Four candidates for the 12th Suffolk House seat had the floor during a virtual meeting of about 65 people during the Lower Mills Civic Association membership on Tuesday evening.
The candidates, two women and two men, all Democrats, will compete to decide a successor for state Rep. Dan Cullinane, who announced last February that he would not seek re-election. The 12th Suffolk District includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and Milton.
Michael Skillin, president of the Lower Mills Civic Association, invited the candidates—Cameron Charbonnier, Stephanie Everett, Jovan Lacet, and Brandy Fluker-Oakley— to introduce themselves.
Charbonnier is a Dorchester resident and a longtime aide to Mayor Walsh. Everett is a Mattapan-based attorney who sought the 12th Suffolk seat in 2013. Lacet is a former police officer and attorney who has run unsuccessfully for the seat in the last two cycles. Fluker Oakley is a partner at a local non-profit and a practicing attorney based in Mattapan.
“We feel that this is an opportunity during this crazy election cycle,” said Skillin. “I’m sure you’re all looking for any opportunity to get your face and your message out. You’re all welcome here and we’ll do this in alphabetical order.”
Charbonnier spoke of his accessibility in the community, experience working in local government, and elaborated on key issues.
“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 long standing 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.”
Charbonnier said he would focus on not just long-standing inequities in the criminal justice system, this but also 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 homeone fighting for them,” he said.
“I’m always available, I’ve been like that for my entire career. I welcome any opportunity to hear from anyone in the district. If elected I want to work every single day to ensure that all the residents in this district have someone fighting for them.”
Everett shared some of her personal background story and why she decided to run.
“I have had the opportunity to be raised by this community. My father spent 90 percent of his life in jail, my mother continues to suffer from mental health issues and because of that,” she said. “I just had two unavailable parents. I was fortunate enough to live in a community that really embraced me. I’m running because I want to fight for my community.”
Everett 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 is mother to 9 children.
Everett said seeing the inequities outlined by the effects of the pandemic has inspired her to run.
“When COVID hit, this opportunity became real to me. Speaking with my friends and neighbors we realized that we were not prepared for this and we could have been,” said Everett. “We looked around for the government to do things and we realized at the end that everything we really needed we had in our community to help our neighbors. We’ve been better together for a very long time.”
She said the community is facing an “uphill battle,” in terms of a housing crisis, getting people back to work, and figuring out how to educate children during a pandemic.
“We are going to have to start working. I have experience working in the State House, I know how the relationships and policy work,” said Everett. “I have written and advocate for policy and budget. And for that, I am asking for your vote of confidence in me, and I want you to know that I’m available to you.”
Lacet said that as a longtime resident of both Dorchester and Mattapan, he’s lived the “disparities and disenfranchisement” and wants to represent the 12th Suffolk as a strong voice.
“So much advocacy needs to be done in the 12th Suffolk to address the disparities and inequities in health, education, employment, economic empowerment, and housing issues-- I’m talking about ownership and rental,” said Lacet. “The fight for resources is even more pertinent now due to the severe impact of COVID-19.”
Lacet noted that over the years, he’s been an active member in many of Dorchester and Mattapan’s civic association and advocacy groups.
“I have been an active member of the Lower Mills Civic Association for years. We have worked to address some of the development that investors want to build that might not be in the best interest of our neighborhood,” he said. “I’m also as active in many other civic associations in the 12th Suffolk District. I’m one of the founding and active board members of the River Street Civic Association and helped to put together the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council.”
Lacet’s main priority, he said, is addressing “the systemic racism that is so prevalent in Boston.”
“As a Black man who lives and deals with systemic racism daily, who grew up with it, everything that I do is related to this-- since I was little, in the military, in the police force,” said Lacet, who is an attorney. “And as many of y’all know, the only reason I’m no longer a police officer is due to systemic racism. We can’t afford to go back, we should have the right person to lead to address systemic racism.”
Brandy Fluker-Oakley said she’s always been an agent for change, and has a passion for public policy, education and social work. After graduating from Boston Latin School she went to Syracuse University majoring in social work and added a policy degree to her curriculum.
“I had a passion for education and I intended to make education policy and be a classroom teacher. I taught for several years in Baltimore City….and I realized that all of our systems do not operate in silos but are all interconnected,” she said. “Whether is be education, housing, criminal justice, healthcare and so many others, I recognized that all of these systems were disadvantage to our students.”
Fluker-Oakley graduated from law school at Emory University in Atlanta and moved back to Boston, becoming a public defender.
“You see first-hand all of the systemic inequities that each of the candidates have highlighted this evening. I saw that those who aren't served well by our education system are served very well by our criminal justice system,” said Fluker-Oakley.
She’s spent the last 10 years of her career as a budget advocate.
“I’ve built relationships in City Hall and the State House,” she said. “It’s my knack for building relationships and bringing people together that I intend to represent the 12th Suffolk District to ensure that every single one of our communities thrive together.”
At the end of the meeting Skillin allowed a brief Q&A session. Donovan Birch Jr., who had planned his own run for office in the 12th Suffolk but now supports Everett’s candidacy, asked Charbonnier — the only white candidate— why he should represent a district that is 85 percent people of color.
“In this moment of social unrest, knowing that in the state house we have a lack of diversity, and in the 12th Suffolk District-- which is a district that is 85 percent people of color and was created because of racist Gerrymandering, what makes you equipped to not only lead people of color but to represent us and stand with us?” asked Birch.
Charbonnier responded: “The diversity of the district is what makes it such a great place to live. That being said, I am a lifelong resident of this district. I’m trying to run a campaign that is open and available to everyone and listening to everyone in all different walks of life.
“When I decided to run and throw my hat in the ring it was about feeling that I was a person who could bring results to this district and fight for policies. I totally understand the question and the reality of the diversity and I think it’s a real one,” Charbonnier added. “If there was a case where a person felt that they didn’t want to vote for me for that reason I fully respect that.”
Lacet spoke up next: “The thing is, this applies not just to Cam [Charbonnier,] it applies to the other candidates too. They haven’t been at the State House when we’ve been dealing with major issues in this community and now all of a sudden they want to lead. I do think we need to make sure that the community is properly represented by a person of color because it is a community of color.”
Tom Maistros, a Lower Mills resident, interrupted Lacet: “ The people in this district will vote for who they think will best represent them. We’re trying to be colorblind.”
The last question for the candidates was posed by Richard O’Mara, board member of the Neponset River Watershed Association, and centered on how they would address environmental issues in general and specific to the Neponset River.
“This is incredibly important, and clearly very pressing right now,” said Charbonnier. “Sea levels are rising, we’re seeing flooding… and it’s an issue that absolutely needs to be addressed. think it’s a long time coming, and I would be absolutely committed to supporting that process of cleaning up the river, and giving it much more attention than it has in the past.”
Everett said her biggest environmental justice concerns are centered through an equity lens.
“We need to work on education for communities of color on how environmental impacts tie into health,” she said. “And I’m supportive of all policies that look into environmental justice.”
She also said she’s work on updating the Mattapan trolley line and making the city more walkable.
Fluker-Oakley said she’d be committed to the city’s campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and supports investments in renewable energy.
“In the Suffolk 12, there’s disparate access to solar panels and solar energy. I’ve talked about making that accessible here,” she said.
In terms of the Neponset River, she said she’d support the cleanup effort by urging other representatives in state government to support using federal grants to get the cleanup started. She also wants to further explore the connection between environmental justice and housing.
“I am a strong supporter of the environment. I know firsthand of the health impacts of environmental issues,” said Lacet. “I would work with the environmental folks like people in our civic association and people like Richard to make sure that we move forward and not backwards.”
The primary election to pick a party nominee is Sept. 1, with the general election scheduled for Nov. 3, the same day as the presidential election.