The three candidates for the 12th Suffolk House seat – Brandy Fluker Oakley, Jovan Lacet, and Stephanie Everett – went head-to-head answering policy-based questions last Wednesday during an online forum organized by the non-profit MassVOTE.
Malia Lazu, a vice president at Berkshire Bank and former community organizer, moderated the forum. She asked the candidates issue-based questions, one of which was about their plana to promote affordable housing in the district and the commonwealth.
Everett said she’d support an extension of the foreclosure moratorium until 2021 and also rent control legislation along with the development of a strong community land trust.
Lacet said he would collaborate with fellow legislators to increase Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding to build more affordable “rental and homeownership” properties. He underscored the importance of providing protections for homeowners, landlords and tenants, saying he would work to secure funding for all parties, instead of extending the statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium.
Fluker Oakley favors rent stabilization through the Legislature that would be “mindful of those larger developments.” She said that families need predictability and would support right-to- counsel legislation that would provide legal representation to residents facing evictions and foreclosures in Housing Court.
She also said she would also support more help for first-time home buyers and advocate for a process with “greater transparency.”
Lazu asked how candidates would approach reopening schools in the safest and most equitable manner.
Lacet said he would seek to secure funding for all schools and work with parents to make sure students receive adequate resources to participate in distant learning.
Fluker Oakley, a former educator and the only candidate with teaching experience, favors a remote learning approach to reopening until proper safety measures can be provided in all schools and teachers receive professional development training. “We’ve been educating children the same way since 1635. We might want to use this moment to reevaluate,” she said, taking the occasion to point to her endorsements by the Boston Teachers Union and the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Everett, a mother of seven, said that her experience managing her childrens’ education from home during the health emergency inspired her to “jump into” the race. Her youngest son has special needs and Everett said that the services he received in school “did not travel with him” when learning went remote.
“We have to be clear that the models we are presented with are not the best options. There’s no great answer to this,” she said. “And the reality is that women are leaving the workforce. There is no answer, but we do know that for students who need special education, having a hybrid model is not going to be effective.”
Asked about their approach to climate change, the candidates said they would look to address a myriad of issues that contribute to environmental challenges in the district.
Fluker Oakley said her approach to tackling environmental issues would come from a place of understanding that “everything is interconnected — public transit, public housing, food deserts all affect environmental issues.”
She said she would work in partnership with fellow legislators and organizations advocating for climate justice to reduce carbon emissions; build sustainable housing; promote recycling, central composting and access to solar energy, particularly in Black communities; and secure funding to correct natural gas leaks across the state.
Fluker Oakley has been endorsed by several environmental justice organizations, including the Sierra Club, Sunrise Boston, and the ELM Action Fund.
Everett said that pollution in the 12th Suffolk has led to environmental and health disparities and shared that her 10-year-old daughter suffers from asthma.
“My children are the foundation for the work that I do in this community and this issue is common to a lot of people in the 12th Suffolk and across the state,” she said, adding that she would work to refurbish buildings to meet “environmental realities” and supports federal Green New Deal legislation. She also said she would work to advance efforts to secure EPA Superfunds to clean up the Neponset River.
Lacet echoed that sentiment and added that he would look to address pollution related to transportation.
“We need to change the bus system and make it more environmentally friendly. I’m in support of using the Green Line Type 9 trains and the electric buses they have in Cambridge,” he said. “We need to make sure the Neponset River receives funds and also preserve our wetlands and make sure developers don’t build on them. I’d also support a transfer to more fuel-efficient motor vehicles for state and municipal employees.”
Lazu asked the candidates if they support H.1194, an act establishing “Medicare for All” in Massachusetts. The candidates said they fully support the bill and would also push for more funding for Community Health Centers.
In terms of health care, Everett said she’d also seek to increase funding for the Office of Health Equity. Lacet added that he wants to make sure the Covid-19 vaccine is accessible to all communities when it’s released; and Fluker Oakley said she’d advocate for universal PPE for small businesses and schools, paid sick leave, and removing barriers to women’s reproductive health and access to safe and legal abortions.
The lightning round followed during which Lazu probed the candidates on whether or not they would support various policies and reform initiatives:
• When asked if they would sign the American Promise Pledge, that would “advance the 28th Amendment [proposal] to put people, not money, in charge of the political system,” each candidate said yes.
• All three said they would support efforts to reform qualified immunity. Lacet and Everett noted that reforms should apply only to police departments and not nurses, firefighters, and other public servants.
• Everett and Fluker Oakey said they support rank-choice voting, while Lacet said he did not and would have to “discuss with constituents.”
In their closing remarks, candidates were asked to explain what makes the district unique and why voters should choose them.
Said Fluker Oakley. “The 12th Suffolk is unique because of its racial and socioeconomic diversity and natural resources. I’ve had a lifelong commitment to public service and I believe my time is now,” she said. “I’ve had years of experience advocating for education funding at the State House, I’ve seen firsthand the systemic inequity that’s plaguing our system and that our community often doesn’t get the resources we need. I understand the intersectionality of our systems and I have the relationship building skills and partnerships we need.”
Lacet said: “While the 12th Suffolk is diverse, the district is 80-95 percent people of color and that comes with a lot of dispraise and inequities due to years of systemic racism. I’m running to improve quality of life for everyone and advocate for the folks that are always being left behind.”
Everett said that everything that makes the 12th Suffolk unique is “very personal” to her. “I am a daughter of this district and I have lived here for most of my life. This community has given me so much,” she said.
The 12th Suffolk district includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and Milton and is now represented by state Rep. Dan Cullinane, who is not seeking another term.
The candidates to succeed him are all Democrats from Mattapan with experience as practicing attorneys. A fourth candidate, Cam Charbonnier suspended his campaign in July, but his name will be on the ballots for the primary election. Charbonnier has endorsed Everett.
The primary election will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 1. The winner will advance to the general election, scheduled for Nov. 3, the same day as the presidential election.