July 2, 2008
Willie Mae Allen's mother had a saying: If you know that you're being chased, you don't look back.
"I'm not looking back at my opponent," said the Democratic state representative in seeking her second term. "I'm concentrating on my race."
Elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, Allen is facing a challenger, Faustina "Kathy" Gabriel, in September's Democratic primary.
Gabriel managed the campaign of a previous Allen opponent, William Celester, in that election, which filled a vacancy left by longtime state Rep. Shirley Owens Hicks's retirement.
But Gabriel, running for district wide office for the first time, appears to have a tough fight ahead of her. Allen has two years on Beacon Hill experience under her belt and a bevy of endorsements from local politicians. A number of them showed up at Allen's campaign kick-off last Friday, including Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and state Reps. Marie St. Fleur and Linda Dorcena Forry, among others.
Sitting in her State House office in between roll calls on Tuesday, Allen also rattled off other supporters, including state Sen. Jack Hart, state Reps. Elizabeth Malia of Jamaica Plain, Marty Walsh, and Gloria Fox, City Council President Maureen Feeney and Councillor at-Large Michael Flaherty, along with a number of unions, including the Boston Teachers Union, and gay rights group Mass Equality and environmental activist organization Clean Water Action.
"Everybody here knows me," she said. "I'm actually contributing, really contributing to the community."
She also touts 40 years spent working in the community, including membership in the Mattapan Civic Improvement Association and 28 years on the state Democratic Committee.
"I don't think there's a question about my gender," she said, shooting back at Gabriel's assertion that members in the community didn't know Allen's name or even her gender. "People aren't going to say 'Who's that?'"
Allen currently serves on three legislative committees: Elder Affairs, Election Laws and Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.
"People were a little leery because of my age before," said Allen, who is 70 years old. "They didn't picture me as a peppy young woman."
That perception soon changed, she said, as they came to see her as "full of energy."
"I feel up to the task," she said of a second term. "I'm very excited about the job I've got."
Allen says she originally thought that one term would be enough time on Beacon Hill. But the first go-around has proved to be a learning period, she said.
She is coaching some young people to run for her seat for whenever she retires, Allen said, though she declined to name them.
Many youngsters were also at her kick-off, she added. "You've should've seen them. They were all fired up and ready to go," she said, referencing a part of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's stump speech.
Allen is an Obama supporter and is going to Denver for the Democratic National Convention in August as a Massachusetts delegate.
Allen counts same day voter registration among the issues she has worked on this past legislative session as part of the Election Laws Committee.
"Election day registration will enable voters to register right on site," she said. "We're hoping to encourage that, especially in our community," where not everybody has time to go to City Hall and register, she added.
The bill, a top priority of the Election Laws Committee chairman, Sen. Ed Augustus (D-Worcester), could come up before the House this week.
Allen also pointed to her support in this year's state budget for the METCO program, which sends children of color from Boston to suburban school districts.
"I'm in a position where I can make some things happen," she said.
If re-elected, Allen hopes to press for a raft of foreclosure bills that Sen. Wilkerson has pushed for, along with reforming the state's criminal offender record information system, which critics say is easy to misinterpret and keeps some from getting good jobs.
Neither looks possible this legislative term, which ends on July 31, she said, as state lawmakers head back to their districts to campaign for the September and November elections.
"I'm definitely going to be here to see those come about," she said.