Candidate Fights Club's Dinner Rules

From Associated Press

A candidate for City Council is risking losing support among some voters by speaking out against a veterans' club that wouldn't let her appear because she is female.

Candidate Marisa DeFranco said Saturday she hadn't decided yet whether to fight the policy.

The monthly dinners at the Portuguese-American War Veterans club have become an important stop for any candidate seeking the support of the city's large Portuguese community, but only male candidates are allowed in.

Candidates do not give speeches, but they are introduced, opening up prime networking opportunities.

DeFranco says club officials told her this month that her husband could attend a dinner or she could wait outside in the lounge and try to speak to members as they leave.

"I feel like I'm being treated as a second-class citizen," DeFranco told the Boston Globe.

For 12 years, Peabody politicians have been invited to dine at the club, which has some female members. There are 15,000 people of Portuguese descent in this city of 48,000 north of Boston.

The veterans had considered endorsing DeFranco, said club senior vice commander Ray Silva, but now he believes the 31-year-old lawyer has made enemies.

"I think she made a mistake making a big deal out of it," he said. "She's a very young girl. People think she's putting her nose into something that isn't her affair."

Private clubs are not bound by state discrimination laws and may limit membership or attendance to whomever they choose.

DeFranco said Saturday that the issue wasn't whether the group could have a men-only dinner but whether they'd give her equal access to the voters.

Once such clubs provide a public forum, they must open it to everyone, DeFranco said.

"If they're a private club, they just had their dinner, that would be fine," she told Associated Press. "But when they embrace politics, it could be a violation of the law."

Silva told DeFranco the men-only dinners are a tradition. "And that's the way it's going to be."

DeFranco is one of 12 candidates seeking five at-large city council seats in the Sept. 25 primary.

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