Challengers hit streets in 14th Suffolk District race
Four challengers take on incumbent first elected in 1973
At least two candidates are actively pounding the pavement in the five-way Democratic primary race for the 14th Suffolk District state representative seat.
Political activist Segun Idowu and civil rights attorney Gretchen Van Ness have for months been knocking on doors in the sprawling Hyde Park district.
Middlesex Community College administrator Virak Uy, also a candidate, has placed signs throughout the district. But incumbent Angelo Scaccia, first elected to the seat in 1973, has been largely absent from the campaign trail, observers say, appearing at few community meetings and public events.
“People who’ve moved here in the last 10 or 15 years say they’ve never seen him or met him,” said Van Ness, who said her team of volunteers has knocked on the door of nearly every registered voter in the district. “I’ve lived here for more than three years and have a pretty good understanding of what it’s like to live in Hyde Park. I have a pretty good understanding of what the absence of leadership has meant here.”
Idowu, who moved to Hyde Park 15 years ago as a teenager, said he was encouraged to run for office by Hyde Park residents and family members.
“The district has completely changed since [Scaccia] first took office,” he said. “Today, it’s a community that is two-thirds people of color. It’s working class. It’s largely immigrant. I don’t think he represents the district well.”
Idowu serves on the board of the NAACP Boston Branch and leads the Boston Police Camera Action Team in its efforts to implement police body-worn cameras in the city. He said he was motivated to run by watching the Legislature’s response to issues affecting the mostly black and Latino population of Hyde Park, including this year’s debate on criminal justice reform.
“It felt like you were watching the Mississippi state legislature, not the Massachusetts House,” he said. “I felt like we need more representative leadership in the State House.”
Idowu and Van Ness are among a handful of left-leaning candidates challenging longtime Boston lawmakers in the 2018 electoral season. Progressive-leaning incumbents Byron Rushing of the South End’s 9th Suffolk District, Jeffrey Sanchez of the Jamaica Plain/Mission Hill-based 15th Suffolk District and Liz Malia of the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury-based 11th Suffolk District all face progressive challengers.
Scaccia, however, stands apart from the other incumbents in both the length of time he’s served — the better part of five decades — and his less-than-progressive record in office. He received an “F” rating on his Progressive Massachusetts scorecard, putting him on par with most of the state’s Republicans.
Scaccia did not respond to requests for an interview with the Banner.
He did turn out for a candidate forum May 4 sponsored by Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale, an affiliate of Progressive Massachusetts. There, according to the news website Universal Hub, he expressed support for a tax on millionaires and said he’s “somewhat progressive on taxes.”
The fifth candidate to enter the race for the 14th Suffolk District seat, Christopher Nzenwa, did not speak at the forum and has not been seen actively campaigning in the district.
Uy, who faced off against Scaccia in 2016, also did not respond to a request for an interview. Uy garnered 972 votes to Scaccia’s 2,070 in 2016.
The 14th Suffolk district stretches nearly four miles from the southern expanse of Readville, a mostly-white enclave bordering Dedham, to the district’s northern reach into Roslindale Square. It includes most of Hyde Park and three precincts in West Roxbury. During the 2014 statewide Democratic primary — the last race in which gubernatorial candidates were on the ballot — 4,674 voters turned out, with 2,741 voting for Scaccia, 976 voting for challenger Anthony Joseph Solimine and 938 not casting a vote in the legislative race.
Idowu cited public transportation, education and the cost of housing as top issues that concern the more than 2,000 neighborhood residents he’s spoken with. While a ride on the MBTA subway system or in Zone 1A of the commuter rail system costs $2.25, many Hyde Park residents use commuter rail stations outside that zone and must pay $6.25 for a ride to South Station.
“People here pay extra money to travel the same distance as people in other parts of the city,” he said.
Idowu said he would make changing the fare structure a priority, as well as improving service for buses that take riders to the Forest Hills Orange Line station.
He also would champion increasing state spending on education to keep pace with increasing costs for school districts.
“A lot of people are concerned that we’re not keeping our commitment to fully fund education,” he said.
Regarding housing, he cited the Legislature’s recent failure to pass the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act, a state law backed by the administration of Mayor Martin Walsh that would have required owners of large properties to notify city officials of pending evictions.
“All it was going to do is get us data,” he said of the failed bill. “We don’t have a champion at the State House representing this district.”
Van Ness said her priorities include addressing state Chapter 70 education funding, public transportation and the pressure of rising rents and new real estate development on Hyde Park residents.
“People are worried that housing prices are going to shoot through the roof,” she said.
She also would like to see the MBTA honor its stated commitment to transform the Fairmount commuter rail line into a rapid transit line with $2.25 fares at all stations, rather than the current $6.25 still charged at the outermost station, Readville.
Van Ness also said she would support new revenue to pay for improvements.
“We need more revenue to invest in our community and to make this a more just and equitable commonwealth,” she said.