Elugardo kicks off campaign for state representative
Running on a progressive platform, the candidate emphasizes her social justice work
“Our district will never again have to lobby our representatives to do what is right for this community and fight for our interests,” said Nika Elugardo at her campaign kick-off party last week for the 15th Suffolk/Norfolk district seat.
She will be challenging state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, a lifelong resident of the district who has held the office since 2003.
Addressing a full house at The Frogmore restaurant in Jamaica Plain, Elugardo articulated a vision for a more progressive House of Representatives on Beacon Hill.
“[Elect a] representative who will demonstrate, not just talk about, this commitment by respecting your brilliance and your power and championing your rights without fear, without falsehood and with the many diverse and ingenious voices of our community,” said Elugardo.
Among the supporters in attendance were Mel King, veteran community organizer and former state representative, and former City Councilor Tito Jackson.
“Nika knows that the cavalry is not coming,” said Jackson. “Nika will lead on affordable housing, comprehensive immigration reform, the Fight for $15 [and] criminal justice reform. She will ensure our city will have the leadership that we need.”
In facing off against Sánchez, Elugardo is taking on an incumbent with deep roots in the district and considerable support in the State House. Sánchez is the first-ever Latino to serve as chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee — a position that gives him power over state budget decisions. The position is seen as a stepping stone to the speakership of the House.
While Sánchez has quietly risen to power inside the House, he has at times incurred the wrath of the progressive base in his district. During an April 7 meeting last year, a group of residents from the district, which includes much of Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill and a section of Brookline, questioned why Sánchez had not supported criminal justice reform legislation that was then being backed by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and the Progressive Caucus.
Sánchez eventually signed on as a sponsor of the MBLLC legislation, which has since passed through both the House and Senate.
Running to the left
With criminal justice reform largely settled, Elugardo still has considerable room to stake out positions to the left of Sánchez. She is running on a platform of closing the wealth and education gap, maintaining safe communities for immigrants, ending housing displacement, safeguarding women’s reproductive rights and protecting the environment.
Elugardo has not strayed too far from her earlier community organizing days.
“I became concerned over the lack of community especially for people struggling with homelessness with kids,” she told the Banner at the kick-off party about her past work. “I wanted to organize in a way where people who were homeless were part of the leadership.”
After graduating from MIT, Elugardo studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and entered law school at Boston University.
Her previous work includes managing the National Consumer Law Center’s foreclosure prevention program and serving as the Jamaica Plain liaison and senior policy advisor to Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz.
Elugardo says she has seven campaign staff and an even larger group of volunteers.
Alex Kahveci, the campaign’s director of strategy, said voters in the district would respond to Elugardo’s focus on progressive issues.
“We are what we call a ‘high information district,’” she said. “Everyone is really informed and there are people of all ages involved.”
Jamaica Plain activist Benjamin Day has only known Elugardo since she declared her candidacy, but said he’s on board.
“I’ve been waiting for someone like her to run,” he said.
As the executive director of Healthcare-NOW, a single-payer healthcare system advocacy group, Day said he has worked to find an ally in the Statehouse, something he said he hasn’t yet found.
Elugardo’s daughter, Consuela, spoke to the crowd about how her mother has always been a big-picture thinker.
“She doesn’t address issues of social justice simply one case at a time,” she said. “She wants to get the full picture and get to the root of the problem in order to change the outcome.”
King, a longtime mentor of Elugardo said of the candidate, “She reminded me of one of these important questions to ask when looking at the kind of actions we are taking. The first question you ask is, ‘In whose interest are you acting?’”