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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval L. Patrick told a large crowd of supporters at Faneuil Hall yesterday that their work has only just begun.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval L. Patrick told a large crowd of supporters at Faneuil Hall yesterday that their work has only just begun. (Essdras M. Suarez/ Globe Staff)

At Faneuil Hall, Patrick is met with admiration

Strategy to win state's top seat elicits cheers

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval L. Patrick would love to have more supporters like Alice Peck.

Peck is a 60-year-old registered nurse from Pepperell. She used to back Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly in this year's race for governor. Then she heard Patrick speak.

''When I heard Deval, I was blown away," said Peck, a member of her Democratic town committee. ''He moved my soul in a way I never thought a politician could."

Peck joined hundreds of similarly swooning Patrick supporters at Faneuil Hall yesterday to hear their candidate's strategy for winning the corner office and his vision for Massachusetts. Part pep rally, part call-to-action, the celebratory event was a chance for Patrick to thank supporters, particularly for delivering a resounding victory over Reilly in the Democratic caucuses last month.

But he also issued a reminder that their work has only begun: Patrick, whose campaign account lags Reilly's by more than $3 million, exhorted his backers to expand the network of supporters and to raise more money for the campaign.

''You have got to go to work," Patrick said in brief remarks after his speech to the overflow crowd outside the hall, who were forced to watch the event on big-screen televisions. The event drew 1,500 to 1,600 people, according to the campaign.

Patrick also sought to shed the perception that he is the candidate only for those to the left of the political spectrum. ''Enough already with all the debate about the right versus the left," Patrick said. ''Let's focus on right versus wrong."

Patrick, though, can expect fierce competition as he makes his play for the sizable bloc of unenrolled voters in the middle.

Reilly, Patrick's likely primary opponent, is trying to cast himself as the more moderate Democrat, telling voters, for example, that he wants to see the state's income tax rate lowered to 5 percent. Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, a Republican, has taken pains to position herself to the left of Governor Mitt Romney on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

In addition, Christy Mihos, a businessman and former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board member, has left the Republican Party to run for governor as an independent -- appealing to voters with fiscally conservative but socially moderate views.

And Chris Gabrieli, the Democratic Party's unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2002, is also taking steps toward entering the race.

Patrick has said he will not engage in negative campaigning against his opponents and will stay focused on issues such as fostering job growth, stemming the state's population loss, and improving healthcare, which he calls ''a moral disgrace."

But he used the issues to hit Reilly and Healey hard yesterday for things he alleges have happened on their watch. ''We have two other candidates in this race who were also in power while Big Dig costs soared, the healthcare system broke down, property taxes skyrocketed, classrooms became overcrowded, gun and gang violence increased . . . and yet they still believe they have the first claim on who should be your governor," he said.

For months, Patrick supporters and campaign workers have been talking up the grass-roots network they said they were building. Yesterday's event, which drew a mixed-race, intergenerational crowd from across the state, served to underscore the point.

It drew people such as Eric Hilfer and his wife, Carole Marcacci, both members of the Acton Democratic Town Committee, who say they see something in Patrick they've never seen before. ''It's like the first time we feel like we have seen the real thing in a politician," said Hilfer, 45.

Also there was Dee Tucker, a 28-year-old legal aide from Boston. Tucker said he was still undecided in the governor's race, but he wondered how other Democrats could match Patrick. ''I don't necessarily think that Reilly and Gabrieli can generate the same momentum that he can generate," Tucker said. ''It just seems like he's the one with the energy."

Patrick has come under criticism for serving on the board of the parent company of Ameriquest, a lending firm that recently entered into a $325 million settlement with 49 states over predatory lending practices. He defended his role with the company yesterday, saying one sometimes has to get his ''hands dirty" to effect real change. ''I have never yet taken an assignment where I've been required or willing to leave my conscience or integrity at the door," he said.

Patrick drew on the symbolism of holding his event at Faneuil Hall, invoking its history in the making of American democracy. ''In each case, this is where the people of Massachusetts came in search of a reason to hope," he said. ''And in every case, the people left this building to build a better future."

Scott Helman can be reached at

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