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Progressive legislative primaries pull in big cash

Catherine McGloin

Progressive politics got Bostonians digging deep to financially support candidates, an analysis of campaign contributions in the legislative primary races reveals. 

Running in races across the city, legislative candidates received financial support from a range of sources, from lobbyists to locals in their districts, according to campaign data filed with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) for the period Jan. 1 to Aug. 17.

These numbers help build a picture of each candidate’s base. But this year, they underscore how politics in Massachusetts has come to mirror what Kristen Johnson, a Jamaica Plain resident and member of grassroots organization JP Progressives, said is “a national wave of supporting and endorsing progressive candidates.”

No race better exemplifies this pattern than the 15th Suffolk District race between incumbent Jeffrey Sanchez, the first Latino to hold the position of Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and challenger Nika Elugardo. In a year when many political donors are tapped out with congressional races and the district attorney’s race, the battle between progressives Sanchez and Elugardo was the top-grossing House race in the city.

Sanchez’s position in House leadership meant that he was a front-runner to raise the most campaign cash, and his tally did not disappoint, massing more than $240,000 between Jan. 1 and Aug. 17, and more than $100,000 last year.

Elugardo was not able to raise half of that amount during the same period, reaching a total just shy of $100,000.

But, while Sanchez received more than $60,000 from lobbyists, as reported in Commonwealth Magazine, Elugardo’s donors are concentrated in the neighborhoods she ran for, namely Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, Roslindale and Brookline.

“This shows to me that she has more support from actual residents and voters in the district,” said Johnson, who was surprised to see this concentration when she plotted the locations of both candidate’s contributors.

Johnson’s findings come after Elguardo’s sustained criticism of Sanchez during the campaign that he was not fulfilling his progressive promises, particularly on issues of immigration rights, school funding and the environment.

In other legislative races, contributions totals were smaller, but contained similar surprises.

Jonathan Santiago raised more than $45,000 in his challenge to incumbent Byron Rushing in the 9th Suffolk District race. While out-of-state donations accounted for just $3,250 of this total, most of his contributions were small-dollar-amount donations from within the district. Rushing raised less than his challenger, $35,413 over the first seven and a half months of year.

The third candidate in this race, Suezanne Patrice Bruce, collected about $2,500, and most donations were less than $500.

In the 5th District, Elizabeth Miranda received a large number of donations from people with Portuguese surnames, suggesting substantial support from the Cape Verdean community in Roxbury and Dorchester. Darrin Howell’s total contributions as of Aug. 17 amounted to more than $34,400, with a number of them coming from labor unions and union activists.

Financial records could not be found on the OCPF’s website for the two other candidates in the 5th District race, Roy Owens and Brad Howze.

In Southie’s 1st Suffolk District contest, David Biele and Matthew Rusteika competed to replace state Sen. Nick Collins. Biele, Collins’ legislative aid, raised $65,858, including $10,100 from his own funds and $1,000 from his fund accountant. Rusteika, a former employee in Gov. Charlie Baker’s energy office, collected $33,473 from donors.

Meanwhile, over in the 11th Suffolk District, incumbent Rep. Elizabeth Malia raised $26,655, only slightly more than the $24,832 raised by her challenger, Ture Turnbull. The third candidate in this race, Charles Clemmons Muhammad, raised less than $1,000; only 12 donations were made to his campaign, four of which came from his own pocket.

Dan Cullinane raised $36,318 in the 12th District race, which includes areas of Dorchester, Hyde Park, Milton and Mattapan, while Jovan Lacet received $7,300 during the same period.

In the five-way Democratic primary race for the 14th Suffolk District, incorporating most of Hyde Park and parts of West Roxbury, Segun Idowu, Gretchen Van Ness, Virak Uy and Christopher Obi Nzenwa all fought to replace Rep. Angelo Scaccia, who was first elected in 1973.

While the incumbent Scaccia received more than $24,800, made up mainly from small $50 and $25 donations from residents in Hyde Park, two of his opponents, Idowu and Van Ness, raised larger sums.

Idowu raised the most money, bringing in about $29,000, including $150 from former mayoral candidate Tito Jackson and $100 from 9th District candidate Santiago.

Van Ness made $26,750 in donations, while Nzenwa collected $3,425, $300 of which was his own cash. According to OCPF data, Virak Uy raised only $995.

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