2nd Suffolk Senate candidates tackle questions in virtual forum

       Jamaica Plain Progressives, along with Mijente, NAACP Boston, and RTC Vote, held a virtual forum for the candidates for the 2nd Suffolk Senate seat on May 23. The seat is currently held by Sonia Chang-Diaz, who is running for governor.

       Candidates include former 2nd Suffolk senator Dianne Wilkerson, current state rep. for the 15th Suffolk district Nika Elugardo, current state rep. for the 5th Suffolk district Liz Miranda, and pastor and lawyer Miniard Culpepper.

       The forum was moderated by Saraya Wintersmith of GBH News and Yawu Miller of the Baystate Banner. The primary election will take place on September 6, and will narrow the candidates down to two before the general election on November 8.

       Miller explained that after this upcoming election, the new boundary lines of the district will go into effect, which means that the 2nd Suffolk district has “lost most of the South End,” but “still includes Mission Hill and Hyde Square.” It also will no longer cover the Pondside and Moss Hill portions of Jamaica Plain, he said.

       Because of this redistricting, the district is now “32 percent white, 31 percent African-American, 26 percent Latino, and eight percent Asian,” Miller said. “It’s been redrawn to increase the…people of color percentages, and it’s a majority of people of color district which was the way the district was originally drawn.”

       The candidates were asked a range of questions having to do with their current and past work, as well as how they would handle certain topics should they be elected to the senate seat. There were a mixture of rapid round (a simple yes or no) and long-form answer questions, for which the candidates had 90 seconds to answer.

       One question was about homelessness and substance use disorder in the city, especially in the area at Massachusetts Ave. and Melnea Cass Blvd. Candidates were asked what they believe the “state’s role” should be in this crisis.

       Miranda, who said she has been “active” in the Mass/Cass Task Force, said she believes that low threshold housing is needed to help get these folks off the street and into housing with resources. She said that she was able to secure $5 million in last year’s state budget “to ensure that folks could have a place to go while they’re working on their recovery.”

       Miranda also said she “believes in decriminalization of drugs,” and that people should get help instead of being sent to jail.

       Elugardo said that “I come at this question from personal life experience,” as she has “grown up with addiction” and moved many times as a young girl and also later on in life. She said that she has “run two statewide programs, both related to housing and asset development. One of those became the national model for foreclosure prevention.” She said that the EnVision Hotel is “one of the places the mayor and I are looking at” to “house people who are homeless and have serious substance use disorder.”

       Elugardo also mentioned walk-throughs she has done, where she spoke to businesses and people with substance abuse disorder to learn more about what is needed, She believes the state has to “think both systemically and in the short term” to help with this issue.

       Culpepper said he believes that “we have to look at what other states have done,” and used Los Angeles as an example. He said that Los Angeles built housing right across the street from encampments and “had wraparound services that met the folks where they were in those encampments.”

       He continued, “I don’t think we can run from the problem.” He suggested that housing be built right in the area of Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass Blvd., and “meet them where they are.”

       Wilkerson said that “the Baker administration has walked away; taken no responsibility.” She said that it “walks in every once in a while” and “makes an announcement,” but “our children can’t play in the park” because of needles on the ground.

       “The human condition there is unspeakable,” she said. “I’m not looking to send them away,” she said, but she said the state needs to take on more responsibility in remedying the problems. “It’s unacceptable and we need to deal with it.”

       Candidates were also each asked a question that was just for them.

       Elugardo was questioned about her occasional “strong stands against House and Senate leadership,” and “how effective” she thinks she will be as a Senator, “a body where legislation is controlled by people in leadership positions.”

       Eligardo said that she has “developed a reputation in House and Senate as being an honest, straight shooter of integrity.” She said she views this seat the “same way I approach leadership in every position,” and that she will be “recognizing strengths and helping you see strengths of others in front of you.”

       Culpepper was asked about his lack of political experience, as he is the only candidate who has not held an elected office.

       “I would say that’s a big plus for me,” Culpepper said. “That’s an advantage. I come to this office without making any deals; any commitments. I come to this with a new voice, new leadership.”

       Culpepper served for 20 years as Regional Council for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, so he said he is familiar with “how to put legislation together.” He said he wants to listen to residents, and “I am ready for this Senate seat.”

       Wilkerson was asked about her record, which includes pleading guilty to charges of public corruption in 2010. She was asked how she would gain public trust in constituents.

       “I think how you restore it is you just live, you work, you do the work,” she said. “I’ve been doing it for 10 years. I never stopped.” She spoke about her work with the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition as well as “convening a community of people in 2015 when Boston was applying to host the Olympics.”

       She said that “there’s things you can do in and out of public office,” adding that she has “no secrets. My record is on the table,”

       Miranda was asked about how she would “respond to criticism of” past social media posts “that have used insensitive language.”

       Miranda said, “I’ve apologized for those statements that were done 10-12 years ago, and that’s not who I am today. I’ve engaged with my public very positively.”

       She also said that “I do not believe in policing hood vernacular, and if I used some of that hood vernacular when I was in my late 20s, I am not that woman today. I believe in grace and redemption for all people. This community, to be quite honest, is full of people who deserved a second chance, and that’s something that I believe in and have fought for…”

       For every single rapid round question asked, all candidates agreed. All candidates support a single payer healthcare system in the state, all support “requiring health insurance plans to cover all pregnancy care, including abortion, without any kind of cost sharing,” and all support raising income tax on all income over $1 million.

       Additionally, all candidates support fare free public transit, the legalization of safe consumption sites, and all are against classifying gig workers as independent contractors. They also all support in-state tuition and financial aid for undocumented immigrants, as well as same-day registration for voting and during early voting.

       With the recent state review of Boston Public Schools (BPS) saying that it “needs immediate improvement,”  candidates were asked about their viewpoint on potential state receivership of BPS.

       All candidates were very against state receivership, saying that it has not worked in other districts nor has it worked in other places in the country.

       Candidates were also asked about the housing crisis and how they would “prevent further displacement of residents in the district.”

       Miranda said that “housing is one of the major issues in the entire city of Boston,” with “rent too high” and the “lack of ability to buy a home.” She said she supports rent stabilization, as well as making sure the existing housing stock is “safe and affordable,” as many residents are currently “living in places unfit for humans.” She continued, “for me, it’s important that we think about everyone. Housing is a right.”

       Elugardo said that the response was to “approach it in piecemeal,” and there “hasn’t been a plan until recently.” She said that the state should be “expanding our conception of public housing,” by “building generational wealth” instead of “charity” efforts.

       She said that there is nearly $8 million in state-owned land that “can be used to generate cash, capital, or development for affordable housing that has not been tapped.”

       Culpepper said “I have dedicated my entire life” to working for “housing justice,” and that rents need to be stabilized. He also called to “end bias and redlining from the housing market. I think we need to make capital more accessible to those who have been shut out of the mortgage market so that they can now buy housing.” Culpepper also said he does not believe that credit reports should be used to “deny mortgages to those who are income eligible to receive a mortgage.”

       Wilkerson said that “when we talk about housing being our issue, it’s really money being our issue.” She said that “for the majority”of Black and Latino folks, income has “stagnated” so they are “not even able to compete in the housing market.”

       She said that “our focus ought to be on income,” and she has a plan that would “put money directly into people’s pockets…”

       Wilkerson continued, “building affordable housing continues to make white people wealthy.” and she also called for rent control to return to Boston.

       Before closing statements, candidates were asked to “fill in the blank” in the sentence “I am the only candidate in this race who…” Candidates were allowed to expand on their answers.

       Elugardo said that she is the only candidate who “puts the leadership of others before my own leadership.”

       Culpepper said he’s the only one “who has 27 years of housing experience, fighting for housing justice, putting folks in housing.

       Wilkerson said she’s the only one “who has actually been an effective state Senator for the 2nd Suffolk district.”

       Miranda said she’s the only one who “has a lived experience, the progressive track record for legislative victories, and has the grassroots acumen.”

       The full video recording of this forum can be found on the JP Progressives YouTube channel.

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