Editorial: A moment of awareness in 12th Suffolk contest

Cam Charbonnier, one of four candidates on the ballot for the Sept. 1 election for state representative in the 12th Suffolk district, suspended his campaign last week. A close aide to Mayor Martin Walsh and the only white candidate in the field to succeed Rep. Dan Cullinane, Charbonnier issued a statement on why he made this call that can be read in full at our website, DotNews.com.

It’s an extraordinary document — detailed and heartfelt, reflective and self-effacing. He writes, in part, that “all of us have a responsibility to look inward and ask what we can do to make this moment different … I have been asked several times over the course of this campaign how a white man such as myself would represent a district made up of 70 percent black residents. My answer was that voters always deserve a choice, and if elected, I would fight every single day for all the residents of this district, and that I would never give up until the progress we make is felt equally by everyone who lives here, especially in communities of color. That’s what I truly believe, and that’s what my campaign has always been about.

“But,” he continued, “running for this seat in the midst of a global pandemic and during a modern and inspiring civil rights movement, I’ve gained a new awareness — of my place in this unique and consequential moment in history and in this district, of the commitment that we must make, and my role in the work that must be done to ensure a more just and equitable society for all. This is a time for all of us to be asking ourselves what we can do to make change for the better.”

He later writes: “As I engaged with more and more voters throughout the district, one thing became very clear: the appetite to have a State Representative who was not only fighting for the issues I discussed, but who also personally reflected the overwhelming diversity of this district – and I took this to heart.

“While I have been honored by the support I’ve received from residents across our district, it has become clear to me that at this time and in this district, I may not be the right candidate for this seat. In these extraordinary times, and in a district where communities of color make up an overwhelming proportion of its residents, I have decided, in consultation with voters and loved ones alike, that the best way that I can serve this movement is by stepping aside as a candidate.”

Charbonnier concluded by thanking his supporters and the people who weren’t as well.

“This is not about winning or losing, or any change in my commitment to serve the district I love and have lived in for my entire life. I don’t know what the results of this election would have been, but I do know that I wouldn’t want them to lead to further division within this community, when what we need most right now is to come together.”

The race to succeed Rep. Cullinane will continue without Cam’s voice in the mix. After reading his statement, more than a few people will likely think — as I do— that it will be a lesser conversation without him.

But his instincts and insights are right on the money here. The Legislature desperately needs more leaders of color representing constituencies that have been historically underrepresented. The 12th Suffolk district falls squarely in that category.

We expect that Cam Charbonnier will stay in the political arena and continue to speak up — as he did so eloquently last week, and in his campaign— about issues that unite us.

- ­Bill Forry