2018: Ward 11 Caucus & State Convention

In February and March of 2018, Massachusetts Democrats will meet in towns and wards across the state to elect delegates to the 2018 Democratic State Convention. Sometimes a sleepy affair, in years with competitive statewide races (for Governor or another of the Commonwealth’s several Constitutional Offices), the Convention is a critical hurdle for candidates hoping to appear on the Democratic Party’s September primary ballot. In order to do so, a candidate must receive the support of at least 15% of the delegates attending that year’s convention, usually held in June. In 2014, Governor Deval Patrick’s last year in office, there were initially five Democrat candidates seeking to succeed him. They were: Joe AvelloneDon Berwick, Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman, and Juliette Kayyem. Only three of five made it past the convention.

Many delegates to the State Convention are elected at local caucuses. Any registered Democrat residing within the town or ward holding the caucus is eligible to run: there are an equal number of spots available for men and for women. Additionally, there are a number of “add-on” delegates: these spots are assigned later in the process to persons representing a number of Democrat constituencies. In order to run for delegate, you must arrive on time to the caucus and be nominated by two Democrats in attendance. If more persons are nominated than there are seats available (for example, this year Ward 11 plans to elect 19 delegates, presumably because one of the 10 female seats is being filled by our female ward committee chair), an election is held.

In 2014, Ward 11 held their caucus on the morning of Saturday, March 1 – the event was attended by several of the five gubernatorial candidates. Especially motivated was Don Berwick: Both Coakley and Grossman had previously won statewide elections and were certain to garner enough support at the Convention to make the ballot. Avellone and Kayyem were long-shot candidates, neither seen to have a real chance of winning the Governor’s office. Berwick was the wildcard: seen as the most progressive candidate, he had the strong support of several Democrat activists with influence in Wards 11 and 19, which together include most of Jamaica Plain, one of the most politically liberal areas of the City (JP was the only neighborhood, for example, aside from student-populated areas of Allston-Brighton, where almost 80% of voters favored marijuana decriminalization in the 2016 statewide ballot question). As a physician, Berwick could speak authoritatively on two of the more relevant issues of the day: health care administration and drug enforcement. About a third of the Ward 11 residents who ran for delegate in 2014 were clearly doing so in order to support Berwick. I was undecided, and ran for delegate without professing allegiance to any candidate. In my brief statement, I talked of party unity and of the omelette station I had volunteered to run, as my contribution to that morning’s festivities.

After the caucus, I had the opportunity to meet several statewide candidates interested in my convention vote. I could not support Kayyem, a former Homeland Security bureaucrat whose husband wrote the legal memo justifying Barack Obama’s use of drones to commit extrajudicial assassinations. I met with Berwick at a kitchen table on the first floor of a triple decker in Jamaica Plain: the home of his chief organizer in the area. I was open to the idea of supporting him, since his medical background would conceivably make him likelier to abandon failed drug policies and favor a public health rather than criminal justice approach to non-violent drug offenses. I had misgivings, however, because Berwick had taken a strong and vocal position (much like Bill Walczak had, in the previous year’s mayor’s race) as the “anti-casino” candidate. Although sympathetic to some of the statements he made concerning the dangers presented, both to individuals and to society, by gambling addiction, I could not square his prohibitionist approach to one issue (gambling) with his more liberal stance on another (drugs). At one time, progressives defended liberty and practiced tolerance: If a person wants, peacefully, to use a drug of which you disapprove, what right have you to stop them? If a person wants, peacefully, to play slot machines or poker, what makes you qualified to deny them the opportunity? When a politician is prepared to sacrifice the freedoms of certain individuals in the name of some “greater good,” I am reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”

In the end, my convention votes were largely determined by my pre-existing relationships with other participants in local politics. For example, I committed my vote for Treasurer based upon a personal request from Senator James W. Hennigan, II, with whom I was having regular political discussions at the time. I supported Steve Grossman for Governor, because I had previously met him at several Democrat Party events and found him to be a good listener and not overly ideological. Like most voters, I chose the candidates who were most familiar to me, as well as those who came recommended by trusted friends.

This year, the field of Democrat candidates for Governor includes Jay Gonzalez, Bob Massie and Setti Warren. Additionally, we have a contested primary election for Secretary of the Commonwealth, with Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim challenging Bill Galvin, who won the office in 1994 and is serving his sixth 4-year term. In Suffolk County, Katie Forde is challenging the recently elected Register of Deeds, Steve Murphy. In 2016, Forde placed second to Murph in the Democrat primary (held on a Thursday, unusually) to succeed Mickey Roache, who had retired before his 6-year term was up. Other offices on the ballot this year include all State Representatives and State Senators, Attorney General, Treasurer, Auditor, and the 8 Governor’s Councilors. This year’s Ward 11 Caucus will be held at 10am on Saturday, March 3, at the Egleston Square YMCA (3134 Washington Street) in Roxbury.