Karen Charles Peterson: Time’s right for her to ‘give back’

Karen Charles Peterson placed her hands over the car’s air conditioning vents for warmth as her campaign manager drove her back to her Dorchester home. She had spent two hours in the cold, knocking on doors, down Savin Street and up Quincy Street, covering the Roxbury sliver in the Fifth Suffolk House District that also includes Dorchester.

One of five Democrats running to replace former state Rep. Carlos Henriquez, she started on Hazelwood St., walking up the hill, past Boston Latin Academy, with campaign literature in one hand and an iPhone in the other. The upper levels of the Prudential and Hancock towers were visible in the distance, and the Roxbury YMCA could be seen directly below the homes perched on the hill.

Charles Peterson had been courted to run before. In 2010, when she was chief-of-staff at the MBTA, local activists approached her after state Rep. Marie St. Fleur said she would step down.

But Charles Peterson declined, as did others, and Henriquez went on to win the seat. “My life was just different back then,” Charles Peterson said.

But after Henriquez was hit with assault and battery charges in July 2012, a guilty verdict in January 2014, and expulsion from the House shortly after that, the seat opened up again.

In 2010, “I was single,” Charles Peterson said. “I knew I was staying in the district. But now, four years later, I’m married, I own a house. And my husband Kevin said, ‘You’ve always talked about giving back.’”

Charles Peterson, who is now chief of staff at the state Department of Telecommunications, has lived in Dorchester for 40 years. She was born in Toronto to two Trinidadian immigrants and moved to Boston when she was 3 because her father got a job working for AT&T. She grew up on Olney Street, and now owns the Victorian home next to St. Peter’s Church that was featured in the first episode of “This Old House.”

As she answered a reporter’s questions, her 33-year-old campaign manager, Adrian Saccoach, came up behind her. “Do you have a brochure?” he asked.

She took several copies and they split up, with Saccoach taking one townhome and Charles Peterson another.

“It’s a little warmer, standing right here,” she said, as she waited for somebody to answer the door.

After a few minutes, there was still no answer. “Mr. Smith is not home,” she said, taking out the brochure and writing a note on it.

Saccoach could be heard a few doors down. “I’m here because I know you’re a really good voter,” he said. The supervoter mentioned Henriquez. “Yeah, he’s currently unavailable,” Saccoach told her. She took his campaign literature and closed the door.

Charles Peterson and Saccoach turned back onto Hazelwood Street. At one new-looking housing complex, Donna Taylor, 60, opened the door. “I’ve already received two,” she said as Charles Peterson pulled out the brochures.

“I really want to serve you at the State House,” Charles Peterson said, asking for her vote.

“I don’t want to promise,” Taylor said, hesitating. She had to read everybody’s material first.

“Are you leaning towards me?” Charles Peterson asked.

Taylor nodded and Charles Peterson brightened.

After the door closed and she was back on the sidewalk, Charles Peterson said her campaign had sent out three mailings so far. “It’s nice to hear our literature is getting out,” she said.

An hour later, she was back inside the car, attempting to stay warm. First she would go home for a quick break, and then a meeting of the Ward 17 Democratic Committee. “It’s just very short,” she said of the special election’s timeline. “It’s a condensed race. It’s hard.”

Building a strong volunteer base on short notice isn’t an easy task, she adds. Saccoach, the campaign manager, is a friend of the family. He worked for Charles Peterson’s husband Kevin when he managed Charlotte Golar Richie’s campaign for state representative 20 years ago.

But she felt satisfied with the round of early evening door-knocking.
“I feel really good,” Charles Peterson said. “I love meeting people so this is a good feeling for me.”