After more than 20 years without a major challenge, the state representative seat for the South End, Fenway and parts of Roxbury will come up for a vote on Tuesday, Sept. 4, after both major candidates have painstakingly taken their messages to the people.
Both major candidates, State Rep. Byron Rushing and Candidate Jon Santiago, were on the move this week, and the Sun caught up to them as they pounded the pavement, handed out literature, shared a smile or two, or just sat with concerned neighbors enjoying a glass of lemonade.
Sipping lemonade with Rep. Rushing
Incumbent State Rep. Byron Rushing said he has been on the go since the House’s formal session ended in July, knocking on doors and going to meetings and community events.
“On most days I have been going to meetings in the morning and then going out door knocking in the afternoon,” he said. “While we were in formal session, I had to squeeze things in. In July, I did not go door-knocking like I did in August. I’ve been to all of the family days and community events. I try to always make it to the things that I would go to anyway even if there weren’t a campaign going on. Just like the other night, there was a group of neighbors in Chester Square trying to revive the Stoop Nights there. I couldn’t resist, so I went over to lend my support and ended up talking with neighbors on the stoop while drinking some cold lemonade…I feel great about the campaign. I think my opponents are running good races. I think they’ve run into me and I’ve run into them. That’s a sign we’re all out there campaigning.”
Rushing hasn’t faced a major challenger in quite some time, and he’s represented the South End and Fenway for more than two decades. In that time, he has built up a reputation for advocating for human rights and civil rights – and that role over time has landed him in the leadership of the House, where he is now the Assistant Majority Leader and is at the table for most high-level House meetings.
He said that experience over time allows him to make progressive voices heard. Rushing said he is sensitive to the criticisms leveled against those who have experience and have gained leadership roles. He said in the past that had been considered an advantage for constituents, but he noted there has been a “shift.” That said, he hoped voters could consider how that experience has consistently led to better results.
“My record of advocating for human rights and civil rights and my concern for those issues allowed me to be a leader in those issues,” he said. “I didn’t have a leadership role when I came in and for most of my career, and having that position now is something I consider a major advantage for my constituents. Many cannot remember when we had the gay rights struggle. Thought it was much different, we had the marriage struggle and I was happy to be able to help pass legislation that made us the first state in the nation to recognize same-sex marriages. I was happy to play a role in both of those. Then there was a group of folks we didn’t know about, transgender folks, and they needed help. When they wanted to get legislation, I had the reputation and experience and they asked us to help. I was incredibly happy to do that and I’m ready to continue doing that.”
Santiago: Winning voters one knock at a time
When State Rep. candidate Jon Santiago goes out to campaign, he puts on his walking shoes.
Santiago, a bi-lingual emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center, decided that it was time for new leadership after attending many community meetings and feeling that more needed to be done at the state level.
His strategy for votes – go directly to the people and ask.
“We have knocked on 15,000 doors and I’ve done 7,500 myself,” he said. “I think with a district as diverse as this, it’s important to go out and listen to people, meet people and hear their concerns in person because you are going to be advocating for them. This district hasn’t seen a major race in 20 years. I can’t tell you how many people have said they have never had anyone knock on their door and ask for their vote. It’s especially true in the Spanish community, but overall, most say they had never had anyone ask directly for their vote. Sometimes you just have to ask.”
So it is that Santiago has based his campaign on asking and learning, he said.
In a district that spans from the new One Dalton luxury residences in the Back Bay to parts of Fenway and into the South End, there are a variety of issues.
On Monday night, Santiago was campaigning hard in the Villa Victoria neighborhood. Alternating discussion in Spanish and English, he talked with voters who may not have voted for state representative before.
Santiago approached one man who he had been trying to reach for months.
The man was replacing an engine fan on his car, and talked with the candidate while he worked.
“Are you a Democrat?” asked the man.
“Yes,” said Santiago.
“You’re all set,” said the man.
“But there are two Democrats,” said Santiago.
“Are you the good one or the bad one?” asked the man with a laugh.
“I’m the one that will represent you the best,” laughed Santiago.
In hitting the streets at the grass- roots level, Santiago learned from voters such as those above that the issues are as diverse as the district. In the Villa on Monday, the main issues were shootings and young people without structured activities.
A block away, those issues weren’t even in the top 10.
“It’s such a diverse district,” he said, crossing the street to engage a voter in Spanish. “The issues here change from block to block. This is how I do politics and how I will do it if elected – walking through the community and staying engaged.”
Santiago said his major push is to try to set policy that will solve the symptoms – things like joblessness, access to health care and tackling the opiate crisis. In the district, one of the major issues that Santiago sees in the emergency room every day is the effects of opiates. He believes more action at the state level is needed fast.
And in his election effort, fast and on the move is the mantra.
“I do feel a buzz,” he said. “I do feel a surge. We’ve had big endorsements from the unions and organizations. That’s notable because those people don’t usually go against the establishment.”
Several other major races to be decided on the Democratic ballot Sept. 4
Perhaps the most prominent and far-reaching race on the Democratic ballot is between the five district attorney candidates. For the first time in more than a decade, after the retirement of DA Dan Conley, the DA’s seat is open, and the entirety of Suffolk County will be choosing the winning candidate in the Primary.
Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Greg Henning, Shannon McAuliffe and Rachael Rollins are all newcomers to Suffolk County politics and have had to forge paths in areas outside their typical spheres of influence. Most have had management experience and some have worked in the prosecutor’s office. Carvalho is a sitting state representative from Dorchester.
- A race that has been lively is that of Congressman Michael Capuano against Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley – both of whom are running for Congress on the Democratic ticket.
Both have visited the district several times, and have brought their message to the people at house parties and rallies.
The scales seem to tip towards Capuano right now, but it’s a big district that stretches all the way down through Boston and to Randolph on the South Shore. How that works out is anyone’s guess.
- A less heralded race, but one that will be on the ballot and has been contentious, is the contest between Back Bay City Councilor Josh Zakim and long-time Secretary of State Bill Galvin.
Galvin has been a stalwart in the State House for many years, and has been very critical of Zakim.
Zakim has returned the favor.
A debate two weeks ago between the two had some very big fireworks shot off from both candidates.
Zakim has had some strong endorsements statewide, which has turned some heads, but Galvin also has the experience of years in the seat.
It will be one to watch Tuesday night.