Corey Allen, Dan Cullinane vying for 12th Suffolk District seat
The Democratic primary race for the state representative for the 12th Suffolk District is a contest between two local figures hoping to bring a laundry list of improvements and services to Dorchester, Hyde Park, Milton and Mattapan.
Incumbent Dan Cullinane hit the ground running after a special election to fill the seat, formerly occupied by State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry in September 2013. His opponent, Corey Allen, is a Mattapan-born former English teacher at TechBoston Academy who considers himself an active citizen more than an aspiring politician.
Cullinane got to know the district while working as Senator Dorcena Forry’s Field Director and took the opportunity to pursue the open seat. He worked in City Hall under Maureen Feeney, in the State House under then-state Rep. Martin Walsh and in the Attorney General’s Office as a fair labor investigator.
“I had been involved in the community for a long time,” Cullinane said. “This just turned out to be a unique way to serve in a different way. We’ve been able to deliver a lot of results for the area and I look forward to putting in more work if reelected.”
Cullinane prides himself on the improvement of Mattapan Square. He said that the apparent double standards between Milton and Mattapan should never exist.
“I love my Milton constituents, but you look into Milton, you see trees and flowers planted,” he commented. “When you look back into Mattapan Square, you see desolate sidewalks. So we got $500,000 to plant trees and improve the look of the square.”
Cullinane says that early in his term he dedicated his efforts to securing funding for the Mattapan Community Health Center and working with city officials to keep Mattahunt Elementary School and Mattahunt Community Center running. Beyond the improvement of the streetscape in Mattapan Square, Cullinane also pushed to improve traffic flow and parking.
“We did a walkthrough with eight department heads from the mayor’s office, looking into where infrastructure can be improved from street lights to traffic flow to planting trees on Blue Hill Avenue,” he said. “We found that there were no traffic lines in the streets, so we had the Department of Public Works paint lanes and crosswalks to make driving safer. We got $500,000 for a traffic study in Mattapan Square and got to work on improving it for everyone.”
Allen has served on the board of the Hyde Park YMCA, the Mattapan office of Action for Boston Community Development, the Mattapan Patriots youth football team, the Franklin Park Coalition and along with other community organizations.
Allen prides himself on dedicating most of his free time to volunteering.
“My friends joke because I never go out,” he said. “They call me a professional volunteer. If I’m not working, I’m usually trying to give back and do community building within the neighborhoods. Often times, politicians don’t have direct links into the community, so they look for grassroots folks. I got to know a lot of elected officials by being out and about in the neighborhood.”
Allen says he hopes to tackle three legislative priorities if elected: A kindergarten to career pipeline, improvements to public safety and a green economy initiative.
Having seen friends and peers drop out of middle school and high school and end up locked up in prison, Allen says he began looking into the root of where people stray into a life of crime and poverty.
“The kindergarten to career pipeline is a direct battle cry against the school to prison pipeline we see far too often,” Allen said. “I know that often times it’s a lack of direction, lack of stability and a lack of planning that lead folks off on this path. The mission is to stabilize young people’s lives early on, amplify the relationships with private partners and local and federal government to help out and make sure there are resources down here.”
Both Allen and Cullinane have similar stances on issues in Mattapan, ranging from improving parking on Blue Hill Avenue, addressing pollution from cars along Route 28 on Blue Hill Ave., and finding ways to encourage people to stop and spend money in the neighborhood and addressing the issue of panhandlers on the corners.
“If you’re driving into town from, say, Sharon, you say ‘wow, that restaurant looks really good,’ but you see the folks out there panhandling, odds are you won’t want to stop here,” Allen said. “We want to improve things here so that people will want to come here and spend money and enjoy the atmosphere here.”
Cullinane added that improving the business climate would change the face of the square in the evening hours, noting that the Legislature approved new liquor licenses for Boston neighborhoods, including Mattapan.
“We think this will improve the nightlife in the area,” he said. “When you drive through Mattapan Square at night, everything is shut down. There’s no place to sit down and eat, grab a drink. Folks are going to other parts of the city when they could be spending money in the area.”
Allen said that he would hold a comprehensive study of the area in order to help businesses flourish and reduce the number of beggars scrounging on the sidewalks.
“When you peel back the layers, you realize that a lot of these problems are directly linked to mental health issues,” Allen said.
“Between better educational programs and mental health programs, we’re now addressing the core of the issues of drug use, crime and poverty. That includes having to address the stigma against mental health. There’s a lot of distrust towards mental health institutions because folks have been taken advantage of. But once we break down these barriers, you’ll see the changes almost instantly.”
Cullinane said that one of the biggest goals he hoped to accomplish was the expansion of mental health programs offered at the Mattapan Health Center.
Both candidates voiced concerns with drivers speeding on the side streets in and around Mattapan Square. While going door to door, four people on one street told Cullinane that speeding was their number one concern in the neighborhood. The two candidates also said that the most effective means of improving the quality of life in the district is the relationships between the legislators and the residents.
While Cullinane has the benefit of several months of incumbency, Allen has earned some degree of name recognition in Mattapan by dint of his community activism. While Allen spoke with the Banner at Lenny’s Tropical Bakery, many people approached Allen to shake his hand and talk. Former students greeted him when they saw their old teacher sitting at a booth.
Cullinane holds office hours at Brother’s Deli and Restaurant and has endorsements from Mayor Walsh, Congressman Mike Capuano, State Rep. Russell Holmes, State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, State Sen. Brian Joyce and Sheriff Steve Thompkins.
Cullinane and Allen are considered frontrunners against Ruthella Logan-Cruz and Carlotta Williams. The four will square off in the Democratic primary on September 9.