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District 3 vote will trim field to 2

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / September 26, 2011

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In Boston, a district city councilor can hold the job for life: Incumbents almost never lose elections. Like all open seats, the departure of longtime Councilor Maureen E. Feeney attracted a swarm of candidates vying to representing District 3, the heart of Dorchester.

The seven contenders in tomorrow’s preliminary election include a union plumber, two laid-off workers, several realtors, and a woman who worked her way from a homeless shelter through law school. Although the race remains up for grabs, three candidates have emerged from the pack, fighting for two spots on the ballot in November’s final election.

One perceived front-runner is Frank Baker, whose 12 siblings give him deep ties to Savin Hill in the northern reaches of the district. The other two - plumber and realtor John K. O’Toole and realtor Craig M. Galvin - come from Neponset and the Cedar Grove area and must fight over the same ward in southern Dorchester where more people tend to vote.

The race, like most city elections, also has echoes of a broader political fight. O’Toole is close to the administration of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, while Galvin is in the camp of Michael F. Flaherty Jr., who unsuccessfully challenged Menino in 2009.

But this is Dorchester, where longtime residents still identify their neighborhoods by the local Catholic parish, and municipal elections are more about a candidate’s neighborhood connections than political positions.

“This is a local election,’’ said Baker, 43, a first-time candidate who worked for the city printing plant for 20-plus years but was laid off in 2010 when the press closed. “It’s about getting out and meeting as many people as you can meet and touching as many people as you can touch to make your case.’’

All three top-tier candidates have benefited from significant fund-raising, influential endorsements, and the support of labor unions and civic groups. They have also endured greater scrutiny: Baker pleaded guilty almost 20 years ago to possession of marijuana; O’Toole signed a 2005 petition against same-sex marriage and has repeatedly fallen behind on his city property taxes and owes $1,500 from 2010; and Galvin is in the midst of a foreclosure.

Baker told the Dorchester Reporter he made “poor choices’’ in his youth. In a Globe interview, O’Toole said he regrets that his name appeared on the petition and that he supports same-sex marriage. Galvin said he has come to an agreement with his bank.

The district follows the coast from Dorchester Bay to the Neponset River, with Dorchester Avenue running down the middle - a spine connecting disparate neighborhoods.

The thoroughfare touches white, Irish Catholic enclaves where voter turnout is traditionally higher for municipal elections, and more diverse quarters where historically fewer people go to the polls.

In 1983, when lawmakers carved Boston into individual City Council districts, James E. Byrne grabbed the Dorchester seat. He held it until his staffer, Maureen E. Feeney, won the job in 1993. In April, Feeney announced she would not seek a ninth term.

For her successor, Feeney endorsed O’Toole, 47, a Minot Street resident and longtime community advocate.

“I think it’s important that a councilor understand they are not going to solve the problems of the world,’’ O’Toole said. “The focus needs to be on constituent services.’’

The contender with the largest campaign account heading into tomorrow’s preliminary election is Galvin, 41, a first-time candidate who owns a real estate firm on Neponset Avenue. He has raised more than $64,000 and had $21,000 left to spend in mid-September, records show. O’Toole raised almost $37,000 and had almost $14,000 left. Baker raised $46,500 and had $3,500 left.

“I think people should vote for me because I am the candidate who has delivered the newspaper on the street,’’ Galvin said. “In high school, I worked as a Teamster in the neighborhood on the back of a rubbish truck. Now everyday [as a realtor], I get to sell all the good that Dorchester has to offer.’’

The other four candidates have struggled to raise money, but all say they will overcome the lack of resources with enthusiasm and dogged determination.

Take Stephanie L. Everett, 35, who lives in the sliver of District 3 in Mattapan and most recently served as a staffer for state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz.

At age 19, Everett was a single mother, raising an infant in a homeless shelter. She got an apartment, worked full-time while attending Northeastern University, and eventually earned a law degree from Suffolk University.

“Having gone through what I’ve gone through,’’ Everett said, “I have a different perspective, a different passion.’’

Mary-dith E. Tuitt served 14 years as an aviation machinist in the Navy, has done two stints in the office of Boston City Councilor Charles C. Yancey, and works as chief of staff for state Representative Gloria L. Fox. But she acknowledged that as a woman of color she has an uphill battle in District 3.

“I think a lot of times people of color do not come out in these elections because they don’t see candidates who represent them,’’ said Tuitt, 44, who immigrated to Boston as a child from the Caribbean island of Montserrat and lives in the Codman Hill section of Dorchester.

“We’ve been reaching out to all the communities of color to say please come out to show them we do have a voice,’’ Tuitt said.

Martin J. Hogan, 32, lives in the Neponset section of Dorchester and worked as a technology professional until he was laid off in June.

Hogan has mounted two unsuccessful bids for an at-large seat on the City Council, but he believes his dedication to neighborhood civic organizations will help him win his district.

“I think I could bring a strong voice to the City Council for all the people of Dorchester,’’ Hogan said. “I’m the type of guy that will roll up his sleeves and do some real work.’’

Then there is Doug Bennett, 35, a former Nantucket selectman who waged an unsuccessful campaign in 2009 for an at-large seat on the council. Bennett’s central campaign strategy is relentless door knocking; after moving to Dorchester last summer he hit the streets. He has knocked on the doors of 37,000 households in District 3, Bennett said, and counting.

“I’m positioned to win,’’ Bennett said with conviction. “I’m going to top the ticket.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.