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Caucus Roundup #2: Wards 4, 6+7 & 12

On Saturday, February 10 at 10am, Ward 4 (Back Bay/South End/Fenway) held its caucus at the South End branch of the Boston Public Library, located on the corner of Tremont St and West Newton St, embedded amidst orderly acres of red and brown brick townhouses. I arrived to find a number of individuals gathering signatures outside the library’s front entrance, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather. I had my clipboard and a nomination sheet for Clerk of Court Maura Hennigan. Since hers is a county-wide office, it is relatively easy to find qualified signatories: any Democrat residing in Boston, Winthrop, Chelsea or Revere is eligible to nominate. Also gathering signatures that morning were Jeff Ross, Chair of Ward 9 (South End/Roxbury) and Democratic State Committeeman for the 2nd Suffolk District; and Marie Turley, Chair of Ward 11 and Democratic State Committeewoman for the same. Encouraged by the presence of friends, I began to gather signatures, but not before being introduced to a new #bospoli colleague, from Dorchester’s Ward 13, who, after spending some time away from Boston politics, has recently made a return to the fray.

Marie introduced me to Jeannie Doherty, field director for a 2018 ballot question sponsored by the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The MNA, through its Safe Patient Limits campaign, is seeking to limit the number of patients that can legally be assigned to one nurse at one time. The MNA is making a two-pronged effort, pushing legislation on Beacon Hill in addition to sponsoring a state-wide “public policy question,” in two slightly different forms. If legislation is unsuccessful in the State House, the ballot question will bring the issue directly before the people of Massachusetts: with a YES vote establishing patient limits, and a NO vote making no change to current law. There are several other PPQ’s that may also appear on the November 6 general election ballot: none, so far, have received the attention afforded other recent questions, including those concerning charter schools, casino gambling, and marijuana – issues that stirred the passions of activists and excited the popular mind.

Jeannie and I traded signatures, and she gave me a new lucky pen: from the Edward Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The ink from the fine-tipped sharpie I had been using can bleed through to the other side of the signature sheet, possibly leading to the disqualification of one or more signatures: better safe than sorry! While we chatted, a slim African-American gentleman entered the crowd and began greeting campaign workers. He looked familiar, and I noticed him take a picture of me. Curious, I asked him what his purpose was in attending the Ward 4 caucus. He kindly introduced himself as Melvin Poindexter of Watertown, State Committeeman and member of the Democratic National Committee, there to document the proceedings on behalf of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. We discussed the advantages (and potential pitfalls) of same-day voter registration (this year, for the first time, a ward or town resident could register as a Democrat on the day of the caucus and then immediately participate), and I invited him to honor us with his presence on Saturday March 3 in Ward 11.

A few minutes after the caucus began, who should emerge from inside the library but U.S. Representative Mike Capuano of Somerville, on his way to another event in his compact but diverse congressional district. Mike accompanied me and Jeff as we walked to a nearby Starbuck’s, and listened as we discussed his unexpected primary challenge. With the initial coverage of the race focusing almost entirely on the racial, ethnic and gender identities of the two leading candidates (a Boston Globe article described Capuano both as “half-Irish and half-Italian” and “white” in a single sentence), I voiced my concern that certain issues might not be receiving the attention they deserve: at a time when Washington’s destructive wars, at home and abroad, threaten to bankrupt our government.

The national debt, once acknowledged by mainstream members of both political parties to be a serious problem with potentially disastrous long-term consequences, is being ignored, for the moment: but rising interest rates will once again force the debt (and the associated deficit) issue to the fore. When the unavoidable and painful day of reckoning arrives, Bostonians will be well-represented in the difficult discussions that will need to happen in DC: both Congressman Capuano and U.S. Representative Steve Lynch of South Boston serve on the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the areas of money and banking. We will rely on both men to protect the interests of the people of Massachusetts – not those of Wall Street and its lackeys – and to ensure that banker bailouts of the type we witnessed in 2008 are never again considered for a vote on the House floor.

Due to a professional commitment, I could not attend the Ward 2 Caucus in Charlestown, held on Monday February 12 at 6pm at the Harvard-Kent School. Later in the month, several Boston wards held their caucuses on the morning of Saturday, February 24. I was able to attend the Wards 6 and 7 caucuses, held concurrently in adjoining rooms of the Curley Recreation Center (aka the L St Bathhouse) on Columbia Road in South Boston; and then to join Ward 12, which held its meeting at the 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury’s Dudley Square. On the day in question, I was privileged to act as driver for my ward chair and friend Marie. The role of driver is an important one in a political organization. Former City Councillor Sal Lamattina of Ward 1 (East Boston) once told me over burritos in Piers Park that the driver is the ONLY position a shoestring candidate for local office cannot afford to go without. There also exists an urban legend (false, from what I understand) that a colleague and friend of Sal’s, former City Councillor and current Register of Deeds Steve Murphy of Hyde Park, benefited from early experience as a driver for City Councillor Albert L. “Dapper” O’Neil. In 2010, during the short special election for City Council (District 6), I was fortunate to have a driver, whom I will memorialize in a future thank-you note.

I picked up Marie, dropped her at the entrance to the Curley Center, and found parking. I am familiar with the neighborhood surrounding the center: in 2009, I focused my campaign for City Council At-Large squarely on South Boston. I remember well the morning of September 22, 2009. L St is the polling place for two of Ward 7’s ten precincts, one of them home to At-Large Boston City Councillor and 2009 candidate for Mayor Michael Flaherty. Reporters and television news crews assembled early that morning to film as the Flaherty family walked from their home across the street, striding the sidewalk gauntlet of signholders, to vote in the municipal preliminary election. Although ultimately unsuccessful in his bid to unseat Mayor Menino, Flaherty won handily in Southie, and was able to re-claim a seat on the City Council just four years later.

I entered the Curley Center and greeted Michael Joseph Donovan, Suffolk County Clerk of Court for Civil Business. Campaigning with her well-coiffed husband and aide was Shannon McAuliffe, candidate for Suffolk County District Attorney. City Councillor Mike Flaherty, reportedly considering a run for DA, relaxed and chatted with friends. The organizers of Wards 6 & 7 had encouraged all signature gatherers to place their clipboards on a long table to side of the room, where caucus attendees could easily sign several sheets at once. I noticed a sheet that not a single person had volunteered to sign. Not surprisingly, this one belonged to Democrat Brianna Wu of Dedham, who is challenging Congressman and Ward 7 resident Steve Lynch in the primary election for the 8th District. This district, formerly known as the 9th, includes several parts of Boston: notably Southie, “coastal” Dorchester, and West Roxbury. Steve has served in Congress since winning a special election in 2001, following the death of Congressman Joe Moakley. While known to be more conservative than your typical Massachusetts Democrat, he is a solid populist and was a firm NO vote on the TARP banker bailout of 2008: even after stocks suffered their largest single day drop since “Black Monday” in 1987. I first met Steve in 2009, while gathering signatures at the Stop & Shop on East Broadway. I had occasion to return to this location recently: it took less than half an hour there to fill a sheet with 24 signatures for Nick Collins.

After saying our hellos, Marie and I departed South Boston, bound for Roxbury. Ward 12 held its meeting in the historic 12th Baptist Church, on Warren Street in Dudley Square, starting about an hour after Wards 6 & 7. On the way in, I greeted Conan Harris, Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper Boston, who was gathering signatures for his wife, Ayanna Pressley. Also attending were Marvin Venay, a Roxbury resident and political activist; my friend Jed Hresko, who has run for office and was recently active in the Bernie Sanders campaign; and Boston City Councillor Kim Janey, whose district contains all of Ward 12 (and three precincts of Ward 11).

There were at least two other Janeys in the room: Dan Janey, Co-chair of Ward 12, who presided from the dais; and Sydney Janey, who delivered beautifully brief remarks when it came time to run for delegate. Also in attendance were several veterans of the 2017 District 7 City Council race: Joao Depina, Rufus Faulk, James Jackson, Jose Lopez, and Domonique Williams. Ward 12’s best-known political participant, Tito Jackson, arrived later, having shed the signature round-rimmed glasses he wore throughout his recent campaign for Mayor of Boston. There was initial confusion as to whether campaign surrogates would be allowed to speak or only candidates themselves. There were several surrogates present, including the father of Lieutenant Governor candidate Quentin Palfrey; but the attention of the gathering focused intently on Ayanna, as soon as she entered the room.

Ayanna Pressley first ran for Boston City Council At-Large in 2009, in a field that included Tito Jackson, also making his first run for public office. Ayanna was a front-runner from the start, and was featured – along with other candidates of color – in a detailed, full-color photo-essay published by the Boston Globe Magazine, soon after the diverse field of fifteen was finalized. With white Irish male incumbents occupying two of the four At-Large seats, but with two seats open to newcomers (due to decisions by both Mike Flaherty and Sam Yoon to run for Mayor), a lot of the public discussion centered on race. In 2009, the buzz phrases were “new Boston” and “old Boston.” Flaherty, a white Irish male running against Mayor Menino, a white Italian male, made his message one of “good” vs. “better,” using images of old and new technologies to imply that he would be an “upgraded” version of the popular “urban mechanic.” In 2009, Ayanna was keen to observe that – although the goal of her campaign was not to make history – if elected, she would be the first woman of color ever to sit on the Boston City Council.

Last year, Tito chose not to wait his turn, and ran against Mayor Marty Walsh, in his bid for a second 4-year term as Boston’s mayor. This year, Ayanna is challenging Mike Capuano, who was first elected to Congress in 1998, almost 20 years ago. Not only have demographic shifts changed the 7th (formerly the 8th) district over two decades, but certain towns have been removed from the district entirely, and others added. When Mike Capuano won in 1998, the Democratic field contained 10 candidates, 6 of whom garnered more than 5000 votes on primary election day. These votes were largely split according to geographic bases, with a candidate from Watertown winning Watertown, Cambridge and Belmont; a former Boston mayor winning Boston and Chelsea; and Capuano eking out his win by dominating in Somerville and coming in 2nd place almost everywhere else.

Ayanna delivered a fiery stump speech, its phrases new and undiscovered. The room was inspired and supportive, and I was surprised when only 9 females ran for the 8 delegate spots available in Ward 12. The female candidates, through a process of general consensus, avoided an election, when one of the 9 withdrew, clearing the way for the other 8 to run unopposed. Twelve male candidates ran for delegate in Ward 13. Tito Jackson was nominated, but was not qualified to serve, having not arrived by the deadline. The list of males included the four City Council candidates mentioned above, my friend Jed, and Hasib Shaikh, Ward 12 resident and experienced participant in local politics. I was pleased to meet several of the recently elected delegates from Ward 12, a few of whom I would see again over the next few weeks. Before I left, I made sure to gather one signature for State Rep Liz Malia, whose 19 precincts include two in Ward 12. I was kindly assisted in this effort by Sydney Janey, delegate from Ward 12 to the Democratic State Convention.

Candidate for Congress Ayanna Pressley at the Ward 12 Caucus in Roxbury, MA