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Accusations of racism color District 6 race

Tamer flyer darkened photo of Hicks, sparking outrage

Anna Lamb
Accusations of racism color District 6 race
Mary Tamer (left) and Kendra Hicks.

Accusations of racism have now been injected into the race for the District 6 city council seat, as controversial campaign literature made its way to voters late last week, with some still arriving on doorsteps through Monday morning. The mailed campaign flyer from the Mary Tamer campaign shows white candidate Tamer in bright color, while her opponent, Kendra Hicks, a Black woman, is in black-and-white.

Outrage spread through Twitter in the days following the arrival of the flyer, which features the headline, “There are stark differences between the candidates for District 6 city council.” Hicks supporters accused the Tamer campaign of darkening Hicks’ photo, as well as using “fear-mongering” language to gain voters.

In a written statement, Hicks addressed the mailer,

“In 2021, there is no place for such blatantly racist messaging in a campaign hoping to represent as diverse a community as District 6,” she wrote. “Darkening or editing a photo of a Black person to look more menacing is a racist tactic that has long been used by candidates in political campaigns, most notably by Republicans.”

In a phone interview with the Banner, Tamer, who identifies as Arab American, denied that her campaign darkened the image, saying the accusation is “absolutely not true.”

“It was a color photo that was put in Grayscale,” Tamer said. “That is it, that is the only alteration to the photo.”

Tamer’s campaign also took to Twitter, posting a statement saying, “The Tamer Campaign, which abhors all forms of racism, sent out a mailer citing clear policy differences between Mary and her opponent, Kendra Hicks. The photo used was never intended to cause harm or show racial animus.”

The statement goes on to say, “It is clear that it did not set the right tone” and blames the choice on “long campaign days.”

J.P. Progressives, a political group that has endorsed Hicks, has taken not only to disavowing the flyer but has also criticized the Tamer campaign for the lack of apologetic tone in the “apology” statement posted to social media.

On Monday, they released their own statement saying, “This kind of image manipulation is a known racist tactic used to make Black candidates appear menacing, and it is entirely unacceptable. It is difficult to believe that the Tamer campaign was unaware of this trope in the year 2021.” It goes on to say of the Tamer campaign’s response, “We call this a statement and not an apology, because nowhere in it was an expression of regret, an acknowledgment of the harm caused, or the word ‘sorry.’’’

Rachel Poliner, a co-chair of the group West Roxbury/Roslindale Progressives, added in a conversation with the Banner that not only is the photo problematic, but that the set of bullet points on the back that quote social media posts by Hicks, in which she calls for the police to be defunded and prisons to be closed, “vastly oversimplifies issues that deserve complex conversation and policy, and takes tiny social media posts from the summer of George Floyd protests out of context.”

A former school board member and president of the League of Women Voters, Tamer has repeatedly highlighted her experience in politics as well as her master’s degree in education. According to Poliner, the information on the back of the mailer serves to undercut Hicks’ experience doing the same.

Poliner added, “The Tamer campaign has been claiming to represent maturity and wisdom; this mailer shows neither.”

In an interview, Hicks pointed out her experience making policy as a public health professional and her experience leading people through political organizing.

“I also have all these personal experiences, right? Like when I talk about economic justice, I say that as someone who has had to work two or three jobs to survive and because I’ve been a low-wage worker for most of my life, and the only time that I was able to only work one job was when I was a part of a union,” she said. “When I talk about affordable housing, I say it as someone who has been a renter in the city for 13 years and who has faced eviction multiple times, because it’s just completely unaffordable to live in the city. When I talk about justice and education, I say that as not only a graduate of our public schools, I also say it as a parent of a student with special needs that also goes to our public schools.”

She continued, “I think the people in this district are really, really looking forward to having someone who’s going to push progressive policies, someone who’s an organizer who has experience in fighting for these wins that we’ve been looking for for so many years.”

Divisive issues

The informational portion of the mailer also calls out Hicks’ voting record, stating that she has not voted in the last 14 out of 20 elections she was eligible for. Hicks’ statement responds to the accusation not by denying it, but rather by stating that “implying that my voting record bars me from running for public office is a form of voter disenfranchisement. As someone who has faced barriers to voting — structural and personal — I am committed to expanding voter enfranchisement and removing the barriers that continue to stand in the way of many.”

Winning by around 1,200 votes in the Sept. 14 preliminary, Hicks has continued to receive endorsements from unions and elected officials, including progressive U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and is prioritizing education, affordable housing and supporting small business.

Tamer, who has been endorsed by incumbent Councilor Matt O’Malley and the firefighters and electrical workers unions, is running on a platform of education and environmental protection. On her mailer, she says she supports “community policing” and “common-sense” criminal justice reform.

“I think that there are some key differences between my opponent and I, and one of the things that we have been highlighting is those differences, whether it’s our views on police reform, whether it is the fact that I am a super voter, and Kendra for over 15 years has sat out some of the most consequential elections of our lifetime,” Tamer said. “I think that these are the issues that voters deserve to know about because they should be making an informed choice.”

Winnie Eke, the third-place finisher in the preliminary who has gone on to endorse Tamer, said she felt the mailer accomplished just that.

“I just saw it as a comparison chart on facts,” she said. “And I looked at the bottom of that first page. There were places giving you evidence of what somebody wrote when they wrote it.”

She went on to say, “I’m a Black person. And there was nothing on that paper that shows anything about race.”

Both candidates say they will continue to knock on doors and campaign through to the end. Both are also confident in their chances for the seat.

Hicks said, “[My] opponent has resorted to some tactics, some underhanded tactics. And what I can only say is it’s probably her attempt to make up some of the votes or to try to sway people away from voting for me. And we’ve got two weeks left. We’re just going to keep knocking on doors and talking directly to voters, making phone calls.”

Tamer said she feels enthusiasm from voters as she continues her campaign, and that she is “really focused on talking with folks about my experience, my background [and] some of the policy work that I have done over the years here in Boston.”