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Candidates Of Color Break New Ground In The Contest For Campaign Cash

15th Suffolk District Candidates Forum
Massachusetts State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, left, and challenger Nika Elugardo take part in a candidates forum for the 15th Suffolk District election at the First Baptist Church in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston on July 9, 2018.
Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe/Boston Globe via Getty Images

In 2002, the year Jeffrey Sanchez first won the 15th Suffolk House seat—representing parts of Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill—he raised $28,367. It was an impressive showing, and was the biggest haul of the eight candidates who competed for the open seat, who combined to spend just over $100,000.

That same year, three candidates vying for an open state house seat in South Boston combined to raise more than $250,000. So did the six candidates running in West Roxbury.

It has long been a fact of Boston politics that inner-city minority candidates, representing poorer, largely black and brown constituents, can’t raise large amounts of campaign money. That reality has had numerous repercussions. For one, it helps explain why only a third of Boston’s state representatives, and just one of its six state senators, are black or Hispanic. It also is one reason that few of those black and Hispanic politicians who do get elected—including Sanchez—have been able to make the jump to higher office.

Judging by campaign finance reports filed this week, however, that longstanding truism might no longer be true.

Sanchez’s primary opponent, Nika Elugardo, has raised more than $100,000—an amazing haul for someone challenging a Democratic incumbent. And that sum is dwarfed by Sanchez, now the powerful House Ways & Means chair, who has raised nearly a quarter-million dollars this year, and more than $370,000 in the two-year election cycle.

They have made this state rep race, between a Hispanic man and a black woman, one of the most expensive primary races in the state.

And there are others who, while not reaching those lofty numbers, are also rewriting the conventional wisdom.

Darrin Howell and Liz Miranda have raised a combined $84,000 in their battle to succeed Evandro Carvalho in the 5th Suffolk district of Roxbury and Dochester—an overwhelmingly black and Hispanic district that Carvalho won in a 2014 special election by raising just $28,000, and Carlos Henriquez won in 2010 by raising $18,000.

Jon Santiago has outraised the South End incumbent he is challenging, Byron Rushing—who, while never a huge fundraiser, has raised about $35,000 this year.

Segun Idowu has outraised incumbent Angelo Scaccia, who has held his Hyde Park seat since 1981 even as it has become majority-minority.

Then there are the candidates shooting even higher. Rachael Rollins has raised a competitive $226,000 so far in her campaign to be Suffolk County’s new District Attorney, and Ayanna Pressley has raised nearly $900,000 to challenge Congressman Michael Capuano.

This all comes on the heels of Andrea Campbell, Lydia Edwards, and Kim Janey raising impressive amounts to win their way onto Boston’s City Council in the past three years. There was also Chynah Tyler, who raised $37,474 in 2016 to win the 7th Suffolk—a poor district where raising $10,000 in a year used to be a feat.

It’s all a big change from the nickel-and-dime campaigns that kept black pols such as former state representative Gloria Fox and one time Boston city Councilor Chuck Turner in office over the years.

“This is more than just one cycle,” says Wilnelia Rivera, general consultant for Ayanna Pressley’s congressional campaign. “This is the cycle that we’re seeing at scale the lessons we’ve been learning for years.”

Part of the change is coming from within the communities, as black and Hispanic residents are becoming more willing to contribute to political campaigns—and the candidates and campaign professionals are becoming more skilled at convincing them to do so.

Miranda, for instance, is a community activist and Executive Director of the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center. “So fund raising by inspiring people to give to a worthy cause is something I work on every day of my life.” She used both fund raising events and mobile technology to draw in small-dollar donors.

But a lot of the money for these candidates is also coming from Boston-area white liberals with long histories of political giving. They are becoming more eager to directly fund what they perceive as movement candidates, rather than giving big checks to Democratic Party committees or well-established incumbents, Rivera says.

“Donors realize they’re giving money to the Democratic Party, and being told these candidates are not ‘viable,’” Rivera says. “They’re trying to figure out how to have a real progressive majority. This is really a debate of ideas about the direction of the party.”

Experience, And Contacts

But, a big part of the change is the candidates themselves.

Boston’s new crop of black and Hispanic candidates have backgrounds and experiences that have given them access to networks of people with money and political interests—the types of critical donor pools that for years were the domain of white men.

Elugardo has degrees from MIT, Harvard, and Boston University; she has worked at high levels in economic development; and she trod the State House floors as an advisor to state senator Sonia Chang Diaz.

Santiago studied in Paris on a Fulbright scholarship and graduated from the Yale School of Medicine.

Boston has a growing number of these accomplished professionals of color, who are not only building contact lists, they are staying in Boston and getting interested in politics.

They have also had opportunities to develop the skills and professionalism needed to succeed in that field.

About 10 to 15 years ago, several Boston-area organizations began offering programs designed to help minorities and women get a leg up in politics. The 20- and 30-somethings who availed themselves of those programs are now the candidates, staff, and volunteers driving these professionally run campaigns in the city, notes Kelly Bates, president of Interactive Institute of Social Change. Boston City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi-George, Lydia Edwards, and Michelle Wu are all alumnae of the Emerge Massachusetts political training program. Bates helped create another one at Access Strategies Fund, a Cambridge non-profit founded by Maria Jobin-Leeds—one of the white area liberals whose name shows up in many of this year’s candidates’ donor lists.

These Boston minorities have also had opportunities to work for local elected officials and on campaigns, in ways that were rarely seen even 10 years ago.

Not only are white pols—and political organizations, including unions—far more inclusive about who gets seats at the table, there have been more minority campaigns to inspire their involvement, and provide a wealth of experience and contacts.

Rivera notes that when she was deputy campaign manager for John Barros in the 2013 mayoral race, Elugardo, Miranda, and Janey were all working or volunteering with the campaign.

All of that provides more contacts among the world of people who might prove helpful when it comes time to raise money for their own political campaigns.

Indeed, these minority candidates are beginning to become victims of their own success—there are almost too many good minority candidates in Boston raising money. “A lot of the donors are giving to Ayanna [Pressley] or Rachael [Rollins],” says Miranda. “They’re not going to give to me—not because they don’t want to, but because they’ve already given what they can.”

It’s not a problem one would have anticipated 10 years ago. But if it keeps up, it just might change the look of Boston politics in the coming decade.

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