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Upcoming election season heats up

Beyond Biden-Trump rematch, local challengers vie to unseat incumbents

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Upcoming election season heats up
(left) State Rep. Russell Holmes will face two Democratic challengers for the 6th Suffolk District seat in the September preliminary election. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA (right) U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren will face one of two Republican challengers in November. PHOTO: Gage Skidmore

Black voters heading to the polls later this year in Massachusetts will have the opportunity to weigh in on not only the 2024 presidential race — a rematch between incumbent President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump — but a contested race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Elizabeth Warren, at least six ballot questions, several contested legislative races and an rare race for an open court position.

But much of the action will happen in what will likely be a low-turnout Democratic primary, scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day — a scenario that could catch voters flat-footed after the summer holidays.

In the Democratic primary, where most contests in this Democratic-supermajority state are decided, veteran public defender Allison Cartwright and at-large Boston City Councilor Erin Murphy are vying for the office of Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County. Maura Doyle, who has held the seat since 1996, announced earlier this year she will not seek reelection.

Cartwright, who is managing director of the Committee for Public Counsel Services — the agency that administers public defenders in Massachusetts — may face an uphill battle in her bid for the seat, in which voters in the Suffolk County cities of Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop will cast ballots. In Murphy, she’s facing an opponent who, while lacking a law degree and significant legal or administrative experience, has campaigned thrice since 2019 in citywide elections.

Cartwright, on the other hand, is an experienced Black attorney who brings to the table three decades of legal experience and her current position managing public defender offices across the state.

“I see this as an opportunity to serve my profession, elevate the voices of those I have defended over my 30-year career, and serve the Court itself by ensuring it is run efficiently, and is fair, open and equitable,” Cartwright said in a emailed statement. “When I heard that the current Clerk of the SJC, attorney Maura Doyle, was not going to run again, I felt compelled by the chance to serve my community and the judicial system in a new way. The SJC Clerk is a critical bridge between the people and our state’s highest court, and I am honored to have the opportunity to pursue the position.”

Cartwright and Murphy will likely need to raise more than $200,000 each in order to reach the 70,000 or so voters likely to turn out for the preliminary with mail pieces, online advertising and other means. Much of the campaigning and mailing will take place in August, when early balloting commences in Boston.

Also appearing on Bostonians’ ballots Sept. 3 will be Stacey Borden, executive director at New Beginnings Reentry Services. Borden is challenging Christopher Iannella, who since 1993 has represented District 4 on the Governor’s Council, the body that approves judicial appointments in Massachusetts.

Stephanie Everett, whom Gov. Maura Healey appointed Suffolk County register of probate last August after the retirement of incumbent Felix D. Arroyo, is facing a challenge from Democrat Mohamed Bah, a mental health residential counselor with Bay Cove Human Services.

Several Boston legislators will be facing Democratic challengers in September. State Rep. Russell Holmes, who represents the Mattapan-based 6th Suffolk District, will have a rematch with Haris Hardaway, who in 2022 garnered 1,044 votes to Holmes’ 3,242 votes. Also vying for the seat is Lucresia Adams, who lists as her campaign treasurer former city council candidate and prominent anti-vaccine activist Catherine Vitale, and political activist Samuel Pierce, who challenged state Sen. Nick Collins in 2020, garnering 25% of the vote in the September primary.

State Rep. Chynah Tyler, who represents the Roxbury-based 7th Suffolk District, is facing two challengers. Said Ahmed, founder of the Boston United Track and Cross Country Club, threw his hat in the ring after his program was displaced from the Melnea Cass Recreational Complex when Gov. Healey converted the state-owned facility into a temporary shelter for migrant families. Pastor and nonprofit leader Troy Smith, who has worked extensively in youth services, filed papers with the state’s Office of Campaign and Public Finance last week, declaring his intention to run for the 7th Suffolk District.

November matchups

Beyond the Biden-Trump rematch, Sen. Elizabeth Warren will face one of two Republican challengers: Cryptocurrency attorney John Deaton or Quincy City Councilor Ian Cain. While Deaton has made Warren’s push to regulate the cryptocurrency industry a centerpiece of his campaign against her, Cain, the first Black gay man to serve as president of the Quincy City Council, has not yet unveiled a platform or formally launched his campaign.

“I’m building an organization and infrastructure and making sure we have everything lined up,” Cain said.

Deaton and Cain will face off in the Republican primary on Sept. 3.

Warren last faced a challenge in 2018, garnering 60% of the vote to defeat Republican businessman Geoff Diehl and Independent entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai. Warren has $3.9 million in her campaign account. Deaton, who last week loaned his campaign $1 million, has raised $360,690 from individual contributors so far. Cain has not yet filed a report with the Federal Elections Commission.

Massachusetts 7th Congressional District Representative Ayanna Pressley is not facing a challenger. She launched her reelection campaign Saturday.

Ballot questions

If past electoral cycles are any indicator, the biggest spenders in this year’s electoral cycle could be the advocacy groups supporting and opposing the six referenda that have so far been certified to appear on the November ballot. Industry groups are already polling to test messages for the ballot questions, which include measures to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, repeal the requirement that students pass the MCAS exam to graduate high school, legalize therapeutic use of psychedelics and give the state auditor the power to audit the Massachusetts Legislature.

Additionally, dueling ballot measures are seeking to regulate app-based drivers’ relationship to the tech platforms they work for. One question, backed by Uber, Lyft and Instacart, would codify app-based drivers’ status as independent contractors, rather than employees of the firms they work for. Another, backed by the union SEIU 32-BJ, would codify app-based drivers’ right to collective bargaining.

Around the state

Black and Latino candidates are gearing up for challenges to incumbents and open seats around the state.

In the Springfield-based 11th Hampden District, incumbent Bud Williams is facing a challenge from educator and community activist Johnnie Ray McKnight.

McKnight, who was in the custody of the Department of Youth Services from age 12 to 18, went on to obtain a master’s in business administration from American University.

“I went back to the very jails and taught in them,” he said. “That was my first job.”

McKnight says he wants to prioritize housing affordability and the high costs of health care and energy. He also has zeroed in on women’s reproductive health as a wedge issue, noting that Williams voted against the Act Expanding Protections for Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Care in 2022.

Author and Brookline Town Meeting member Jean Sénat Fleury, who served as a judge in Haiti, is running as a Republican for the Brookline and Newton-based 12th Middlesex District, currently represented by 25-year incumbent Ruth Balser, who currently serves in the House as third division chair.

Progressive Mass organizer Zayda Ortiz is taking on 23-year incumbent Paul Donato in the 35th Middlesex District, which includes parts of Malden and Medford.

In Easthampton, Puerto Rico-born City Council President Homar Gomez is running for the 2nd Hampshire District, taking on six-year incumbent Daniel Carey.

Candidates have until April 30 to submit nomination papers.

Greater Boston News Bureau