Sánchez faces JP challenger

John Ruch

Local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez is facing an electoral challenge from Jamaica Plain teacher Jeffrey Herman, and the two Democrats are already trading shots.

Herman said in recent Gazette interviews that Sanchez is not progressive or proactive enough for the 15th Suffolk District, which includes Mission Hill.

“I think Jeff, our current representative, hasn’t done anything,” Herman said. “The last newsletter I got from him was about an art collection he put up in his office.”

“I think he’s found a cushy job,” Herman continued. “He’s happy with it. He doesn’t want to create any waves.”

Sánchez, who is also a JP resident, dismissed several of Herman’s criticisms as completely untrue and out of touch.

“I won’t engage in the dialogue of [Herman] trying to take unfounded potshots at me personally,” Sánchez told the Gazette. “That’s not the way to go in a community that asks for ideas and asks for outcomes.”

Herman first confirmed his candidacy in an e-mail to the Gazette from Costa Rica, where Herman was speaking about overpopulation at the United Nations’ University of Peace.

“He’s in Costa Rica. I’m in Jamaica Plain,” Sánchez said. Herman is now back in town and is actively campaigning.

Likening Herman’s comments to his own childhood in Mission Hill’s Mission Main public housing development, Sánchez said, “I’m going to keep working hard regardless of how people may characterize me. When I was growing up in Mission Hill, growing up in the neighborhood, there were a lot of people who had [negative] ways to characterize me as well.”

Sánchez has been the local state representative since 2003. He is also working on a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Herman grew up in Central America, has worked for the United Nations and speaks fluent Spanish. He has never run for public office before, but has been involved in liberal political activism, including anti-war efforts and a 2001 controversy about flying a United Nations flag at Jamaica Pond Park.

Herman was in the news in 2006 for suing the former headmaster of English High School for allegedly violating his First Amendment free speech rights. Herman, who was a substitute teacher at English High, had spoken against city funding of military programs in the schools at a Boston City Council hearing, and allegedly faced retribution from the headmaster. The American Civil Liberties Union-backed suit was settled by the headmaster and Boston Public Schools in 2007 for $15,000 with no admission of wrongdoing.

In a separate 2006 incident, Herman was allegedly assaulted and bullied by a group of English High students outside the school while circulating a petition calling for the headmaster’s firing. Herman fled by driving through or around a group of teenagers who surrounded his car as the headmaster looked on. Dueling police reports were filed in the incident, but no one was charged with any crime.

“I’m a progressive, but with qualifications. I am not in favor of raising the tax load,” Herman said. But Herman is quite liberal in other ways, including his advocacy for legalizing marijuana.

Herman said he recently discussed that issue with an ambassador from the Netherlands, who mentioned the legalization of prostitution and euthanasia as well. Asked if he would support legalizing prostitution and euthanasia here, Herman said, “Yes, I certainly would.”

Herman has attended Sánchez’s public “office hours” in local restaurants, and part of his motivation for running is that the incumbent simply “did not agree with what I was proposing” on various issues.

That included Herman’s idea of putting all public offices and voter referendum questions on the ballot at the same time, rather than alternating years, to possibly boost voter turnout.

Herman claimed that Sánchez responded to that idea by saying that “he doesn’t think the people of Massachusetts are smart enough—those are his words—to figure out that many issues at the same time. And that made me fall over.”

“What do you think?” Sánchez replied when asked by the Gazette whether that was true. “I thought we were friends,” he said of Herman’s appearance at his office hours.

Sánchez formerly worked for the City of Boston under current Mayor Thomas Menino. Some of Menino’s supporters offered campaign assistance to Sánchez in the 2002 election, which drew fire from other candidates at the time. Herman resurrected those complaints, claiming that Sánchez’s record of service was “even weaker than mine when Mayor Menino chose him to be the representative of the 15th Suffolk District and loaned him his electoral machine.”

Herman capped that off by claiming that Sánchez formerly “was Mayor Menino’s chauffer.” Sánchez said that is false, and the Gazette could find no record of such employment. Sánchez’s city jobs included serving as the mayor’s liaison to the Latino community and as director of the city’s Year 2000 US Census collection effort.

Herman’s claim that Sánchez has done nothing legislatively is at least an exaggeration. Among Sánchez’s successful legislative efforts are the creation of innovative funding for affordable home-ownership units in the city; a more flexible system of funding public housing; and an education reform amendment that chips away at a controversial ban on bilingual education in public schools.

Herman specifically claimed that Sánchez “opposes” reform of the use of Criminal Record Information Records (CORI) by employers and others. But Sánchez said that is “absolutely not true” and that he is “supportive of all” CORI reform proposals. When told that by the Gazette, Herman at first persisted, citing his source as his own campaign manager, former US Sen. John Kerry assistant Judith Foster, who “knows Jeff Sánchez personally and doesn’t like him.”

Herman later clarified his criticism to say that Sánchez simply does not actively sponsor CORI reform legislation. Sánchez indeed is not listed as a co-sponsor on a recent influential House CORI reform bill, though JP’s other local state representatives were closely involved. State Rep. Liz Malia wrote the bill, and state Rep. Willie Mae Allen was a co-sponsor. But legislators can support and vote in favor of a bill without being a co-sponsor.

Herman’s policy ideas range from the local to the global. “Massachusetts and especially Boston should be the Athens of America, and instead it’s becoming something like Selma, Alabama,” Herman said, referring to one of the hot spots of the 1960s civil rights protests against Southern racial segregation. Asked if Boston is really that bad, Herman said, “We’re making a lot of mistakes,” and cited a lack of green-economy jobs and what he called an electoral system that protects incumbents.

“I’m a product of this district,” Sánchez said, describing his work on local housing development, youth empowerment programs and the state’s universal health insurance program. “I’ve devoted my life to this, and I know that I’ve had great successes.”

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