The candidates vying for the 12th Suffolk District Massachusetts House seat are experimenting with new methods of campaigning across a difficult political landscape this summer as they host virtual events, take part in online civic association meetings, and text and call constituents asking for their support.
There are two women and two men – Stephanie Everett, Brandy Fluker-Oakley, Cameron Charbonnier, and Jovan Lacet, all Democrats – on the ballot in the Sept. 1 primary election to choose a successor to state Rep. Dan Cullinane, who announced earlier in the year that he would not seek another term in office.
Fluker-Oakley, a former teacher and public defender in the Boston Municipal and Chelsea District Courts, said campaigning has “changed drastically in the last three months. What’s been really great is that we’re still running a strong grassroots campaign even during this environment, particularly with calling voters and our organizing outreach is all being done remotely.”
She notched an endorsement last week from state Rep. Chyna Tyler of Roxbury. She has also won support from Sunrise Boston, a progressive group that is focused on “climate change through political action.”
Constituent engagement has been very much about conversations concerning systemic racism, the economy, and supporting health care workers, said Fluker-Oakley. “People are talking about racial justice and police reform, tackling systemic issues of racism and inequities, supporting our frontline workers and working with small businesses to ensure equitable access to economic recovery in the midst of this pandemic,” she told the Reporter.
The pandemic has highlighted racial health and housing disparities, which Fluker-Oakley said constituents are eager to address. “People really want to talk about getting to the root of the racial health disparities we’ve seen in Boston, particularly with people of color being disproportionately affected by COVID,” she said, adding that families have struggled with remote learning, and are anxious about childcare options and school re-openings.
“Parents and grandparents have struggled with distant learning and schools being closed throughout this pandemic. They’re very anxious and wanting to know if and when their kids will be back to school in September,” she said. “As a former teacher and someone who ran an education nonprofit that’s deeply engaged in schools, I definitely understand the stress of waiting to see what schools will do.”
Lacet, a Mattapan-based attorney and former Boston Police officer, waged two unsuccessful campaigns against Cullinane in the last two cycles. He told the Reporter last week that the inability to door-knock to reach voters has not hindered his outreach.
“With COVID-19, we can’t really canvass, so we’ve been making a lot of calls. With the progressive movement that’s going on, folks are calling us and saying ‘It’s time.’ It’s a beautiful political movement,” said Lacet.
“The district needs to vote for people they know and it’s time for a change. It can’t be business as usual; we need to move away from the status quo,” he said. “And if we can’t do that now, then when are we going to do it? It’s time for a district that’s 85 percent people of color, that was created for people of color, to be led by a person of color.”
Lacet noted for the record his participation in the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council and his regular attendance at various Dorchester and Mattapan civic association meetings.
“I’ve been out here in the district doing the work. Some of the other candidates haven’t been out here at the civic meetings about development,” he said. “Some folks want to lead when they haven’t actually led,” he said.
Lacet said he has the support of Ruth Georges, the former Mattapan neighborhood liaison from the Mayor’s office. “There’s a major fear out there of things never turning back to normal because of the fact that COVID cases might be back on the rise,” he said, “People are also concerned about kids not being able to go to school. There’s a major concern out there with families and they’re talking about it a lot.”
Everett, a practicing attorney and Mattapan resident, ran unsuccessfully for the 12th Suffolk seat in 2013. She spent 12 years as a state employee, including as deputy chief of staff for Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and chief of staff for the Department of Transitional Assistance.
She told the Reporter that “families are making very hard decisions about what going back to work looks like and trying to figure out as a community how we can coalesce together about childcare solutions.”
Everett noted that when pandemic unemployment assistance halts, many could be left in difficult positions. “This month is the last month for pandemic unemployment so a lot of extra money that families have been receiving will go away,” she said. “They really do have to get back to work. It’s going to be a very hard month and summer for a lot of families.”
Workforce and childcare issues are not “second to” the Black Lives Matter movement, said Everett. “Obviously, that’s not a “second to” or more important than the Black Lives Matter movement that continues to be a conversation,” she said. “It’s still something we are very much dealing with and trying to figure out the best approach to policy, working on the relationship between Black Americans and the police department, and moving us away from where we’ve been and into something better.”
Last week, Everett, who said she has recently been endorsed by Katie Forde, who manages Boston’s Office of Housing Stability, hosted a virtual town hall with Lew Finfer, co-director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN), that took up unemployment and housing issues. The forum focused on legislation that— if passed—would extend protections for tenants and homeowners.
“We have to make sure that homeowners and tenants get to stay in their homes while we are still trying to navigate,” she said.
“We do need more Black leadership, but we don’t just need Black leadership,” said Everett. “We need to make sure that it’s someone who represents our values and what we need to move forward. I know that our district is 85 percent minority- majority, but we are a district that is diverse and everyone deserves representation regardless of our skin color.”
She added: “We have to be very specific about exactly how we are redirecting funds and delving into things that have separated us for so long. We’ve been able to raise money even in these dire times.
“People are committed to seeing a change and having a voice. We have to stop being at the door of the State House. It’s time for us to be in the room and have a seat at the table about decisions that matter to us. And so, I’m ready to go and I’m ready to take my community’s voice with me.”
Cam Charbonnier, a lifelong Dorchester resident and a longtime aide to Mayor Walsh, has secured endorsements from several labor and union organizations, including IBEW Local 2222, Mass Retirees Association, Teamsters Local 25, Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, The Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, and Massachusetts AFL-CIO. He did not respond to the Reporter’s request for comment for this story.
During a virtual meeting of the Lower Mills Civic Association membership last month, Charbonnier spoke of his accessibility in the community and experience working in local government.
“I got involved in politics at a really young age and that gave me the opportunity of working with great local and statewide leaders,” said Charbonnier. “What that taught me is how to get stuff done, how to work with elected officials at the state and city level in order to ensure we’re delivering real results for residents and the community. I believe that I have the experience to hit the ground running and get to work on Day 1.”
Charbonnier said he’d push for reform around policing and the criminal justice system “in order to correct longstanding issues with systemic racial bias and ensure that we have a community police force that works hand in hand with residents, not a militarized one.”
He added that he would focus not just on inequities in the criminal justice system, but also on those that exist across the board.
“I want to focus on equitable access when it comes to housing, transportation, community investment, just naming a few. If elected, I want to work every single day to ensure that all of the residents of this district have a voice and someone fighting for them,” he said.
The primary will, in effect, pick the next state representative for the 12th Suffolk, which includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Milton. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 3, the same day as the presidential election.