate needing two-thirds support from present members. Many attendees to the forum, held in the patio area of the newly-opened Lower Mills restaurant, wore rainbow stickers with Menino's name, and a number of them spoke in support of Menino.

The number of votes for Menino hovered at around 24 votes most of the night, while Flaherty consistently received 13 votes.

Richard O'Mara, a member of DotOUT's steering committee and of the Dorchester Historical Society, said Menino has helped protect Dorchester Park, getting it on the National Register of Historic Places. "Tom Menino has been there from the start," he said.

But another member of the steering committee slammed Menino, saying the 16-year incumbent, while not marching in the St. Patrick's Day parade because of parade organizers' ban on gay groups, walks along on the sidewalk along the parade route shaking hands and hitting South Boston house parties.

David Breen, a Flaherty supporter, also said Menino gave a commendation to John "Wacko" Hurley, a top organizer of the parade. He argued that, in effect, Menino marches in the parade.

Menino bristled at Breen's comments. "That's a complete lie," he shouted from the audience. "I don't march in the parade."

Breen appeared taken aback, saying, "Wow, I think that's the first time a mayoral candidate called me a liar."

"That's because you are," Menino responded.

Flaherty, who is from South Boston and also marches in the parade, was adamant that Menino walks along the sidewalk, posing for pictures. "He's there all day," Flaherty said.

Flaherty, who earlier in the meeting praised Menino for his support of gay rights issues, was the first municipal official to support gay marriage and backed an ordinance banning transgender discrimination in the city. (For his part, Menino received in June the endorsement of the political action committee of MassEquality, the state's top gay rights group. The group's political director, Matt O'Malley, is a top Menino supporter.)

City Councillor At-Large Sam Yoon, a mayoral candidate who received 2.7 percent of the votes cast before the run-offs between Menino and Flaherty, defended marching in the holiday parade, saying he represents the entire city. He said it was a "difficult decision" to march. Asked by an audience member whether he would march in the parade if it excluded African-Americans and Jews, Yoon said, "I'm not saying there's an easy solution." It prompted another audience member to ask, "What's the answer?"

"I see your point and I get your point," Yoon said. "I am really sorry about how this has affected people in the LGBT community."

The fourth mayoral candidate, South Ender Kevin McCrea, received more votes than Yoon, garnering 8 percent. He said he was initially a supporter of civil unions, but was swayed over time by a gay friend to support gay marriage.

The DotOUT forum was the first time in the campaign where all four candidates showed up under the same roof, the forum coming days before they were to face each other during a televised debate Wednesday night.

The DotOUT organization did endorse three candidates in the City Council At-Large race: incumbent John Connolly, Ayanna Pressley, a former aide to U.S. Sen. John Kerry, and former City Hall and Congressional aide Andrew Kenneally. Incumbent Stephen Murphy did not receive the two-thirds vote necessary to garner an endorsement. There are 15 candidates running for four at-large seats.

DotOUT also endorsed incumbent Maureen Feeney, who is running for re-election to the District 3 seat unopposed.

That pesky Section 48

City Councillor At-Large Yoon has often complained that the City Council is powerless under the "strong mayor" system, much to the chagrin of some colleagues on the 13-member council. But last week's debate over the increasing the city's meals and hotel taxes appeared to prove Yoon right in at least one instance.

The hike, which Menino aides have long pushed for and say will help diversify the city's revenue stream, is expected to bring in $18 million in fiscal 2010. ("This is a vote that is really about the future of the city," District 3 Councillor Feeney said, because the city is currently dependent on the property tax and an uneven stream of state aid.)

District 6 Councillor John Tobin attempted to add an amendment to the hike, calling for $176,000 of that money to be earmarked for an arts program that allows for matching grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. "It's a statement that we're making," Tobin said. "That arts and culture matter."

Feeney said apportionment wasn't a good idea. "Each of us can identify an area which could use these additional dollars," she said.

Yoon said the council should approve Tobin's amendment in order to make a statement about the council's power. "This is about the City Council demonstrating some independence," he said. "It's a power of this body that we have never fully exercised."

It's a power never exercised because apparently the council doesn't have it, according to council clerks: Section 48 in the city's charter mandates that "all appropriations," with the exception of those dealing with schools, originate from the mayor's office. As a result, City Council President Michael Ross ruled the amendment out of order.

Amendments adding sunset provisions and using the new revenue to offset property taxes -- proposed by Tobin and City Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty, respectively -- were rejected by the council.

The final votes on the meals and lodging taxes: 10 to 3 on the meals tax; 11 to 2 on the hotel taxes. District 9 Councillor Mark Ciommo voted against the meals tax increase, but for the hotel tax. Tobin and Flaherty, who has ripped the increases as damaging towards small businesses and their employees, voted against the hikes.

The increases kick in on Oct. 1. The meals tax will rise to 7 percent from 6.25 percent, while the hotel tax will rise to 14.45 percent from 12.45 percent.

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