On Sunday, five days after winning a four-person contest for the 12th Suffolk House seat, Brandy Fluker Oakley sat down with the Reporter to talk about her victory as a first-time candidate, her experiences canvassing and campaigning during a pandemic, and about what’s next for her team to take up.
What happened on election day, she said, was a bit of “a blur.” According to results from both Boston and Milton precincts, she posted 4,047 votes in her column, or about 39 percent of the total cast. Behind her, at 30 percent, or 3,144 votes, was Jovan Lacet, who lost his third race for the seat in the last six years. The victory means she will replace Rep. Dan Cullinane, who announced earlier this year that he would not run again, since she faces no opposition in the general election on Nov. 3.
“My campaign manager created a schedule for me the night before for all the different polling locations I should be at— and she told me I would need someone who’s sort of a Jiminy Cricket, for lack of a better phrasing,” she said with a smile. “And so my sister came up from Connecticut and she’s always been great at keeping me calm and cool, so the plan was to be with my sister all day.” For more support, their mother, Rev. Brenda A. Fluker, joined them at the polls for most of the day.
“I just felt such great energy at the polls from supporters that would come out and say, ‘I got your mailer,’ or ‘I remember when we talked on the phone,’ which gave me some optimism,” said Fluker Oakley.
She also noted that prior to the primary she had received a birthday package from her boss containing a T-shirt that she wore on election night. “It said: ‘I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams’ and I thought: ‘Win or lose, I’m going to wear this on election night and see what happens.’ So I put that on and I waited for the results surrounded by close family and friends.”
When the first unofficial results from polls began to roll in, Fluker Oakley was in first place in many bellwether locations, including Florian Hall’s 16-11 precinct, Ashmont-Adams (16-8) and Lower Mills Library (17-13). She also won in battleground Mattapan precincts, including Mildred Avenue. And she dominated the field in Milton’s two precincts. In the end, she topped the ticket in 12 of the district’s 17 precincts.
Fluker Oakley beat Lacet at some of the polling stations where Lacet topped Cullinane in 2018. He was the top vote-getter at Lower Mills precinct 17-14 and at the Taylor School on Morton Street.
Stephanie Everett, an attorney and Mattapan resident who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2013, finished in third place with about 21 percent of the vote. And Cameron Charbonnier, who suspended his campaign during the summer and endorsed Everett but saw his name remain on the ballot, collected significant vote totals near his home in Dorchester and finished with about 8 percent of the vote.
Fluker Oakley was home — reviewing text messages from poll checkers with precinct results—when she and her campaign manager realized that she was on track for a victory.
“Some of us were downstairs in the living room area and my campaign manager and sister sat me down and said: ‘We’re looking at the results and it looks like you won.’ When the news came down, I was just so overcome by emotion on so many levels. It was a tremendous night and I’m just grateful for the experience and to all of the voters and residents of the district.”
Early on and throughout her campaign, Fluker Oakley notched impressive endorsements from elected officials, environmental groups, and both the Boston Teachers Union and the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
“I was so humbled by all of the endorsements that I received and I think those partnerships will be critical for a variety of reasons,” she told the Reporter. “So many of those organizations and people showed up for me whether it was with fundraising, reaching out to constituents, or providing phone banking resources. One group even did digital ads on my behalf, so that was also really helpful.”
“When I think about my experience of being an advocate at the State House,” Fluker Oakley said, “it was never success by myself; it was always through partnership. I recognize that the equitable and inclusive changes that we want to see here in the district will require partnership, so I’m hoping to leverage those that were established during and before this campaign to make that vision a reality for us.”
Over the course of the race, Fluker Oakley led the field in fundraising and mounted an aggressive and effective direct mail and digital campaign to reach voters in their homes and on mobile devices. That capacity to reach voters proved pivotal in the age of Covid-19, she said.
“I thought I’d be able to go door-to-door and talk to people and hear their concerns, but Covid completely nixed that idea. Then it became apparent that we had to run a strong mail campaign and I had to phonebank like it was my job—which was challenging because I was working full time except for the month of August.”
She said she dusted off the skills she acquired during her first job in college— working as an alumni caller— in her fundraising. “I went through every single person on my phone, called them and told them that I was running for office and asked them to make a donation,” she said.
“I was so humbled by those who supported early on and it was because of that early support that I was able to have the capital necessary to have the foundation for the strong mail campaign that I was able to run,” she said. “When I was able to phonebank people they would often say they’d received a piece of mail from me and that would be a touchpoint to engage in conversation.”
Fluker Oakley added that she personally called every “super voter” in the 12th Suffolk district about 3,500 people.
As Gov. Baker began to loosen some social distancing requirements, she began to engage in some door-knocking and canvassing.
“One version was just me out there with a list of people who were super voters that we didn’t have phone numbers for, just trying to make contact and introduce myself to them,” she explained.
“Another model,” she said, “was having supporters in certain neighborhoods walk me around, and what that did was allow residents to call their neighbors and tell them I would be around and wanted to talk to them.
“That was certainly the most effective method for canvassing in Covid, because everyone has “stranger-danger,” but they’re not afraid of people they know, Fluker Oakley said. “It was nice to have someone from the neighborhood to walk around with because people were more likely to talk and engage.”
She added: “I also recognize that most of our electorate in the 12th Suffolk do identify as Age Strong, so some might be on social media but not heavily. I thought it was helpful to have some of that messaging and we finally did our digital ads about two weeks before election day.”
After getting some much-needed rest over the holiday weekend, Fluker Oakley said that her team will be re-convening sometime this week to talk about the general election.
“I am grateful for the voters, residents, for Jovan Lacet and Stephanie Everett and all that they gave to this race and have given to our community and will continue to give to our community. I certainly hope to earn their support and the support of their voters going into the general election and I’ll be preparing to transition and serve the district full time come January,” she said.