It’s a primary rematch in the 12th Suffolk District, with incumbent state Rep. Dan Cullinane pointing to five years of legislative advocacy for the community and a hefty bank of support from other elected officials while challenger Jovan Lacet is railing against what he sees as a lack of leadership and diversity in the seat.
Lacet, a Mattapan-based attorney, is mounting a second attempt to unseat Cullinane. He ran in 2016, coming in second in the Democratic primary in a three-way race against Cullinane and Carlotta Williams.
Cullinane, of Dorchester, has served the 12th Suffolk since 2013. He defended his seat in the Democratic primary last term with 54 percent of the vote to Lacet’s 35 percent. In a low-turnout primary, the difference came down to about 800 votes.
The 12th Suffolk crosses parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Milton.
“We feel great,” Cullinane said from his campaign office on Gallivan Boulevard three weeks before the primary. “This campaign, as it has been every day since we took this office, has been something where we want to continue each and every day to earn the trust and confidence of the people that put their faith in us to do this work. So every single day it’s about the work, it’s about the issues.”
Those issues, Cullinane said, are many. He highlights his advocacy for the Mattapan High-Speed Trolley, for securing funds for traffic studies on hot spots like the woeful Morton Street and Gallivan Boulevard intersection, and for affordable housing projects like the Cote Village and Mattapan Square developments. He talked about working with his colleagues to push for criminal justice reform, gun control including red flag laws, and basic quality-of-life improvements around local parks and beautification.
Endorsements are lopsided, to say the least. Mayor Martin Walsh; US Rep. Michael Capuano; state Sen. Nick Collins; state Reps. Dan Hunt, Russell Holmes, and Bill Driscoll, Jr.; Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins; City Councillors Andrea Campbell, Michelle Wu, Annissa Essaibi-George, Michael Flaherty, Tim McCarthy, and Frank Baker are all in Cullinane’s corner, as are Milton Board of Selectmen members Richard Wells and Katie Conlon.
“Dan has consistently been a strong advocate for our Dorchester and Mattapan communities, including securing state funds for the Neponset Greenway, Mattapan Square, and much-needed transportation infrastructure to improve the safety and connectivity of our neighborhoods,” said City Council President Campbell, a Mattapan resident. “I am proud to support him in his reelection.”
Lacet and his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. There have been no public endorsements announced through the candidate’s campaign channels.
His campaign website said he “will address the major issues of education, employment, housing, economic development and infrastructure improvements. Additionally, I will focus my attention on the quality of life issues that impact our lives daily, including equatable [sic] economic access. I will also initiate and work to enforce legislation that addresses public transportation, economic and criminal justice disparities.”
The Mattapan resident and UMass Boston graduate has worked in law for the past 18 years. He said on his website that Cullinane "has been ineffective" in his post.
Education seems to be at the forefront of Lacet’s platform. He pledges on his website to increase the budgets of the Boston Public Schools and the Milton Public Schools and restore school buses to middle schoolers using MBTA passes. He also calls for improvements to the schools with respect to healthier food and better community partnerships.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has endorsed Cullinane.
It has been a sleepy race so far, observers say. Michael Skillin, president of the Lower Mills Civic Association of which Lacet is a member, told the Reporter, “I think the turnout is the key.”
“I think Dan has done a good job,” he said. On the ground, he added, “people are just kind of seeing it as a low key race, and I don’t think people are excited about it, unfortunately.”
Linda Dorcena Forry (2005-2013) preceded Cullinane as the state representative for the 12th Suffolk seat and continued to serve the seat as the state senator for the First Suffolk District until January of this year when she left for the private sector. Dorcena Forry, who is married to Reporter editor Bill Forry, said Cullinane was a strong ally in office and consistently advocated for his entire district.
“It’s really important to have a state rep who’s around and has the pulse of the district. As a senator who had to work with many state reps in my district, Cullinane is really someone that I counted on,” Dorcena Forry said in an interview with the Reporter.
Cullinane’s aide, Leon David, has been with him since he was sworn into office, ensuring a bilingual office with fluent English and Haitian Creole. Dorcena Forry, like Lacet, is a Haitian American. Cullinane, she said, has been stalwart in his support for immigrant communities.
“He’s stood for TPS, for the Haitian community, in terms that have been very strong, and I would love to see him reelected,” Dorcena Forry said.
District demographics overlay the race, with the Massachusetts 7th District congressional race pitting Ayanna Pressley against incumbent Michael Capuano and a diverse field of Suffolk County district attorney potentials driving more voters of color to the polls.
Demographic representation is an important issue, acknowledged Cullinane backer state Rep. Russell Holmes, one of the few elected officials of color in the State House and a member of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus. He lives in Mattapan, which is divided between his and Cullinane’s districts. “I’ve been working with Dan since he’s arrived,” said Holmes, who is running unopposed for his fifth term. “He’s committed to the community and willing to deliver the things that are most important… when it comes time to fight, he’s there.”
Lacet has made clear in public statements that he thinks voting for diverse candidates is paramount. “If we keep taking these majority people of color districts and [politicians] redistrict them so we can have a seat at the table, [then] we’re not voting for us to have a seat at the table,” he said in an April radio roundtable. “How are we going to move forward?”
The 12th Suffolk, Holmes notes, is about 66 percent black and 20 percent white, with smaller percentages of Hispanic and Asian populations. “I hear that a lot,” Holmes said, “but Dan has been delivering. The conversation always is, for folks of color, always conflicted,” he added. “Do you want just a person of color or do you want a person who is being representative of the district?
The Dorchester Unified Neighborhood (DUN) Association, which is located in the Codman Hill area between Cullinane’s and Holmes’ districts, has not made any determination around an endorsement in the race, said president Dawn Barrett. She said she is staying neutral, and on consultation with the group hopes for “somebody who’s definitely going to support the community, somebody who’s going to fight for us, and attend our neighborhood meetings or have some sort of representative there to attend to know what kind of issues we’re facing. We don’t want to wait for something to happen for us to see our representative,” she added.
Lacet is a frequent face at DUN meetings, and Cullinane weighed in forcefully on behalf of the community on their founding issue — the standoff between neighbors and the owner/hopeful developer of a large three-decker at 96 Milton Ave. that was discovered to be housing several high-level sex offenders.
Myrtle Huggins of the Apple Grove Civic Association declined to weigh in on the race while she is on vacation with family.
Swaths of Wards 16, 17, and 18 vote in the 12th Suffolk elections, along with two Milton precincts. No ward committees have met to endorse in the race.
Joyce Linehan, chair of of Ward 17, and state Rep. Dan Hunt, of Ward 16, both say they personally support Cullinane. “I’m all in for Dan Cullinane,” Hunt told the Reporter. “He’s one of the hardest working representatives on the hill. Boston reps have the unique geography where you’re expected to be in the office every day and in the community every day and I see Dan do that.”
Hunt called Cullinane “dogged on issues,” lauding his work to “lead the way to keep the Mattapan Trolley line up and going” and said he is “a leader on gun issues.”
The lack of ward committee endorsements and civic groups taking sides speaks to the slow summer sliding into a post-Labor Day primary, Skillin said. And in a very blue Boston, the Democratic primary is the last word in many of the local races, including the 12th Suffolk.
“All of a sudden, here’s the holiday and here’s the election and bang,” Skillin said. “It’s too bad. The candidates haven’t been out in full force, and the civic associations won’t meet again until the summer is over and the primary happened.”
Access is a major component of Cullinane’s campaign and his priorities as an active legislator. The Mattapan Trolley, one of the only transit options for the area aside from buses until the new Blue Hill Avenue stop of the Fairmount Line is completed, is slated for a study to assess the future of the line. Cullinane has launched a petition, with over 1,000 signatures already, to support the trolley and call for the study’s timely release after the news that it would be delayed until late fall without an explanation as to why.
“It’s clear this is an issue that matters to folks, and we’re happy to lend our voice to it to make sure the administration does not delay a study until after an important election,” he said.
Lacet does not address the Mattapan Trolley during a section of a M.A.M.L.E.O. radio roundtable tackling transit.
“When you talk about the MBTA in our communities, we don’t have the services,” he said. “We don’t have rapid transit system. Okay, they just gave us the community rail which is not really rapid transit. That runs every hour… we need an Orange Line, Red Line, Green Line running straight through Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park. The money’s there… we ran the Red Line all the way through Alewife. Why can’t we have it come back the other way and run through where we live?”
The trolley is an extension of the Red Line route where 1940s-era cars trace a picturesque 2.6-mile route from Ashmont to Mattapan, ending at a large disused MBTA parking lot slated for an ambitious and affordable housing-heavy mixed used project.
Cullinane agrees that the Fairmount Line should be a more reliable service corridor for the neighborhood. He noted recommendations from rapid transit advocates for electrifying the route to improve its turnaround time and the value to Mattapan residents when granted a 20-minute shot downtown after the station’s completion.
And those trains bring residents to areas of the city all too familiar with incidents of violence.
Despite Lacet advertising his past on the Boston Police force as being one of distinction, he was removed from his post on the force in 2004 for perjuring himself in connection with his late brother’s trial for murder.
On the day Cullinane spoke to the Reporter, a fatal shooting had occurred in his district over the weekend. A triple shooting would claim another life the next day. Both underlined his push for better trauma and re-entry supports in the neighborhood and for removing deadly weapons from circulation, he said.
“It is cliche but one’s too many, you never want to see a tragedy like this take place,” Cullinane said, “the toll it takes on both sides, but as well as the whole neighborhood. It puts everyone on edge. That being said, that’s why we take so seriously the fight to get guns off the street, not only locally but on Beacon Hill, with what we can do to ensure guns stay out of the hands of folks who want to use them for harm.”
Cullinane and Lacet will face off in the state Democratic primary election on Tues., Sept. 4. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The final day to register to vote in the election is Wed., Aug. 15 at 8 p.m. Residents can check their voter status and register online at boston.gov/elections. Eligible absentee voters may request a ballot by mail or vote in person in Room 241 at City Hall by Friday, August 31, 2018 at 5 p.m. The city will also offer in-person absentee voting on Saturday, August 18 and Saturday, August 25 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.