State rep. race expands

John Ruch

Allen supports Payne for seat

FOREST HILLS/WOODBOURNE—The field of potential candidates for the Sixth Suffolk District state House seat grew to five people last month, shortly after state Rep. Willie Mae Allen reportedly announced her retirement.

Allen is reportedly backing one of those candidates, Karen Payne, the Gazette has learned. Payne said that Allen “is supporting me in this effort,” including with joint personal appearances. Allen did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

Candidates who took out nomination papers include: Kathy Gabriel, Russell Holmes, Darrin Howell, Payne and Grace Richardson. The Sixth Suffolk includes Woodbourne and part of Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, but none of the potential candidates live in JP. All are Democrats.

Gabriel, who ran unsuccessfully against Allen in 2008, did not respond to a
Gazette interview request. The Gazette spoke to the other candidates about their motivations.


Holmes is a financial planner from Mattapan. He chairs the community group advising the city’s Mattapan Economic Development Initiative, and also chaired the committee that oversaw Mattapan’s new branch library.

Holmes also recently served on an MBTA committee that considered and ultimately shot down a plan for new bus service on Blue Hill Avenue. The failure of that $140 million infrastructure plan is what he called an example of a community process that was “driven politically” to failure rather than being a genuine grassroots movement.

He said he would build his agenda from the ground up and has already begun knocking on residents’ doors. He said he visited a street a block from his home and learned that residents “had issues I’d never heard of.”

“I’m not ready to walk into an area and say, ‘I know what’s going on here,’” Holmes said, adding that such outreach is also educational. “It’s not that people are not engaged…I think it’s just a lot of people have been unempowered.”

Noting that Payne has served as campaign treasurer for local state Rep. Liz Malia, Holmes said that is the sort of politically connected leadership “I want to get away from.”


Howell is a Roxbury Democrat who has served as an aide to Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner for about four years.

“I see a lot of issues in the district as basic city services,” said Howell, adding that such services are not equally applied to Boston’s neighborhoods and are often dependent on state funding. In Allston or Brighton, he said, “They have Public Works waiting to pick up a piece of trash as it comes out of somebody’s car.”

Howell has worked on a variety of other issues, including youth job creation, anti-violence education efforts and a new focus on youth programming around JP’s Jackson Square redevelopment.

Another of his issues is reform of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reporting to employers. Howell has an “extensively worded” CORI of his own, having served a year in jail on gun possession and domestic violence charges. He previously had good office jobs, but lost all of that because of his CORI.

Now 28 years old, Howell presented himself as part of a new generation of community leaders who can bridge an “intergenerational gap” in the district’s representation.


Payne is a Roslindale resident and president of the Boston NAACP. She is co-chair of the local Ward 19 Democrat Committee and serves on the Democratic State Committee.

In 2008-09, she served on the governor’s commission on high-school drop-out prevention, whose work informed the recent education system reform legislation. Another particular focus of her work has been health care access for people with HIV/AIDS, especially in the African-American and Latino youth communities.

The State House is “the next step in helping our young people and ensuring they have access to a good education,” she said.

“I’ve been very involved in the community,” said Payne, whose local-level work includes serving on the Healthy Roslindale board and activities ranging from Little League to crime watches.

Payne said she has friends and colleagues in the JP part of the district. She also has served as JP state Rep. Liz Malia’s campaign treasurer and manager.

“I think there would be nothing better than to go to the State House and work with and support Liz Malia on her work with substance abuse and mental health,” said Payne.


Richardson is a Dorchester resident and executive director of the American Family Child Care Association. She is a family child care provider and is also involved in other youth-oriented programs, including a summer camp program for Boston Public Schools students. She is also active in her local neighborhood association.

An entrepreneur, Richardson also conducts business expos. She said she is working on one specifically for youths to go alongside the traditional youth jobs programs.

Richardson said she was thinking of running for the seat to “just to get [Allen] out of office.”

“I’ve never met her, and I’m active in my community,” Richardson said of Allen. “She hasn’t done anything about violence in my neighborhood.”

She said she is also concerned about the lack of attention to family child care in the State House. She said that JP has about 100 family child care providers, and she has worked with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation on their issues.

“If I don’t run, I’d like to see somebody who’s really a neighborhood person” in the seat, Richardson said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *