WORCESTER, Mass. — Massachusetts may be well on its way to getting its first African American governor after the state Democratic Party convention endorsed Deval Patrick, with 58 percent of the delegates’ votes, on June 3. Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Riley received 27 percent while venture capitalist Christopher Gabrielli squeezed through with slightly over 15 percent, the minimum needed to qualify for the Sept. 19 primary election ballot.

Whoever wins the primary will face Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in November. Last December, GOP Gov. Mitt Romney announced he would not seek re-election.

This will be the first electoral run for Patrick, former assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration. He was considered a long shot when he started meeting with the more liberal and progressive grassroots Democrats last year. At that time Riley was considered to be the front-runner.

Prior to the convention, Patrick picked up endorsements from liberal members of Congress Jim McGovern, Michael Capuano, John Olver and Barney Frank. He also has the support of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and two former U.S. secretaries of labor, Alexis Herman and Robert Reich.

Some progressive forces within the Democratic Party have expressed some concerns over Patrick’s role as corporate counsel for Coca-Cola. In that position he defended the company against charges that its franchised bottling company in Colombia used ultra-rightist paramilitary forces to clamp down on union organizing by murdering leaders of the food workers union there. Patrick claimed that there was no direct evidence linking Coca-Cola to the paramilitaries, and he supported the company’s proposal to finance an independent investigation. Patrick says that the subsequent refusal of Coca-Cola’s CEO to finance the investigation led to Patrick’s resignation.

Martina Cruz, a school board member from Lawrence and a Patrick delegate to the convention, said, “He’s not perfect, but we need a change from years of Republican governors who cut services to poor cities like Lawrence. Deval’s positions on a number of issues have become better.” That sentiment was echoed by various labor and community leaders who said that Patrick’s positions have changed after some discussions.

Nevertheless, some unions are split on whether to support him or not. For example, some Service Employee locals are supporting Patrick, while others are supporting Riley.

If elected, Patrick would become the second African American governor ever elected in the history of the United States and the second African American elected statewide in Massachusetts. The first was Sen. Edward Brooke, a liberal Republican who clashed with then-president Richard Nixon on a number of issues, the most famous being Nixon’s nomination of Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court. Carswell had made racist speeches when he ran for office in his home state of Georgia years earlier.