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Caucus Roundup #1: Wards 19 & 16

Now that caucus season has come to an end, I am happy to report to my several readers a scanty few of my many observations. I attended Democratic caucuses in eight of Boston’s 22 wards throughout February and early March, and was pleased to see old friends and make new acquaintances. With a more active Massachusetts Democratic Party primary in 2018 than in many previous election years, the caucuses were well-attended. Where elections were necessary to select delegates, they were contested. Especially dramatic to watch were the discrete but open efforts taking place to elect certain “slates” of delegates: some committed to a particular candidate for statewide office; others consisting of ward committee members; and several being headed by Boston’s community organizer in chief – The Honorable Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Dorchester’s Ward 17.

Although I am always glad to greet my Ward 19 neighbors, I attended this year’s Ward 19 caucus (held at 10am on February 3 at the Painters Union Hall in Roslindale) with a specific and exciting aim in mind: to support my little sister, who decided this year to run for delegate to the Democratic State Convention. The Ward 19 Committee is a very active group that includes many of the more progressive activists in the JP area. Additionally, several current and former elected office holders reside in Ward 19, including: Maura Hennigan, Suffolk County Clerk of Court, Criminal Division; Christopher A. Iannella, Jr., Governor’s Councillor for the 4th District; Jeffrey Sanchez, State Representative for the 15th Suffolk District and Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means; Richard Iannella, former Boston City Councillor and Suffolk County Register of Probate; Ralph Martin, former Suffolk County District Attorney; Lawrence “Larry” DiCara, former Boston City Councillor; and Marian Walsh, former State Senator.

As an observer, I was free to talk with many of the Democrat activists present, and was pleased to greet Reuben Kantor, founding member of the JP Progressives, who is organizing Wards 19 & 11 on behalf of Jay Gonzalez, candidate for Governor. Gathering signatures was Clerk of Court Maura Hennigan, from whom I gladly accepted a nomination sheet to complete in my spare time. Also in attendance was Mike Capuano, Jr., speaking on behalf of his father, U.S. Representative Mike Capuano, who is being challenged by Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley in the 7th Congressional District. I was happy to introduce my sister to Henry Vitale, Executive Director of the Boston Water & Sewer Commission. As she was hosting guests from South Africa that weekend, the topic of conversation quickly turned to the water shortages in Cape Town. When it came time for the official business to begin, Karen Payne of Roslindale, co-Chair of Ward 19, explained the caucus process and maintained efficient order.

According to caucus rules, those who wish to vote or run for delegate must be present at the caucus site by a certain time. Any resident of the ward who is in line at that time is allowed to register and to vote and/or run: at many caucus locations, these individuals are then given a sticker to wear, to distinguish them from guests and campaign activists present. In some places, non-participants are asked to sit or stand in a separate area of the room, in order to facilitate a smooth election. At each stage of the voting, ballots are given only to those attendees with a sticker, and the total number of eligible voters is known in advance: there can be no “stuffing” of the ballot box. A caucus is the most basic and “democratic” form of modern electoral process: similar to the Athenian variety, in which citizens gathered in the ecclesia, or popular assembly, to discuss the issues of the day.

Having some experience in politics and public speaking, I offered my sister two pieces of advice concerning the content of her speech to the group: the first was to make sure she said her name at least two times – at the beginning and again at the end of her remarks. I also advised her to thank our mother, a long-time Ward 19 and Jamaica Plain resident, for coming to the caucus to support her daughter’s first-ever political candidacy. There were 24 individuals running for the 12 female delegate slots available, so the election was a rather competitive one, with candidates citing their ties to the local community, their previous political work (my sister organized a bus to the DC Women’s March, for example), or their support for a particular cause or statewide candidate. I was proud to see my sister elected, from a formidable field, and despite not employing either of my two pieces of advice! After the event, she was kind enough to take this photograph of me and Liz Malia, Ward 11 Committee member and State Representative for the 11th Suffolk District, which includes Ward 11 (JP/Rox), 6 precincts of Ward 19 (JP/Ros), 2 precincts of Ward 12 (Roxbury), and 1 precinct of Ward 14 (Dorchester).

I was unable, unfortunately, to attend the caucus in Ward 20, since it was held at the same time as Ward 19’s. Ward 20 includes West Roxbury and parts of Roslindale. It is home to Holy Name Parish Hall, Boston’s premiere polling place, host to four of Ward 20’s twenty precincts. West Roxbury is probably the most politically influential of Boston’s neighborhoods, since its many residents vote at higher than average rates, throughout the entire ward, in local as well as state and federal elections. While in the past Ward 20 was considered a more “conservative” district (and indeed, certain election results indicate a willingness by Ward 20 Democrats occasionally to vote Republican), its committee is now a diverse mix of Dems, due partly to increasingly active participation by residents of the Roslindale sections of the ward. I attended the Democratic State Convention for the first time in 2013, as an alternate delegate from Ward 20, and I am honored to count as friends several Ward 20 committee members. Alas, one cannot be in two places at once (unless one has an identical twin, perhaps).

Only a few days later, luckily, at 7pm on Tuesday, Februrary 6, Ward 16 held its annual convocation at the McKeon Post in Dorchester, just a few yards from Florian Hall, home of the Firefighters Union. Florian is the polling location for two of Ward 16’s twelve precincts (one of which is routinely the highest voter turnout precinct in all of Boston, percentage-wise). At one time, Ward 16 sent a delegation, by caravan, to Ward 20’s Harry Truman Rally; Saint Brendan’s Parish could be considered a cousin of Holy Name. This year’s Ward 16 caucus promised to be an interesting one, due to the special election for Senator now taking place in the 1st Suffolk district, which includes Southie and most of Dorchester and Mattapan, and which until recently was represented by Linda Dorcena-Forry of Ward 17.

As I entered the McKeon, I was greeted by Evandro Carvalho: attorney, State Rep for the 5th Suffolk District, and recently-declared candidate for the open State Senate seat (he has since withdrawn, in order to run instead for Suffolk County District Attorney, with the news that Dan Conley will not seek re-election this year). I was also pleased to meet comedian and candidate for Lieutenant Governor Jimmy Tingle; and Gracie Zakim, wife of Boston City Councillor and 2018 candidate for Secretary of the Commonwealth, Josh Zakim. Inside, the proceedings were being handled by Dan Hunt, Chair of Ward 16 and State Rep for the 13th Suffolk District; under the watchful eyes of Jim Hunt, former chair of Ward 16, 20-year member of the State Committee, and President of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. Several notable candidates spoke, including Nick Collins of South Boston, State Rep for the 4th Suffolk District and the odds-on favorite to win the 1st Suffolk State Senate special election; Ward 16 resident and congressional candidate Ayanna Pressley; and Setti Warren, former Mayor of Newton and one of 3 Democrat candidates for Governor in 2018. Congressman Capuano was ably represented by his wife Barbara, who draws in an audience with her strong but quiet presence and an understated delivery. Also in attendance were Phil Carver, Director of Community Relations at UMASS Boston, and former President of the Pope’s Hill Neighborhood Association; John O’Toole, former head of the Cedar Grove Civic Association; Craig Galvin, Democratic State Committeeman; Maureen Feeney, City Clerk and former Boston City Councillor; and Maura Doyle, Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County.

When it came time for nominations to be made, a single individual nominated each of the committee members running for delegate: since committee members and their associates constituted a majority of voters present, most if not all committee members were elected. Ward 16 is one of Mayor Walsh’s biggest bases of political support (in last November’s general, for example, Marty took 94.64% of votes cast in Precinct 12 – St. Brendan’s Parish – beating Tito Jackson 653 votes to 34), and its delegation is certain to bolster Marty’s influence in Worcester this June. On my way out, I was happy to see Pat O’Brien, an experienced Dorchester activist, who kindly provided me with a nomination signature sheet for Nick Collins, whose candidacy I support and endorse.