During a virtual forum on Monday night voters got the chance to hear from state Sen. Nick Collins and his primary challenger, first-time candidate Samuel Pierce. The two Democrats will appear on the primary election ballot next Tuesday, Sept. 1.
About 40 people tuned into the hour-long session hosted by the Fairmount Indigo Collaborative and Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation. Saraya Wintersmith, a WGBH reporter, moderated the forum and fielded questions submitted earlier by audience members.
Collins, who was elected senator in 2018, previously served in the Massachusetts House.
“The First Suffolk is the most diverse in the Commonwealth— economically, racially, ethnically — and I think it requires somebody who can represent the entire district. I think I’ve proven over the course of my career from the House of Representatives to my representation now that I can do that,” said Collins.
He pointed to his record over the last two years, referencing increased education funding, supporting economic development legislation, and committing to the advancement of environmental justice and transit equity with the Fairmount MBTA commuter line pilot.
“Most importantly, I’m someone who understands how to leverage government resources whether it’s state assets and spending or regulatory powers to get what this district deserves,” he added.
Pierce has been a campaign volunteer for various elected officials in the past, but this campaign is his first attempt to run for office himself. He has not set up an account with the state’s Office of Political and Campaign Finance (OCPF,) a requirement of all candidates for office, to disclose the source of funds raised and spent. Nor does he have an active campaign website.
Pierce said that he is self-funding himself and has “multiple emails” in which he has informed OCPF that he would not be fundraising. “They [OCPF] were actually closed since March so during Covid-19 I didn’t have any access. Now it’s actually libel and slander because they’re making it sound as if I never contacted them,” he said, adding, “now at the end of the election they’re trying to pull this baloney.”
As to issues and Wintersmith’s questions, both candidates said they would support legislation to extend the statewide eviction moratorium on rents and foreclosures to Oct. 17. Pierce said that he would support the diversion of some police funds into other social services and oppose qualified immunity.
Wintersmith noted that Collins “took some heat” last month when he voted against a police reform bill that ultimately passed in the Senate, but has not yet been reconciled with a House version. The bill would ban chokeholds, limit the use of tear gas, license all law enforcement officers, and train them in the history of racism.
She asked Collins how he would approach police reform in a compromise bill expected to come before lawmakers by the end of the year. Collins answered that he would support racial data collection in all police stops and also an independent review commission that would have the power to investigate police misconduct, identify wrongdoing, and certify or de-certify police officers.
“I think this would bring about the justice seeking change that people all across America are looking for,” he said.
Pierce said he would support an educational approach to police reform by using federal and state funding to form a collaboration between Community Service Officers (CSOs) and youth, and make sure that police officers have access to GPS so that they are “not just aimlessly going different places or doing things that are not conducive to their job.”
Noting Gov. Baker’s first-in-the nation order last week mandating flu shots for most students, Wintersmith asked the candidates if they would support a similar mandate if a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available.
Pierce said he would oppose any mandate, asserting it would “create a police state”; Collins said he would support a similar measure.
Wintersmith mentioned an analysis of Collins’s campaign contributions from 2020 that showed slightly more than half of his funding has come from sources outside of Boston, and asked him, “Should your constituents be concerned about any divided loyalties while you’re legislating?”
He responded, “I think if you look at my record, there’s probably no one who can say with a straight face that I don’t give seven days a week to this district. The district owns my vote and I’m proud of that. Anyone who suggests otherwise is totally wrong.”
In closing statements, Pierce said he would “defend the people” and Collins defended his record, saying “Despite some misinformation here from my opponent, I’m proud of my record on equity and, quite frankly my family’s support both with the desegregation of our schools and the work that I’ve done around economic empowerment. I hope people see someone who is committed to the people all across this district, and I’m just looking forward to another two years if the people will give me a chance.”