The race for the Democratic nomination to fill the Fourth Congressional District seat, left open by Joseph P. Kennedy III in his bid for the US Senate, has attracted an impressive field of candidates: a Harvard-trained epidemiologist; a longtime champion of national service programs; a Moroccan immigrant who’s a former Wall Street regulator.
But one hopeful stands out in the nine-candidate primary: Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss. His track record in local government and his military background as a former Marine captain provide depth of experience and perspective that are valuable assets as Congress navigates crises in public health and the economy. The Globe enthusiastically endorses Auchincloss in the Fourth Congressional District Democratic primary.
The Fourth District was redrawn after the 2010 Census and it’s now an improbably-shaped north-to-south swath that represents nearly 750,000 people living in 34 cities and towns. Unlike other congressional districts drawn to group together communities with shared interests, the district has no cohesive identity: It includes wealthy suburbs like Newton and Wellesley but also blue-collar cities in southern Massachusetts such as Taunton and roughly half of Fall River.
Auchincloss, a Newton native and public school graduate, was elected to the Newton City Council in 2015, a perspective that informs his agenda. “As a city councilman, I’m seeing right now the impending cuts coming to our local budget for essential services like education and infrastructure improvements,” he told the Globe editorial board in an interview. “Taunton just laid off more than 100 teachers. My priority [if elected to Congress] needs to be federal relief for local budgets. They’re going to be severely affected for the next two fiscal years at least by really restricted municipal budgets, and we need some relief.”
Indeed, the failure of Congress to help states and cities — which, unlike the federal government, generally cannot run a deficit — has been one of the most glaring shortcomings of the government’s coronavirus stimulus efforts, and one that Auchincloss would be right to prioritize.
It’s also worth recognizing that, in local government, Auchincloss was a reliable vote in favor of fair housing well before the outpouring of protests against systemic racism that erupted this spring and thrust issues of racial justice to the fore. Even in — especially in — Boston’s liberally leaning suburbs, that’s not the politically expedient choice. “I had been occasionally frustrated, frankly, by a progressive city like Newton that purports to be welcoming and inclusive . . . and pro-immigration at the national level” but “continuously put up barriers to entry for those who want to immigrate into Newton and to buy new houses,” he said.
Auchincloss’s military service in Afghanistan, where he observed and was tasked with implementing an aimless American strategy, offers valuable insights into his foreign affairs thinking. “Briefing 40 Marines [for] a combat mission with a purpose statement that I just made up on the fly is a true education,” he said. “And it has deeply informed my commitment to ending the forever wars overseas. We have spent two decades and $6 trillion trying to police a 1,500-year-old sectarian conflict. We’re not winning. And we’re doing more harm than good.”
The criticisms of Auchincloss have centered on the fact that his wealthy family is supporting him in the race via a super PAC, various tone-deaf comments he made on social media as a young man, and his response to an incident in 2016 when students in Newton drove by Newton North High School waving a Confederate flag. As a city councilor, Auchincloss condemned the incident, but also said the students should not be punished.
It’s certainly legitimate to consider where candidates derive their financial support. In an ideal world, candidates would voluntarily forgo super PAC support, as Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown agreed to do in their 2012 Senate race, but no such agreement exists among the candidates in the Fourth District. Candidates don’t write the rules, and it’s hard to hold it against Auchincloss that his family is supporting his candidacy through legal means. As for the Newton North incident, Auchincloss certainly expressed himself insensitively, as he has acknowledged, but whether a punitive response to hate incidents by minors is appropriate is a question on which reasonable people can disagree.
It’s disappointing that, in such a varied district, eight of the nine candidates come from Newton and Brookline. (Diversity comes in the form of the ninth, from the mean streets of Wellesley.) As a result, the concerns of these wealthy municipalities’ residents play an outsized role in the campaign. Communities like Fall River and Attleboro are struggling with higher levels of unemployment. Although many of the candidates have built inroads into the southern part of the district, it’s Auchincloss who has been endorsed by the mayor of Fall River and seems most prepared to represent all his constituents.
The field also includes Newton City Council member Becky Grossman, who has led a compelling campaign emphasizing her role as a mother of two school-age children and focusing on gun control policy, and Jesse Mermell, a former Brookline Select Board member and former president of the Alliance for Business Leadership.
Also seeking the nomination are Alan Khazei, who has run for office twice before and is the cofounder and former executive director of City Year; Ihssane Leckey, a Democratic Socialist and an immigrant from Morocco; Natalia Linos, an epidemiologist; Wellesley entrepreneur Chris Zannetos; Ben Sigel, a lawyer; and Dave Cavell, an assistant attorney general and senior advisor to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Many of those candidates have mounted outstanding campaigns, and, hopefully, they’ll remain involved with public service after the primary.
Ultimately, though, none of these candidates have as much promise as Auchincloss. He’s best prepared to represent a district of haves and have nots in a time of crisis, and deserves the nod from Democrats on Sept. 1.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.