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Chelsea rep. candidates debate issues

Three democratic candidates in agreement on most issues

Anna Lamb

Democratic candidates vying to represent the Massachusetts House of Representatives’ 11th Suffolk District that comprises Chelsea and part of Everett came together in a virtual forum last week hosted by the progressive political group Our Revolution Massachusetts.

The hour-long forum included a series of questions the candidates were given just over one minute to answer, and a slew of yes-no rapid-fire questions.

Answering those questions and set to face off in the September Democratic primary were Chelsea City Councilors Judith Garcia and Leo Robinson and Chelsea School Committee member Roberto Jiménez-Rivera. The winner will appear on the November ballot with Republican Chelsea City Councilor Todd Taylor.

The district is newly redrawn. Formerly centered in Jamaica Plain, the district’s new boundaries have created a Chelsea-centered majority-Latino voting bloc, which has inspired many of the candidates’ platforms and also the forum hosts’ lines of questioning. Two of the Democratic candidates on the ballot are Latino, while Robinson is Black.

Among the topics discussed were housing affordability — an issue impacting the heavily renter-occupied district. Garcia, who in her opening referred to herself as a “daughter of Chelsea,” answered first, and strongly put her support behind rent stabilization and tenant protections at the state level.

“When you think about what are some of those key pieces of legislation that we should be pushing out, legislation like the HOMES Act, like the right to counsel,” she said. “The fact that our poor tenants have to carry for years an eviction record that stops them from reaching stable homes. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to stop.”

The Housing Opportunity and Mobility through Eviction Sealing, or HOMES Act, is a piece of Massachusetts legislation that would seal eviction records for state tenants. Coupled with the proposal, the right to counsel would provide quality legal representation to tenants facing evictions.

Jiménez-Rivera, a young father and Chelsea transplant, spoke to a need to urge communities across the Bay State to build additional affordable housing to ease low-income communities’ share of the burden.

“We’re doing far more than our fair share in terms of affordable housing, and that has a cost,” he said before also advocating for better pathways to homeownership.

Robinson, who formerly served on the Board of Community Development as a commissioner for the Chelsea Housing Authority, also voiced his support for pathways to homeownership for residents and advocated for better state advertising of existing housing programs.

“I think it’s important that we as a community come together and advocate for housing as a priority, not only within Chelsea but in the region,” he said.

As the evening progressed, many of the lines of questioning went the same with Robinson’s answers remaining somewhat vague while Garcia kept her answers short and Jiménez-Rivera spoke quickly to fit as much as possible into the short window for candidate responses.

Worker issues

The three, questioned by community members Maura Garrity and Taylor Gaar, went on to discuss broad topics like public safety initiatives and public transit, as well as more localized issues like conditions for hourly wage workers and city compensation by state agencies taking up land in Chelsea.

Presented with a scenario many Chelsea residents are familiar with — working multiple jobs with little benefits — the candidates were asked to describe how they would improve conditions for workers unable to take sick days during COVID and struggling to make ends meet.

Jiménez-Rivera used the opportunity to stress his work with the Boston Teachers Union and said that the key to improving working conditions for his future constituents would be to empower unions to bargain on behalf of their membership by making union dues tax deductible and passing legislation like a state wage-theft ordinance and increased minimum wage.

“We should make sure that people are protected,” he said. “I am proud to be a union organizer. I’m proud to have the support and the endorsement of seven different unions — more than all my opponents combined.”

Garcia, in her response, also voiced support for a state wage-theft ordinance that would help workers get the money they’ve earned from their employers. She boasted her involvement in the Chelsea city government’s historic passage of a localized wage-theft bill that excludes employers guilty of such wrongdoing from city contracts.

“I believe strongly that we need to provide better working conditions for our working-class families, and we need to do that by making sure that people are not being robbed of their salaries,” she said. “But also we need to make sure that the conditions that they work in are safe once and for all with all the protections that they need.”

She added that she supports additional worker benefits like universal childcare.

Lastly, Robinson, who also helped pass the wage-theft ordinance on the city council, and has himself been a member of local unions, supported both state wage theft legislation and union empowerment in his response.

“I think it’s very important that we keep our eye on the ball to make sure that nobody interferes with our workers being able to unionize,” he said.

As for the question of fighting for Chelsea’s fair compensation from state agencies, moderators pointed to Massport and MassDOT, who pay fixed sums in lieu of taxes while doing business in the city. All three candidates pointed to an incident in which MassDOT was found to have asbestos present in one of the dump sites along the highways.

“We are not a dumping ground,” Robinson said.

In the rapid-fire yes-no question portion, which included questions about rent control, development and other progressive issues, everyone voted yes to all questions, except Robinson, who answered no when asked if he supported non-citizen municipal voting.

With less than two months until election day, the three candidates will continue to campaign and stake out their differences. With just 56 attendees at the virtual forum last week, candidates face an uphill battle getting their messages out before the September 6 primary date.

11th Suffolk, Massachusetts politics