O’FLAHERTY SAYS PATRICK NEEDS TO WORK ON CENTRIST APPEALBy Gintautas Dumciusand Jim O’SullivanSTATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICESTATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 21, 2006….“Republicans for Patrick” may have found a counterpart, in the as-yet-unnamed but seemingly in-the-works “Democrats for Healey.”Democratic lawmakers at a press conference Thursday to celebrate the signing of tougher laws against sex criminals pointed to Healey as a leading force in skippering the bill through an occasionally tortured process. Healey, whose superior Gov. Mitt Romney usually handles bill-signing duties, was on hand to exercise the pen, two days after accepting the GOP nomination to succeed Romney.Thursday’s press conference quickly turned into a contest over which urban Democrat could lavish Healey with more praise. And one lawmaker laid out a challenge for Democratic nominee Deval Patrick to disabuse centrist members of his party of the notion that he stands too close to the leftist fringe.Stressing his support as a Democratic state lawmaker for Patrick, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty told reporters Patrick must address the fears of some that he will “bring back the Dukakis era,” a task the Chelsea Democrat labeled an “extreme challenge.”The cross-aisle acclaim for Healey comes a day after Patrick won support from Gloria Larson, a longtime power player in the state’s GOP circles and former secretary of economic affairs under Gov. Bill Weld. The convention center chairwoman was once rumored to be on Romney’s short list for running mates; the nod went to Healey, who was every Democrat’s favorite Republican Thursday.Enthused Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, a former Boston city councilor, “As [has become] the norm, whenever a good idea for public safety and victims arises, everyone in law enforcement and the victim rights community knew that we could count on Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey to do what she does best and for which she gets so little recognition, and that’s work behind the scenes, reaching out across the lines of both party and government to move things forward.”“But for her leadership, but for her standing up and continuing to push and to aggressively pursue this bill, today would not be happening. She deserves a great deal of admiration and respect and gratitude for making this bill a reality today,” said Sen. Steven Baddour, a Methuen Democrat who pushed hard for Attorney General Thomas Reilly in the Democratic primary.No big-name Democrats have backed Healey publicly; her campaign points to Gloucester Mayor John Bell as a prominent endorsement from the other party. And none of the legislators on-stage Thursday bit on a reporter’s offer to announce their support for the lieutenant governor, who has at times skewered the Legislature on issues about which she feels strongly.Baddour said the legislation’s topic transcended politics.Both Attorney General Thomas Reilly and venture capitalist Christopher Gabrieli tried during the Democratic primary to convince voters they were more appealing to the independent voters who comprise half the Bay State electorate, and have historically swung gubernatorial elections.That argument failed, as Patrick secured 50 percent of the vote.Baddour, who said he opposes Patrick on immigration issues like granting driver’s licenses and in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrants, said Patrick has to entice “a whole new universe of voters” for the November election.“He’s got to help us help him,” Baddour said in a phone interview.The Patrick campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment.Standing on the stage after the press conference, O’Flaherty, the House Judiciary Committee chair who supported Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s campaign, told reporters, “I support the Democratic nominee but I would also want to make it clear that I think in order for the Democratic nominee to become electable, what has to happen is he has to get rid of the notion that has been percolating around out there that he is a liberal left-leaning individual that will bring Massachusetts back to what some have referred to as the ‘Mike Dukakis era..’ ”O’Flaherty added: “He needs to make that case over the next several weeks to Democrats like myself who have been increasingly frustrated over the last 16 years over the ability of Republicans to divide Democrats” and cause some to leave the party. In order for conservative Democrats to be comfortable with Patrick, “we need to know a little bit more about him. “It has to be a little bit more than ‘Together, We Can’,” O’Flaherty said, referring to Patrick’s campaign slogan.O’Flaherty encouraged Patrick to pay “extra-special effort” to bring those centrists and conservative Democrats to him. O’Flaherty said conservative-leaning Democrats he grew up with, including union laborers, have come up to him in the past and said they are not voting for the Democratic nominee.“Deval needs to win those people to win in November,” he said.While he agrees with the nominee’s opposition to the income tax rollback, O’Flaherty said Patrick appeased the teachers unions a "little too much" on charter schools and vouchers prior to the Democratic primary earlier this week."I believe it's the greatest civil rights issue of our era," he said. "I was hoping he would at least recognize that there is a growing, growing sentiment in urban communities around support for vouchers, but more importantly, for what now exists, which is charter schools."The comments came after the effusive praise O’Flaherty offered Healey during the press conference, on her work on the sex crimes bill and others, including an interstate compact to track sex criminals.Other Democrats said Patrick will prove capable of responding to those who see him as too liberal.“I think it’ll be very easy for Deval Patrick to dispel that notion,” said Rep. Marty Walz (D-Beacon Hill), a Patrick backer. “As voters get to know him more, they’ll be increasingly comfortable with him.”Added another former Reilly supporter, Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D-Waltham): "I believe there has been a characterization of Deval Patrick as a lot more liberal than he truly is." Koutoujian said: "I think it's pretty clear if you start to see the issues."