A four-way race for 2nd Suffolk Senate seat
Candidates hit doors competing for voters in re-drawn district
Four Democrats are vying for the 2nd Suffolk Senate seat soon to be vacated by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz. The Banner caught up with all four candidates last week as they engaged in campaigning for the majority-people-of color-district, which includes Roxbury, Mission Hill, parts of Jamaica Plain, parts of Dorchester, Roslindale, Mattapan and part of Hyde Park.
Monday, state Rep. Nika Elugardo completed an all-nighter in the Legislature, working with colleagues to push through a raft of last-minute bills as the session drew to a close.
Wednesday, she and her husband, Marcos, were hitting the 90-degree pavement, knocking doors on Harvard Street in a section of Dorchester newly added to the 2nd Suffolk District in which she’s now a candidate.
Ringing the bell of a two-family home, Elugardo was greeted by the owner, who introduced herself as Ms. Dottie.
“I’m Nika, I’m running for state Senate,” she said.
The discussion was lengthy, with Elugardo discussing the underrepresentation of Blacks in the state Legislature and touching on her priorities — reproductive rights, increased support for affordable housing, support for early voting. Then she went in for the big question:
“What would I have to do to earn your vote?”
“You’ve already got it.”
It’s just one vote in a race that campaign operatives say could take between 8,000 and 12,000 votes to win in the four-way Democratic primary. But as Elugardo exited, Ms. Dottie promised to distribute literature and call her friends.
“Thank you,” Elugardo said. “We call that friend-banking.”
Like others running for Senate seats, Elugardo’s voter outreach is a small part of her campaign’s overall effort, but it provides her an important window into voters’ concerns — the high cost of housing, the MBTA, economic recovery from the COVID pandemic.
“People are fed up,” she said. “They’re ready to believe change can come.”
The voter contacts also give Elugardo a view into how she’s doing with voters in the district.
“It feels like it’s going well everywhere I go,” she said. “But I’m a math geek. There are so many parts of the district I haven’t knocked doors in. But my team is everywhere.”
Elugardo has raised $127,920 since she announced her candidacy in December. Her campaign manager is Isabel Torres.
In a community room at the Back of the Hill Apartments elderly housing complex on South Huntington Avenue, the conversation between Miniard Culpepper and a collection of 13 elderly residents revolved largely around public housing policy.
Culpepper, a former regional administrator for HUD, spoke with intimate knowledge of the public housing developments throughout the city, recalling Mildred Hailey’s rise from tenant activist to the leader of one of the largest housing projects in the city, one that now bears her name.
“Mildred set the tone for public housing developments across the country,” Culpepper said.
He spoke of his experience administering the Demonstration Disposition Program in Boston, through which HUD-owned developments such as Academy Homes were transferred to ownership by tenant groups or tenant management companies. He outlined his plans for a similar program through which housing projects owned by the Boston Housing Authority and the state could be transferred to tenant ownership.
“Give them to the tenants, like they did with Academy Homes and the Mildred Hailey Apartments,” he said. (The Mildred Hailey development returned to BHA control in 2012, amid maintenance and administrative challenges).
Culpepper, who since his March campaign launch had raised $162,444 as of the July 31 Office of Campaign and Public Finance reporting date, brought his field director, Kathy Gabriel, to the Back of the Hill meeting. While this is Culpepper’s first run for office, it’s by far not his first campaign. He and Gabriel worked on the late Bruce Bolling’s successful 1981 citywide City Council run. He’s worked on many others, including the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s 1980 presidential bid.
But it’s his work in the community, as pastor of the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, that has perhaps given him the most exposure among voters in the 2nd Suffolk District. Standing in front of his church at the corner of Humboldt Avenue and Waumbeck Street Sunday, he greeted passing motorists as if they were his constituents, inquiring into their well-being and needs.
“I’ve been working in this community all my life,” he said. “If the work I’ve done means anything, then they’ll elect me senator.”
Culpepper’s campaign is being managed by Ground Game Strategies, a consulting firm run by Cam Charbonnier, who last year led the mayoral campaign of Annissa Essaibi George, and this year is managing campaigns for interim District Attorney Kevin Hayden and 15th Suffolk District candidate Danielson Tavares.
When Blue Hill Avenue shut down last Saturday as part of the city’s Open Streets Boston program, 15th Suffolk Rep. Liz Miranda had the perfect spot to reach out to voters, with her campaign office looking out over the festivities on the avenue where she has lived and worked.
For Miranda, the chance to represent the 2nd Suffolk District was too good to pass up.
“I know my city,” she said. “I have deep roots here. When I knock doors in Hyde Park or Mattapan — places where I haven’t lived — the ID rate is high.”
Sitting in her office with campaign manager Maliha Khan, deputy campaign manager Richeline Cadet and transformative justice organizer Romilda Pereira, Miranda remained attentive to what was going on just beyond her office’s frosted glass windows. When a thunderstorm rolled through and two women took shelter in the doorway of the storefront, she invited them in and offered to loan them umbrellas.
But the voter outreach that her campaign is undertaking is not at all haphazard. Since Miranda launched her campaign in November of last year, she has raised $210,969, and said her campaign has knocked on more than 20,000 doors and she herself has hit a quarter of those.
“We know who’s coming out for us,” she said. “We’ve been able to ID voters. It’s exciting to see that it’s all over the district, not just from my base.”
The child of Cape Verdean immigrants, Miranda grew up in Roxbury and was a teen organizer for the Dudley Street Neighborhood Association. She was elected to the Massachusetts House in 2018 and has passed legislation on issues such as criminal justice reform, environmental justice, voting rights for incarcerated people and maternal health equity.
If Miranda has any one superpower, it’s her near-ubiquitous presence in the community where she has lived since birth.
“I think people are yearning for a representative who shows up in the community,” she said.
Wilkerson represented the 2nd Suffolk District for 15 years before she lost the Democratic primary to Sonia Chang-Diaz in 2008, then landed in a federal prison on public corruption charges after a confidential informant video recorded her accepting bribes.
While this year’s race represents a political comeback for Wilkerson, she has been active in the community since returning from prison in 2013, most recently as a leader in the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition, where she advocated for greater resources for vaccination and testing in the city’s Black and Latino communities.
That work, along with the realization that little of the $4.8 billion in no-bid contracts the state spent to combat COVID went to black vendors, is what prompted her to run.
“COVID really did change my mind,” she said. “Just watching on the ground the response to the pandemic and seeing almost nothing from the funding that came to Massachusetts in our community.”
Wilkerson said Black and Latino elected officials were ineffective.
“They mean well,” she said. “They just have not been able to deliver.”
As of July 31, she reported a little more than $11,000 in contributions in her campaign account, though she said she raised an additional $12,000 during a fundraiser Saturday. But she said her campaign, run by volunteers including her two sons, isn’t conventional.
“We already know money and signs don’t win a race,” she said. “I made a conscious decision not to expend too much energy on fundraising in the beginning. I’m not trying to amass a war chest. I just want enough to pay for an Election Day operation.”
On Monday, Wilkerson was at the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Grove Hall, talking to a crowd of about 60 people on what she calls “contemporations” — reparations-like compensation not for slavery, but for the dispossession of Black property that took place in the 1960s through the city’s Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group. Through that group, city officials and banks tore down homes in Roxbury and left subsidized housing developments and vacant lots in their place.
“How do you pretend that didn’t happen?” she said. “It wasn’t 400 years ago. It wasn’t 200 years ago. It was 50 years ago.”
Wilkerson advocates redirecting money that flows to the Boston Planning and Development Agency through the sale and lease of public land to a $2 billion fund to promote Black homeownership.
“My position is, that’s our money,” she said. “We get it.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Mukiya Baker-Gomez is a consultant on Nika Elugardo’s campaign. She is not.