The candidates are crisscrossing the district. They’re opening campaign headquarters on Blue Hill Avenue and Washington Street and announcing a steady stream of endorsements.
But the race to replace retiring state Rep. Willie Mae Allen and to become the next state representative from the Sixth Suffolk District, an area that includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and slivers of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain, has largely been a quiet affair. The first full-blown forum of the campaign, planned by the civic nonprofit MassVOTE, is scheduled for Aug. 26.
Because all five candidates are running under the Democratic Party banner, the winner of the Sept. 14 primary is all but guaranteed a victory in the Nov. 2 general election. There are no Republican candidates.
The field includes Russell Holmes, a community activist and businessman; Darrin Howell, who has worked in City Hall as an aide to District 7 City Councillor Chuck Turner of Roxbury; Karen Payne, who has served as the head of the local chapter of the NAACP; past candidate Faustina “Kathy” Gabriel; and local justice of the peace Divo Monteiro.
“In this day of cynicism and apathy, it’s good to see people stepping out there,” said City Councillor Charles Yancey, who has represented part of the district on the City Council since 1984. He has not endorsed anybody in the race, he said.
But the candidates will have to expand beyond their small constituencies in order to win, he said. The Howell family – Darrin, 28, is the youngest of 12 – is well-known in the community. Holmes is “plugged into the community” through work on a local advisory board and involvement with civic issues, Yancey added, and Payne has connections through the NAACP and in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale. Gabriel and Monteiro are not as well known.
“I would not discount any of the candidates,” he said.
What the turnout will be on Sept. 14 is unclear. During a less competitive race in 2008, when Allen faced off against Gabriel in the Democratic primary, 2,790 voters went to the polls. Allen won 1,951 votes.
In 2006, during a heated Democratic primary for governor and a three-way race between Allen and candidates Bill Celester and Wayne Wilson Jr., 5,015 voters cast ballots. Allen received 2,189 votes.
Allen announced earlier this year she is retiring to spend more time with her family and work on women’s rights issues.
Some candidates say they expect 2,000 to 3,000 voters to turn out for this year’s primary, which does not feature a Democratic primary for governor farther up the ballot.
“It’s old-fashioned knocking on doors,” said Ego Ezedi, who has run against Yancey and last year was in the 15-person field of City Council At-Large candidates. “Everybody’s plugging away.”
But with five people vying for votes, “I think you’re going to be surprised” at the turnout, said Ezedi, who is the senior pastor at the Empowerment Christian Church and has not issued an endorsement in the race.
Russell Holmes: It’s not something you usually see hanging in a campaign office: Opposite a map of the Sixth Suffolk District, there is a detailed map of a draft plan for a new rapid transit bus line, Route 28X.
State transportation officials withdrew the proposal after outcry from abutters who complained they would lose parking spaces and lose plants and trees as the street was ripped up to make way for the new bus. Longer buses and a transportation study were offered in its place.
But the project is one of the issues that motivated Holmes to run for the seat. Holmes said residents were leaving millions of federal dollars on the table in a district that desperately needs transportation improvements.
“It did not win me many friends in the district,” he said with a smile. “Most folks see the 28X as a demon.”
Born in Mississippi, he spent a split childhood between there and Boston. He graduated from Hyde Park High School and stayed in Boston for a degree in mechanical engineering at Boston University. He currently works as a financial planner for Ameriprise, has served as chairman of the Mattapan Economic Development Initiative, and chaired the task force that helped bring a new branch library to Mattapan.
He has been endorsed by Dorchester’s IBEW Local 103 union.
“This is a district that made me who I am today,” he said in a sit-down in his office on Blue Hill Ave.
Darrin Howell: One of the first things Howell tends to mention about himself is his criminal record. At the age of 21, he spent a year in jail for illegal possession of a firearm. “I was hanging around with the wrong individuals,” he told the Reporter.
But City Councillor Turner gave him a second chance, and for the last four years Howell has worked as his constituent services director. And Howell says that experience of receiving a criminal record that effectively closed the door on other jobs helps him in connecting with people in the district who have had similar troubles.
Before his incarceration, he had worked at FleetBoston, John Hancock Life Insurance, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
“I do have the knowledge, I do have the life experience,” he said, speaking to the Reporter at his home behind Kay’s Oasis. In the living room, a framed photo of President Obama hangs on the wall.
Violence is the number one issue he hears about, and he has lost “too many” friends to gun violence, he said. “A vote for me is a vote for the community,” he said. “We’re taking the community to Beacon Hill.”
Howell expects to open a campaign office soon. Currently, he is running the campaign out of his home.
He has picked up the endorsement of the health care union SEIU 1199. Turner is also backing his bid, providing Howell access to his network.
Karen Payne: Her grandmother founded a church in Connecticut. And her mother organized tenants and worked as a campaign manager for mayoral candidate in Hartford. “It’s in our blood to continue to give back to our communities,” Payne said in an interview at her campaign office in Codman Square.
As president of the local chapter of the NAACP, she worked on combating drop-out rates and increasing awareness of the HIV/AIDS virus, she said. She has also worked on the campaign of Rep. Liza Malia (D-Jamaica Plain), whom she met during a community meeting when Malia was a State House aide. She is also a member of the Democratic State Committee.
A Roslindale resident, she has also lived in and around Dorchester and Mattapan. “I’ve been out in the community and people know me,” she said. She has three degrees, in information technology, management, and science, and worked at the New England Medical Center for 24 years. Payne has picked up a number of endorsements, including support from gay rights group MassEquality, Latino political group Oiste, pro-choice organization NARAL, and several unions covering teachers, carpenters and restaurant and hotel workers. Lawmakers supporting her include Allen and Malia, Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Dorchester), Rep. Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge), and Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford).
Divo Monteiro: Born in Cape Verde and the youngest of ten children, Monteiro immigrated to the United States in 1990. He earned an education degree and teaching certificate from UMass-Boston, going on to teach math, chemistry and Portuguese at Revere Public Schools. The Capen St. resident is currently a notary public and justice of the peace. He also provides tax services. “I believe government is about helping people,” he said when asked why he was running.
So far, he has not raised any money for his bid, he said, using $318 of his own funds on signs. He has not gained any endorsements and does not have any staffers working with him. “Basically, I am alone,” he told the Reporter in a telephone interview. He said he has not decided if her will attend the MassVOTE forum.
Kathy Gabriel: Gabriel is making her second run at the office, having unsuccessfully campaigned against Allen in 2008. She came to the United States in 1970, at the age of 19, from Trinidad, settling into Dorchester in the 1980s. She has worked in Suffolk Superior Court as a clerk.
In the past, she has conducted both voter and citizenship registration drives. “Mobilizing people will be tough,” she said in a 2008 interview with the Reporter. “People think it’s normal not to get involved. I think it’s abnormal to live like that.” Gabriel received a political science degree from UMass-Boston and worked on Celester’s 2006 campaign. She could not be reached for comment for this article.