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Magistrate clerk hopeful seeks to change court

Kevin C. Peterson
Magistrate clerk hopeful seeks to change court
Suffolk County Clerk Magistrate of the Superior Court candidate, Mike Dash.

Mike Dash is an emerging presence in Boston politics.

As questions linger around the battered state of local black-elected leadership in Boston, Dash—a first time candidate who is running for Suffolk County Clerk Magistrate of the Superior Court—presents himself as a fresh face bent toward new politics and reform.

“Someone told me a long time ago that I was going to get into politics and that they were going to support me. I said no way. I am never going into politics.  But I‘ve learned that you never say never,” said Dash to a table of supporters at a local church recently.

“I don’t consider myself a politician.  I don’t like that title really,” offered Dash, a bibliophile who confesses he is more comfortable with Shakespeare and reading novels by Toni Morrison and James Baldwin than he is on the campaign trail.

“I really consider myself an attorney who has a good sense of right and wrong and who is qualified for the job of clerk magistrate,” said Dash. He readily credits his mother for his love of literature, language and his social justice sensibilities.

A native of New York City, Dash grew up in the working class neighborhood of Harlem’s Washington Heights. He attended Columbia University during the same years as President Barack Obama and studied communications. Dash and Obama never met in college.

After graduating from Columbia and Suffolk Law School, Dash quickly started working on behalf of poor people in Roxbury on civil rights and criminal defense cases. He also worked with former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger on white collar crime and Medicaid fraud.

As a teenager, Dash attended the famous School for the Performing Arts in New York, which was featured in the “Fame” movie and television series. It was there he found his passion for civil rights. He considers Malcolm X, Angela Davis and Martin Luther King, Jr. as intellectual icons who shaped his political philosophy.

“They were people in the movement who could not be bought out.  They had high standards that were about equality for everyone and that was something I admired,” said Dash, who considers famed civil rights attorneys Margaret Burnham, James Dilday and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree as legal and personal mentors.

Dash has built a reputation as a tenacious defense lawyer, pushing against the mistreatment of black and Latinos by the police and the judicial system.  He has also ventured into immigration law to defend against what he believes is a continuing pattern of unfair deportations of underrepresented unnaturalized newcomers to the United States.

“The attraction for me in working on civil rights cases is being able to find release for people who lack access to get redress solely because they are poor,” Dash said. “There has been such a long history of wrongdoing to people who have no voice and I want to be a part of helping them.”

Making his first formal foray into electoral politics, Dash said he is running for the superior court position to reduce what he believes is corruption and to promote racial inclusion in the legal system.

“In thinking about running for office, I said to myself ‘why not go for the top [elected] job in the court in order to change the culture of the court,”’ said Dash.

Dash claims he would use the power of the office to assign cases to judges that will result in fair treatment. “There are judges that are sensitive to certain cases and there are judges who are not.  I want to be in a position to influence who gets treated fairly.”

He believes the position is now racially politicized, resulting in discrimination against so-called minority communities. Dash wants to “bring integrity and fairness into the clerk’s office.”  

As evidence he notes that the current incumbent has appointed only two assistant African American clerks over the last three decades.

Dash is running against Superior Clerk Magistrate Michael Joseph Donovan, a longtime South Boston politician who has held the seat since 1976.  The superior court seat is centered in Suffolk Country, which includes all of Boston.

They will square off on the September 6 primary election day, which for the first time in recent memory is being held on a Thursday. The changed date is likely to result in a record-low voter turnout statewide.

Political observers believe Dash’s election chances hinge on his ability to galvanize black voters in the district where the primary election turnout is consistently below the county average.

Only two other Suffolk County-based races are predicted to boost turnout.

State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz is facing challenger Roy Owens in the 2nd Suffolk Senate seat primary. Longtime Representative Gloria Fox is being contested by upstart candidates Rufus Faulk and Jed Hresko in the 7th Suffolk State Representative District.

Despite what observers say is a long shot battle by Dash, the candidate is optimistic.

“I feel good.  I am getting a good response everywhere I go.  I am going to win.”