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Progressives seeking city council seats

Candidates gearing up for 2021 elections

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Progressives seeking city council seats
Community organizer Kendra Hicks chats with voters in Jackson Square. COURTESY PHOTO

Though local elections are a year away, progressive candidates for city council are gearing up for 2021. Alex Gray, who served as an aide to former Gov. Deval Patrick, is planning to run for an at-large council seat. Another ex-Patrick staffer, David Halbert, is considering a second run for an at-large seat.

In Jamaica Plain, Kendra Hicks, who plans to run for District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley’s seat, has already begun raising campaign cash, raking in more than $30,000 in her first month.

Hicks attributes her campaign haul to the voters’ desire for change in the district.

“It just shows that there’s a desire for a different kind of leadership within the district,” Hicks told the Banner. “I feel like everybody from all my different communities has shown up to be supportive in this moment.”

Hicks is a Black Dominican woman who was born in New York and raised in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. She began her career as an organizer while still a teenager and pivoted to philanthropy a few years ago, becoming the director of radical philanthropy at the national organization Resist.

District 6 includes the historically-conservative West Roxbury neighborhood, a section of the city Hicks says needs to be united with its neighbors in Jamaican Plain and Roslindale, rather than treated like an outcast among progressive voters.

“[West Roxbury] also has a growing population of renters, a growing population of people of color, a growing population of progressives, that are often erased from being part of that community,” she said.

That growing population can be seen at the weekly Black Lives Matter vigils happening at the Holy Name rotary since June. Rachel Poliner, an organizer with Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale, said that the voter population is changing in the city, which helped councilors like Ricardo Arroyo and Julia Mejia win office.

“There’s definitely some catching up to do about perception. And I think it shows not only in the voting patterns; It shows in the fact that we have people at the Holy Name rotary every Monday,” Poliner said.

According to BPDA data, West Roxbury is 73% white, while whites make up 45% of the city’s total population. O’Malley is the latest in a line of Irish-American councilors to represent the traditional Irish enclave.

Hicks says O’Malley’s “yes” vote on the mayor’s budget, despite calls for cutting police funding, has opened him to a challenge on his left flank.

“We can’t hide away from it, we can’t middle-road it. We need to take principled stances against racism, against homophobia, against fascism, against violence, at minimum,” Hicks said.

If elected, Gray, a policy analyst with experience on Governor Patrick’s staff, would be the first blind city councilor and the only blind elected official in Boston. He and Hicks share similar progressive priorities, such as equitable education policies and affordable housing.

Halbert, who placed eighth in the 2019 at-large race, told the Banner that he’s been getting positive feedback from constituents about a second run. Halbert sees voters turning to more candidates of color as well.

“Speaking as somebody who’s worked at the State House, worked at City Hall, and seen, literally in front of my eyes, the evolution in terms of what our legislative municipal government looks like, I think that’s been a net positive for the city,” Halbert said.

As the discussion about what the city will look like in 2021 begins, progressives will be looking for strong police reform stances from these candidates, as well as a more specific plan for the housing crisis and increasing income equity, Poliner said.

“We think there are people running who are excited about sharing those kinds of ideas,” said Poliner, who is currently working with Massachusetts Progressives to get out the vote this November.