Progressives already split between two challengers in the 14th Suffolk state representative's district (Hyde Park, Roslindale, West Roxbury) now have a third candidate running against incumbent Angelo Scaccia, who has been a state rep for 41 years now.
At a forum sponsored by Progressive West Roxbury Roslindale at the Washington-Beech community room last night, about 35 people learned that, in addition to Segun Idowu and Gretchen Van Ness, who have been running since December, Virak Uy has jumped into the race. Uy ran against Scaccia two years ago and lost by a large margin.
The four candidates spoke in turn, with no chance to address each other.
The forum started with Scaccia, who tried to appeal to the progressives by citing his support for the so-called "millionaire's tax," a ballot question this fall that would add an additional tax to people making more than $1 million a year.
Scaccia estimated the measure would mean an additional $1.5 billion to $2 billion, which he pledged to try to have spent mainly on public education and transportation issues. "I'm somewhat liberal when it comes to taxes," because taxes are what pay for the services people want, he said. He added he also hoped for passage of the Safe Communities Act, which would try to protect immigrants with no criminal records from ICE.
But Scaccia spent a fair portion of his time railing against state House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whom he said has turned the House into "a dictatorship," hellbent to stamp out any dissent. He said he rose to defend state Rep Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, sexually harassed when she was a legislative aide, during an attempted speech in which he said she was "creamed, I mean beaten up by fellow colleagues, and she was never allowed to speak and it was embarrassing."
He said he didn't vote for DeLeo for speaker and as a result had his office moved to the State House basement and was stripped of all his committee chairmanships. But he noted he was still on the committee that will redraw legislative district lines after the 2020 election. "I have gotten used to losing most of my life, but every once in a while you win," he said.
Scaccia said that he is proud of his work increasing funding for mental-health issues and treatment for opioid addiction. He criticized the city of Quincy for trying to block Marty Walsh's plans to turn Long Island into a treatment campus.
Locally, he is most proud of helping DCR increase parkland in the district; he did not mention the dog-park controversy.
Gretchen Van Ness
Asked what most differentiates her from Scaccia, Van Ness said she would never get the high marks Scaccia does from Mass. Citizens for Life and the NRA.
Van Ness, a lawyer, said she would be an unabashed progressive on Beacon Hill and would fight for everything from the Safe Communities Act to increasing funding for public schools. Locally, she said she would fight for a dog park, against all the jets that now fly over the district and go after the T to fix "the commuter rail that doesn't work, the buses that don't work.
Van Ness, who spent her legal career as a lawyer in discrimination cases, said she would also want to be active in criminal-justice reform. A recently passed law is a good step, but its inclusion of mandatory sentences for some crimes still means discrimination against people of color. She added that she would work to get non-violent offenders out of prisons and into mental-health and addiction facilities.
And she said she would fight to put Massachusetts alongside California in the fight to protect non-criminal immigrants, to "protect us from the excesses of the federal government."
She said improvements to mass transit are vital not just because, especially in the southern part of Boston, it doesn't work well, but to get people out of their cars because of climate change. Massachusetts, she said, also needs to do more to reduce its carbon footprint, though such steps as increasing solar and wind power - and it needs to do more to protect coastal regions from climate-change-related flooding.
Van Ness noted that Hyde Park is beginning to feel the sort of pressure from rising house prices that Roslindale is now going through. She said the problem is two-fold: Both a shortage of housing and depressed wages. She called for a new tax on luxury housing to create more affordable housing - and for looking at ways to increase wages. She added that Hyde Park might be in a unique position to take advantage of money from the Community Preservation Act surcharge homeowners now pay. The new revenue is meant to go in part to both housing and historic preservation, and Hyde Park has a lot of historic old factory buildings that could be turned into apartments.
When asked the question about how he would most differ from Scaccia, Idowu agreed with Van Ness: "I happen to support a woman's reproductive rights," he said. He added that like Cincinnatus and unlike Scaccia, he is not seeking to make being a government official a career. He said he would work hard for the issues he believes in, then step aside - and he emphasized he would be working towards major changes on everything from climate change to affordable housing, not the "incremental" changes he said we now get.
Idowu, who led the effort to equip Boston police officers with body cameras, said it's past time for the 14th Suffolk to have a progressive voice on Beacon Hill. He said the district has one of the highest election turnouts in the city - and yet 30% of voters typically just blank the state representative's race.
And he said that in a district that is now minority majority, and with Hyde Park having a high percentage of immigrant residents, criminal-justice reforma and protecting immigrant rights should be major issues.
Like Scaccia and Van Ness, he said he supports the Safe Communities Act. But he took his support one step further, saying he would not be afraid to step "between an officer and one of our neighbors" if need be. "I've been arrested for protesting before and I'm happy to do it again."
Locally, Idowu, who lives near the Readville train station, says he would make dealing with commuter-rail prices one of his priorities. $6.25 a day to ride commuter rail from there is far from ideal, he said, adding he would also try to force the T to do something about the 32 bus, which costs less, but which takes forever to get to Forest Hills. Idowu said he would also work on small-business development in the district - both to recruit new neighborhood-appropriate businesses and to help existing shops stay in business.
Idowu said he would also fight to preserve Hyde Park, which he said was now about the only place left in the city "where something called affordable housing exists." He said the area needs "lots more affordable housing" to keep residents in their homes. He would back an act - recently defeated - that would ban landlords from evicting tenants without "just cause." And he would support a new tax on high-end real-estate sales to support affordable housing.
Idowu said he backs a proposal to increase the minimum wage in Massachusetts to $15 an hour - and would extend that to both teens and restaurant servers.
"Climate change is the issue of our time," and Massachusetts is not moving fast enough to deal with it, he said. He pointed to glass-sheathed high rises as an example of potentially wasteful construction that should have tougher environmental regulations placed on them to reduce their carbon footprints.
He said the recently passed criminal-justice reform law needs more work, to reform the way bail is assessed to eliminating even more mandatory minium sentences. He added it's important to build up a system that will help people getting out of prison find a job and a home - one reason for recidivism is that both are so difficult for the newly freed to get.
Because organizers of the forum only learned last week he was in the race, Uy got just three minutes to speak, rather than the 25 the other candidates got. Uy, who came to the US as a refugee from Cambodia, went to Boston public schools and worked in BPS before becoming a program director at Middlesex Community College. He said education would be his most important issue