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Field narrows in 12th Suffolk District

Charbonnier ends candidacy, three remain

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Field narrows in 12th Suffolk District
(clockwise from top left) Stephanie Everett, Jovan Lacet, Cameron Charbonnier, Brandi Fluker-Oakley. COURTESY PHOTOS

Last week, three black attorneys and a white former advance man for Mayor Martin Walsh were vying for the 12th Suffolk District seat soon to be vacated by incumbent state Rep. Dan Cullinane.

While the Mattapan-centered district that is 76 percent people of color may seem like an easy win for a candidate of color, the field presented the possibility of a three-way split among black voters that would advantage Cameron Charbonnier, the sole white candidate in the Democratic primary.

Wednesday, however, Charbonnier, now with the city’s Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment, dropped out of the race, citing the current climate of heightened sensitivity to racial discrimination.

“While I stand behind my original conviction that I could be a strong and effective representative for this district, I realize that this is not my moment,” Charbonnier wrote in a statement published in the Dorchester Reporter.

“I think his decision was definitely reflective of the moment,” said state Rep. Russell Holmes, whose Mattapan-Hyde Park-based 6th Suffolk District abuts the 12th. “People wanted the voice of a person of color in the district.”

One politician who likely benefits from Charbonnier’s withdrawal from the race is Mayor Martin Walsh. Although Walsh had not endorsed him, the majority of the $23,893 in contributions Charbonnier raised for the race came from city employees, including many of Walsh’s closest confidants. The appearance of City Hall support could have created the appearance the mayor was supporting a white candidate against three Black candidates in a district centered in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Holmes said Charbonnier’s withdrawal from the race is fitting, in a district that has one of the highest percentages of black residents in Massachusetts.

“You’ll have a person in office who’s much more representative of the district,” he said. “That district should send somebody more reflective of its population. Black lives do matter, Black voices need to be heard.”

The district, which had 39,298 residents as of the 2010 Census, has been represented in the past by former House Speaker Thomas Finneran and by Linda Dorcena Forry, who left in 2013 to represent the 1st Suffolk District in the Senate. Cullinane defeated attorney Stephanie Everett and government worker MaryDith Tuitt in a Sept. 10 special election that year.

This year, the three candidates are Everett, a former aide to state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz,  returning to face off against Brandy Fluker-Oakley, an attorney who most recently headed the Boston office of the education reform nonprofit Educators for Excellence Boston, and attorney and former police officer Jovan Lacet.

Past races aside, the three face a daunting challenge in reaching voters in the Dorchester, Mattapan and Milton precincts in the 12th Suffolk District during a pandemic. Door-knocking is difficult at a time when many are reluctant to open their doors to anyone outside their household. There are few if any public events and festivals, which ordinarily afford candidates time for meet-and-greets with potential voters.

In the absence of the normal grassroots campaign conditions, many candidates instead are relying on phone banking, mailing campaign literature, developing content for Facebook pages and websites, and distributing signs, all of which can incur costs.

“If you want to get your message out, you have to do mailings,” Holmes said. “The candidates are going to have to be able to tell a very compelling story in their literature and online.”

During the 2018 Democratic primary, in which Lacet faced off against Cullinane, 6,914 people voted. With three candidates still in the race this year, it’s possible that the candidates may be competing for a pool of more than 7,000 primary voters.

“Fundraising is important,” said Mass Alliance Executive Director Jordan Berg Powers, who this year is running workshops for progressive candidates campaigning during the COVID epidemic. “A lot of people are looking for places to channel their energy. Donating to campaigns is a great way to do that.”

Leading the pack in fundraising is Fluker-Oakley, who as of Friday had raised $37,142, according to filings with the Office of Campaign and Public Finance. Everett is second with $19,285 raised, followed by Lacet, who has raised $12,718.

Holmes says Lacet enjoys an advantage because he has run for the seat before, garnering 47 percent of the vote in 2018. Lacet’s campaign signs from the 2018 run appear in the district, while Everett and Fluker-Oakley have had to have new ones printed.

While there are no in-person debates or forums scheduled, the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council has scheduled a virtual town hall for August 1 at 10 a.m. For more information on the candidate town hall, see GMNC’s website.