Much agreement in 2nd Suffolk candidates forum
Last Thursday evening, the four candidates vying for the 2nd Suffolk district state Senate seat came together for a virtual forum during which all had an opportunity to lay out their platforms and priorities for the office.
Hosted by Jamaica Plain Progressives (JPP), the NAACP Boston, Right to the City Vote, Chinese Progressive Political Action and Mijente, the forum spanned about an hour and a half, during which the four covered a range of topics from the state’s affordable housing crisis to whether they support specific progressive policies currently before their future colleagues in the statehouse.
The 2nd Suffolk hopefuls include state Reps. Liz Miranda and Nika Elugardo, reverend and lawyer Miniard Culpepper, and former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who left office in 2008 after pleading guilty to public corruption charges.
The forum was moderated by GBH reporter Saraya Wintersmith and the Banner’s Yawu Miller, who before diving into the issues reminded voters of the recent redistricting that has cut much of the South End portion of the district while adding sections of Mattapan and Hyde Park. The move reestablishes what many across the state have referred to as the “Black Senate seat,” with 32% of voters being white compared to 57% Black and Latino and 8% Asian.
Starting off the evening, Wilkerson shared her belief that the district, while rich in culture and community, is also rife with problems made worse by the ongoing pandemic. She focused her remarks on how she believes her unique experience having done the job already has given her the ability “to repair, reverse [and] rebuild” the Black and brown community in the 2nd Suffolk.
“An important measure of the ability to do so is what one’s already done,” she said.
This would be a theme of Wilkerson’s answers throughout the evening as she continued to highlight her commitment to the community, most recently through her founding of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition.
“I have spent the last two years almost every single day on the ground, fighting around issues of COVID not just in terms of health, but the economic issues,” Wilkerson said.
She used her community work as a response to questions regarding her wrongdoing in office.
“There’s things you can do in and out of public office. And so I’ll keep moving. I’m gonna keep talking about the things that are important to us,” she said.
Next, Miranda used her brief introductory time to underscore her upbringing in the district and how she hopes to use the office to create health equity, bring about climate justice and promote affordable housing for her community.
“I saw firsthand how government left us behind, but we rose from the ashes. And I was a witness and participant in being able to see ordinary people do extraordinary things. That’s where I learned organizing. That’s where I learned coalition building,” she said.
Miranda’s most controversial answer of the evening came in response to a question about some tweets that resurfaced in which she used language derogatory towards the LGBTQ community.
Letting her neighborly attitude shine through even in that answer, Miranda told moderators that she does not believe in policing ‘hood vernacular.’
“And if I used some of that hood vernacular when I was in my late 20s, I am not that woman today. None of us are our worst mistake,” Miranda said.
Unlike the first two, who have been longtime residents of the district they hope to represent, Elugardo, originally from Ohio, highlighted her successes in the House, assuring voters of her ability to bring resources to the district and support for issues important to constituents.
“I have 30 years of experience, developing and training other leaders. I want to bring that movement-building ideology into how I do business in the State House,” Elugardo said.
Elugardo, who has often been on the more left-leaning side of issues before the House and is a self-described progressive, has made a reputation in her years in office as someone who isn’t afraid to take strong stands against political leadership. She made waves in 2018 when she told GBH news that “the Democratic party is straight-up racist.” Asked about how she would fare having to collaborate with aforementioned party leaders, she said she would categorize herself as a “straight shooter.”
“It’s about recognizing your strengths and helping you see the strengths of the others around you,” she said.
Elugardo also stated that her top priorities for the office are housing and ecological justice, economic and entrepreneurial opportunity for all, and equitable education.
Culpepper, who retired from his position as regional counsel for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) back in February, spoke about his years as a civil rights activist.
“I was born in Boston, went to school in Boston, went to college in Boston. I was inspired from an early age by my parents and grandparents, who were active in the civil rights movement in Boston. They were trailblazers, and this spirit of activism and fighting for justice was passed down to me,” he said.
Also during the forum, Culpepper highlighted his relative lack of experience compared to the other candidates, turning it into a reason he’s the right fit.
“I come to this with a new voice, new leadership,” he said. “I’m unbought and unbossed.”
Culpeppper said his top priorities are housing, education, justice and the environment.
Candidates were asked questions about a wide range of issues impacting constituents, including the ongoing opioid crisis at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, about housing affordability, school receivership and mental health.
In response to the question about the situation on Mass and Cass, all four agreed that state intervention in some way would be beneficial, with Miranda favoring the decriminalization of drug use while Elugardo pointed to housing insecurity as a major driver of the issue. Wilkerson, while vague in her answer, agreed that there needs to be a housing component, and Culpepper spoke to the need for state services to be flushed into the area.
On housing, the four again agreed that communities of color have continued to be hit hard by gentrification and other forms of economic disadvantage, making it hard to find a quality place to live. All four also agreed that the state could provide some form of tenant protections, with Miranda and Wilkerson mentioning rent control.
Unsurprisingly, all four vehemently oppose state receivership of schools, arguing that the move has proven unsuccessful and does not serve the communities in which it’s been implemented.
And lastly, on mental health and wellness, all seemed to agree it was an important issue, though Miranda and Elugardo were the only two with related platform ideas. Miranda said that if elected, she has plans for mental health programs across the district, while Elugardo hopes to institute supportive programming in Massachusetts schools. Wilkerson, while not having it as a part of her platform, did push for mental health allocation as part of her COVID recovery work.
As for rapid-fire questions regarding specific policy, all candidates at the forum answered with identical affirmations supporting a single-payer health care system; abortion; state-funded early education; the Fair Share Amendment taxing millionaires; free public transit; fair wages for hospitality workers; safe consumption sites; same-day voter registration; and removing public records exemptions for government officials. They all opposed the ballot measure that would make gig workers independent contractors.
JPP members will meet May 30 on Zoom to discuss their endorsement. The primary election is on Tuesday, Sept. 6.