BOSTON -- Members of a coalition of Massachusetts women's groups on Wednesday disputed Mitt Romney's assertion that he requested the names of potential female candidates for high-level, state positions when he was elected governor.
"To be perfectly clear, Mitt Romney did not request those resumes," Jesse Mermell, a former executive director of Massachusetts Government Appointments Project, told re-porters during a conference call arranged by the Democratic Party.
Democrats arranged Wed-nesday's call to help blunt the Republican's efforts in the final weeks of the presidential campaign to appeal to female voters. Polls show women favoring President Barack Obama over Romney.
Romney, responding to a question during Tuesday night's presidential debate about equal pay and opportunities for women, said that in the process of assembling a cabinet as governor he was disappointed to find that most applicants were men. He said he then asked women's groups for help finding qualified female candidates.
"I went to a number of women's groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,' and they brought us whole binders full of women," Romney said. The "binders full of women" remark sparked an instant wave of social media parodies of the phrase.
Mermell, a Democrat and town official in Brookline, Mass., said Romney did not request any names after his 2002 election.
MassGAP describes itself as a nonpartisan coalition of women's groups interested in boosting the number of women in top state government jobs. The coalition said it approached the nominees of both major parties after the election, Romney and Democrat Shannon O'-Brien, and secured commitments from both that, if elected, they would work with the organization to identify potential female candidates for senior-level positions.
Romney's campaign declined to respond to Mermell and referred questions to Kerry Healey, who was Romney's lieutenant governor. Healey said Romney went beyond the initial contact with MassGAP by reaching out to acquaintances in the business world and others to help meet his pledge to fill more administration posts with women.
Healey served as a liaison to MassGAP and reviewed the binders with resumes of potential candidates.
"Gov. Romney not only supports equal pay for equal work, but he goes beyond that by working to support women to reach the highest levels of government," Healey said.