WE ARE LIVING in times of unprecedented political apathy. For the sixth-consecutive legislative-election season, the percentage of uncontested races has gone up, according to the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project. Only 21 percent of the races for state senator and representative will have a Democratic primary — the result of which, in most corners of the state, actually decides the election. Even so, only 27 percent of the 200 legislative seats will see a contested general election. There are plenty of reasons for this, the most obvious of which is the stranglehold both the Senate president and House Speaker have on any real power at the State House.
Nevertheless, in Boston and Cambridge, we’re seeing the exception to that rule. There are a number of contested primary races featuring more than one appealing candidate. The Phoenix is making endorsements in five of these races.
In making our selections, we focused on whether a candidate holds progressive values — such as strong support for human-services programs, pro-choice policy, and gay rights — and would pay more than lip service to the notion that the status quo on Beacon Hill needs to change. The budget process — which over the last few years has essentially consisted of House Speaker Tom Finneran and Senate president Tom Birmingham duking it out with each other — is an embarrassment. The process isn’t even open to many of the state legislators, much less the public. And this year, despite much chest-thumping by Finneran, who crowed about his responsiveness to the state revenue crisis, the final budget sent to Governor Jane Swift was a good $300 million out of balance — leaving the final decision-making on politically difficult cuts to Swift.
In large measure, the ability to change what the state legislature does (or, in many cases, does not do) hinges on whether individual state reps and senators can work well with others. Coalition building is a crucial tactic on Beacon Hill. In the House, with the power-hoarding Finneran at the helm, it’s one of the most important skills a legislator can bring to the job. The Senate will see a new leader elected this year in the wake of Senate president Tom Birmingham’s departure to run for governor. While a lot depends on who the new president will be, just as much depends on the coalition that elects the new leader.
With that in mind, here are the Phoenix’s legislative endorsements.
IN THE 18th Suffolk House district (Allston-Brighton and the Cottage Farm precinct of Brookline), incumbent representative Brian Golden faces primary pressure from attorney David Friedman and union activist Paul Felker. Golden, a Democrat, is best known for having gone to Florida after the 2000 presidential election to work on the recount effort — for Republican George W. Bush. He should be replaced, and the best candidate in this race is David Friedman. A former clerk for US Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, Friedman — who has taken a leave from his job with downtown law firm Hill & Barlow to campaign — had an epiphany when working for the plaintiffs who sued the state to force full funding of its Medicaid obligations for the care of mentally retarded adults. The high-profile lawsuit ended when US District Court judge Douglas Woodlock ruled that Massachusetts was in violation of federal law. (See "The Waiting Game," News and Features, September 22, 2000.) Friedman was astonished when the legislature initially refused to fund the services ordered by Woodcock. The insult motivated him to run. At minimum, Friedman will bring a fierce commitment to social services to the job.
The 10th Suffolk House district (West Roxbury and the south precincts of Brookline) opened up after Swift appointed former representative David Donnelly to a judgeship in Waltham District Court. A slew of candidates have jumped in to replace Donnelly. The best of these is Sara Hamlen. The former public-affairs consultant is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government. The only pro-choice candidate running in the Democratic primary, she is also openly lesbian — one of the few such candidates running for election this year.
The 15th Suffolk House district (Mission Hill, Fort Hill of Roxbury, Hyde Square of Jamaica Plain, and Fisher Hill of Brookline) is also open, following the decision of long-time representative Kevin Fitzgerald to step down and pursue the post of State House sergeant at arms. As in the 10th district, several candidates are running in the Democratic primary. Many are good, but long-time activist Bill Allan is the best. Allan, who is running as a Clean Elections candidate, has worked in the district on community issues, including housing and health care, for 35 years. He was president of the Hyde Square Task Force from 1991 to 1995. He’s the only candidate in the Democratic primary to come out in full support of gay marriage. He is also pro-choice and an advocate of single-payer health care. He’s a progressive in every sense of the word.
In the newly redrawn Eighth Suffolk House district, which added the Cambridgeport and Area Four portions of Cambridge as well as Boston’s West End to the Back Bay/Beacon Hill seat, incumbent representative Paul Demakis faces Cambridge city councilor Marjorie Decker. Demakis has been a long-time supporter of progressive causes (although, perplexingly, he’s in favor of banning news boxes in the Back Bay), but the Phoenix believes Marjorie Decker has the energy, passion, and vision necessary to back up her campaign promise to be Tom Finneran’s "worst nightmare." Decker astonished local politicos when she won her first run for Cambridge City Council by finishing third in a 32-candidate field. She learned her way around Beacon Hill as a long-time aide to Cambridge representative Alice Wolf. Most impressively, she comes to the race with a specific agenda: she wants to build a coalition of 81 representatives, a voting majority, to work on social and economic issues. Idealistic? Maybe. But Decker, who grew up in public housing and has become a success despite very long odds, has a history of getting things done.
The Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex Senate district (Chelsea, Charlestown, and Everett, a chunk of Cambridge, and slices of Somerville, Saugus, Allston-Brighton, and Revere) is open, thanks to incumbent Birmingham’s decision to step down and run for governor. Three candidates are seeking the seat: Everett alderman Carlo DeMaria, Cambridge city councilor Anthony Galluccio, and State Representative Jarrett Barrios of Cambridge. The Phoenix endorses Anthony Galluccio. The five-term city councilor is the living, breathing definition of "scrappy." But the crucial quality he brings to this race is an ability to work well with others. Galluccio first came to politics as a candidate of the conservative Cambridge property-owners association. But he quickly broadened his reach to include public education and affordable housing. As mayor of Cambridge, he worked with former councilor Katherine Triantafillou to keep domestic-partnership benefits for Cambridge’s municipal workers. Although the effort ultimately failed when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled against the legality of such benefits, Galluccio was instrumental in building city support for the legal challenge. Like Decker, he comes to the race with a specific agenda: strengthening public education and building more affordable housing. His history in Cambridge proves he can work with a wide range of constituencies while simultaneously pushing a progressive agenda. That’s not just what this district needs. It’s what the state Senate needs as well.
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