Emerging last week as the winner in a five-way Democratic primary for the Sixth Suffolk District House nomination, Russell Holmes is set to take the seat of retiring state Rep. Willie Mae Allen. A self-described “conservative Democrat,” he replaces a Democratic Party stalwart in a diverse district that includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain.
In a sit-down with the Reporter, Holmes, who appears on some issues to be in the mould of former House Speaker and conservative Democrat Thomas Finneran of Mattapan, talked taxes, gay marriage, casinos, and the failed attempt to bring a dedicated bus lane to Blue Hill Ave.
Holmes grew up spending time between Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where he was born, and Mattapan. He is a youth mentor, Big Brother, Sunday school teacher and member of Church of Christ in Roxbury. Holmes received 36.9 percent, or 910 votes, in the Sept. 14 primary, and without a Republican opponent, he is expected to cruise through the November election and take his seat in the State House in January.
Holmes says he supports same-sex civil unions despite disagreeing with same-sex marriage. He also supports transgender and abortion rights.
“Personally, I don’t believe in gay marriage, but I do believe that people have free will. That’s the great thing about this living in this country,” said Holmes. “I can’t just impose my beliefs on others and dictate who they can and cannot love and to whom to extend the appropriate legal benefits.”
Holmes works as a financial planner at Ameriprise Financial Inc, a career that he plans to maintain while in office. Holmes said the position was flexible enough to maintain while running an exhaustive campaign and he expects it to be feasible while he carries out his duties as a state representative. Many state lawmakers hold down second jobs, such as being a member of a law practice, and running a bar or a community theater.
Pointing to his financial expertise, Holmes said he supports several ideas for boosting the state’s economy. He backs expanded gambling and, in particular, casinos.
“People are going to gamble anyway, and the way I see it, they are and bringing it to other states, spending money on gas, on games and the other attractions,” Holmes said. “That is all revenue that we could be keeping here. We could also be attracting people from outside of Massachusetts.” He supports a casino in Boston proper.
Holmes made it clear that he wants to avoid raising most types of taxes. But he does support an increased gas tax, which Gov. Deval Patrick unsuccessfully proposed last year, and a carbon emissions tax.
“I’m concerned about the effectiveness of our current taxes,” he said. “Instead of just raising the tax levels, I would want to say to taxpayers, ‘If we are doing everything effectively, and using the dollars we have efficiently, then we can consider raising taxes.’ ”
As to carbon emissions and gas taxes? “I’m interested in sustainability because it’s important to find a way to live on our planet without abusing it. I think that a carbon emissions tax would make people more aware of their impact on the environment.”
Holmes says the community’s rejection of the MBTA’s proposal of a dedicated bus lane – a project dubbed Route 28X – was one of the issues that prompted him to enter the race for state representative.
The proposal, which would have funneled federal stimulus dollars into the district, was ultimately turned down by Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury residents over the course of several meetings. Holmes considers it to be a missed opportunity and he hopes to mitigate some of the tensions between public officials and citizens that can hold back transit projects.
“We don’t want to run over the community members in the areas around these transit projects, but we also want to make holistic decisions that are for the best of the community,” said Holmes. “The 28X was not what we wanted at first, but I think that the [Executive Office of Transportation], with community involvement, was changing the project for the better into something that would work well for us.”
Holmes also cites job creation as a benefit to transit projects in the 6th Suffolk. “These transportation initiatives also bring jobs to the community,” Holmes said. “We need to make sure that companies are beneficial to us. We need more job fairs, we need to stimulate our businesses, and we need to look to companies who can keep as many jobs in our community as possible.”
Now 41, Holmes began his career in public service in 2002 when he spearheaded a cleaning initiative on his street that soon spread around the community. From there, he went on to chair the Mattapan Economic Development Initiative and the Mattapan Library Task Force, a group that was instrumental in the development and construction of Mattapan’s newest library on Blue Hill Ave. According to Holmes, much of his sense of civic duty was inspired by family, friends, and neighbors when he was a youth.
“A lot of my drive for the community came from the adults around me when I was growing up,” he said . “For example, I worked at the Brigham’s, when I was around 14. And one of the best things I remember about the owner… is that he really tried to instill a sense of pride for our community in me.”
Holmes beat out four other candidates for the House seat: the local NAACP chapter’s Karen Payne, City Council aide Darrin Howell, past candidate Kathy Gabriel, and justice of the peace Divo Monteiro.
Payne, a Roslindale resident, came in second place with 622 votes, but she ran behind Holmes, Howell, and Gabriel in 9 out of 18 precincts in the district. She did best in Roslindale, winning three precincts in the area while also taking one precinct in Mattapan.
Reporter news editor Gintautas Dumcius contributed to this report.