Correction: An earlier version of this column had the incorrect number of Black or Latino members of the Legislature.
No matter who wins in the Democratic primary for state representative in the 12th Suffolk District, the Legislature will add one more person of color to its ranks.
Brandy Fluker Oakley, Stephanie Everett, and Jovan Lacet are all Black lawyers from Mattapan — traditionally the center of the district that also includes parts of Dorchester, Milton, and Hyde Park — vying for the seat soon to be vacated by state Representative Dan Cullinane, who is white. At a time when only 7 percent of members of the Legislature are Black or Latino (14 out of 200), it’s always cause for celebration when diversity in that body climbs up, however slowly.
But in a three-way race, the two candidates with similar profiles — Everett and Fluker Oakley — risk taking votes from each other and opening the door for Lacet, a perennial candidate whose judgment and confrontational style several local leaders told me have raised doubts about his ability to be a bridge-builder in the State House. That’s why they’re gently trying to coalesce support around Fluker Oakley, even as many speak highly of Everett.
Both Everett and Fluker Oakley have similar progressive stances and a solid record working in government and the nonprofit sector, respectively. Lacet, a former Marine and Boston Police officer, was fired from the police department for perjury. (Lacet claims he was wrongfully terminated.)
More than two-thirds of the population in the district is Black, while roughly three-quarters are residents of color. This particular area has been more vulnerable than most to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — it has more poverty, more struggling small businesses, and a school population without some of the resources of wealthier districts.
Fluker Oakley has earned the support of a fair number of legislators of color from Boston, including Representatives Russell Holmes, Chynah Tyler, and Jon Santiago. She is a graduate of Boston Latin School, a former third-grade teacher in Baltimore, and a former public defender in Boston and Chelsea’s courts. It is her first time running for office, but she has roughly eight years of experience working as an education reform advocate.
“Brandy naturally is going to be heavy on education,” said Holmes. He is also intrigued by Fluker Oakley’s proposal to support seniors who own their homes. In an interview with the Globe editorial board, Fluker Oakley said, “As homes sell at higher rates throughout the city of Boston, that increases the taxes that many of our seniors who are on fixed incomes have to pay. I’d be looking to expand our residential exemptions.”
On transportation, she supports the idea of a light rail instead of an MBTA bus system along the Blue Hill Avenue corridor and believes there is a way to bring people together to support her vision, which includes — why not? — something like the Commonwealth Avenue mall on Blue Hill Avenue.
“Being a lifelong Mattapan resident, what I know is that this community is often wary of change,” Fluker Oakley said. “Not because they don’t want to see improvements . . . but because there’s just a long history of things being done to the community and without the community, that it doesn’t feel like it’s a process that they actually have ownership and agency over and in.”
Everett is a former deputy chief of staff to state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and has an impressive personal story. She worked as chief of staff in the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance and has run unsuccessfully for three different elected offices before: for a district seat on the Boston City Council in 2011, for this House seat in a special election in 2013, and for register of deeds in 2016. These previous failed campaigns have surely been an exercise in name recognition and relationship-building in the district, but also raise questions about her ability to connect with voters.
There was a fourth candidate running originally, but he stepped down last month. Citing the momentous protests for racial justice earlier in the summer, Cameron Charbonnier, a city employee and former advance man for Mayor Marty Walsh, suspended his campaign. “[I]t has become clear to me that at this time and in this district, I may not be the right candidate for this seat,” Charbonnier said in a statement. But Charbonnier, who has endorsed Everett, will still appear on the ballot, since he withdrew after the print deadline, and some people in the district fear that his name on the ballot will be confusing to voters and could take away valuable votes.
Only one person of color or woman has been elected to represent the 12th Suffolk District: Linda Dorcena Forry, who went on to win the First Suffolk Senate seat in 2013 before leaving the Legislature in 2018. Though she is not endorsing a candidate, she said in an interview that the next legislator “is going to have to be someone who is able to bring people to the table.” Dealing with the economic aftermath of COVID-19 has to be a priority, Dorcena Forry said. “But the big [pressing issue] is education. How is remote schooling going to look? How are we going to support parents? We must make sure there is no learning loss for our young people.”
It’s about time voters in Mattapan, Dorchester, Milton, and Hyde Park pick a worthy successor to Dorcena Forry: another Black woman.