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Candidates for Joe Kennedy’s House seat make cases to voters in Brookline

The six declared candidates for the Fourth District Congressional seat are, from left, Jesse Mermell, Jake Auchincloss, Ihssane Leckey, Becky Walker Grossman, Dave Cavell, and Alan Khazei.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

BROOKLINE — The six Democrats running to succeed US Representative Joseph Kennedy III appeared together for the first time Sunday, making the case for their campaigns while sharing the goal of helping defeat President Trump next year.

The six candidates — Jesse Mermell, Ihssane Leckey, Alan Khazei, and Dave Cavell, all of Brookline, along with Newton city councilors Becky Walker Grossman and Jake Auchincloss — appeared during a Brookline Democratic Town Committee event at the home of State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg.

They are running for the House seat as Kennedy challenges US Senator Edward Markey in next year’s Democratic primary.


The Fourth District comprises 34 cities and towns, spanning an area that includes Brookline, Newton, Hopkinton, Foxborough, Taunton, and parts of Fall River.

A Republican has yet to declare a campaign in the race to represent the district, where Kennedy faced no GOP opponent last year. Goldberg had considered a run for the House seat before deciding to remain in her current position earlier this month.

The candidates aren’t far apart on issues like gun control and combating climate change, and they praised each other in separate remarks Sunday.

Cavell referred to the six competitors as “co-candidates” in the race.

“The opposition is marching with torches in Virginia,” Cavell said. “It’s not you guys.’’

Instead, the candidates emphasized life experiences to differentiate themselves.

Mermell, 39, a former Deval Patrick aide and a Brookline selectwoman, also worked as president of ABL, a progressive group that backed successful campaigns to raise the minimum wage and implement paid family leave.

“We know that what is good for families is good for business and is good for the economy,” she said.

Mermell grew up in a small Pennsylvania town similar to many communities in the Fourth District, she said.

“I know that I have a unique lived experience that’s positioned me to represent this entire district in a way . . . that is incredibly important,” she said.


Grossman, 39, is a former Middlesex district attorney who has focused her campaign on issues including prescription drug prices, gun control, and climate change.

Her mother is battling an auto-immune disease, she said, and at times, Grossman has had to carry $1,000 with her to pay for mother’s prescription medication.

“That is not something people in our country can afford,” she said.

She pledged to battle the National Rifle Association for stricter gun laws. “For me this is about safeguarding the future for our kids,” Grossman said.

Auchincloss, 31, is a Marine Corps veteran who has worked at Liberty Mutual’s innovation lab. As a boy growing up in Newton, Auchincloss said, he was raised with a positive view about politics.

“I grew up thinking that politics could be a noble thing,” he said. “Politics did not need to be the skullduggery that we see today.”

Auchincloss pointed to his military experience as he called for assault weapons to be limited to use by the armed forces. He also emphasized tackling transportation issues.

“One of my priorities in Congress will be to use the Green New Deal to reinvent transportation for Massachusetts,” he said. “Because the congestion and pollution is crippling us.”

Khazei, 58, is cofounder of City Year and has run for the US Senate twice previously. He has the endorsement of retired Army General Stanley McChrystal, a former commander in Afghanistan, who said Khazei is “a model of servant leadership,” according to a campaign statemen.


Khazei said he has a record of getting things done in Washington, including a successful 2003 effort with then-Senator Edward M. Kennedy to restore and expand federal funding for AmeriCorps.

“We are at a critical moment,” Khazei said. “The good news is there is a new people-powered progressive politics that is emerging in our country, and we need to tap that.”

Leckey, 34, who declared her campaign for the House seat before Kennedy announced his Senate run, is a self-described democratic socialist who worked as a Wall Street regulator. She immigrated from Morocco when she was 20 after surviving sexual abuse, she said.

When she came to the US, she faced insecurity in housing and health care, and her boss at a restaurant job in New York stole her pay, she said.

“This was the America I had to face,” she said. “But all of that didn’t stop my hope for the dream . . . I would be helping people.”

She said she no longer felt safety for herself or her 7-year-old daughter after the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

“So I say, ‘No more.’ . . . This fight is for all of us,” she said.

Cavell, 35, worked as a speechwriter for former president Barack Obama and recently left his job as a senior adviser to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

“I’m running because we have big things that we got to do right now, whether that’s making sure our generation can afford anything, from college to buying homes to child care,” he said, “or whether that’s telling people . . . in the Jewish community, or in other communities, ‘You don’t need to be afraid . . . we’re going to stand with you.’ ”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.