Two state representatives jockeying for the same state Senate post. A former occupant, who held the post for 15 years, looking for a comeback after time in prison and a focus on community activism. A longtime federal housing official and local pastor making his first run for public office.
These four people – state Reps. Nika Elugardo and Liz Miranda, former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, and Miniard Culpepper – are the major candidates in the Second Suffolk Senate race
Whoever wins the Sept. 6 Democratic primary is certain to take office in January, as there will be no opposition for the candidate in the November general election.
The Second Suffolk district includes Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, the South End, Fenway, and Mission Hill.
For Elugardo, the path to victory runs through Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill. “We have a lot of undecided voters in Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury,” she said. “I think we have the votes to win or be very competitive.”
Elugardo touts her time working as a manager for a statewide foreclosure prevention program helping to keep people in their homes. While she had brief stints at the State House before she became a lawmaker – including working for Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, the Second Suffolk senator since 2009 — she counts her work on foreclosure prevention as among her most formative. (While focused on backing progressive candidates in down-ballot races since dropping out of the governor’s race, Chang-Diaz conspicuously is staying out of the race to succeed her; she did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.)
While at the State House, where she’s been since 2019 as a state representative, Elugardo has pushed for more funding for Main Streets and youth jobs. She said she’s seeking to offer hope, based on the response her campaign is getting on the streets.
“People are cynical and sometimes depressed about what we’ve been through. Not just through Covid, but the past couple of decades,” she said. “Life has been hard and it’s been getting harder and harder. People have had shared suffering so great that we’re ready to try something new, and I’m ready to lead that.”
Miranda, her State House colleague, has represented the nearby district, covering Dorchester and Roxbury, also since 2019. She has been on the campaign trail for the Senate seat since December, she said, highlighting her efforts in support of immigrant rights and police reform. “Every corner of this district knows who I am and knows of my work.”
A first-generation immigrant whose brother Michael was killed in 2017 outside a Boston nightclub, Miranda said she has experienced what people in the district have gone through themselves, such as losing loved ones to violence. “These are all the things that I feel like the community is connecting to me on because they know I understand,” she said, adding:
“Folks are obviously feeling the pinch more than ever, so health equity, housing, and reframing and reimagining what public safety looks like is what’s been most talked about at the door.”
Culpepper, who served for 20 years as regional counsel for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, says he’s the “housing candidate” in the campaign. Speaking just after he finished walking in the Caribbean Carnival parade last weekend, he pointed to endorsements from Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Owens and Bolling families, whose members have been a part of Boston politics for decades.
“I think we have the momentum, and if you look at Liz and Nika, they don’t understand this district because if they did, they wouldn’t introducing a bill that is virtually legalizing heroin,” Culpepper said.
Elugardo fired back, saying Culpepper “doesn’t understand policy legislation or how to read it” and adding that he is attempting a “little bit of a political tactic to distract people.” Miranda had filed a bill focused on decriminalizing drug possession, and Elugardo had recommended that they study what’s happening in places like Portugal, which has legalized drugs in some zones, and testing to see how it works among different demographics. The bill remains in a Beacon Hill committee.
“We can’t keep arresting our way out of a public health crisis,” Miranda said.
“I think that shows Rev. Culpepper’s out of touch with what’s really happening in our city,” she added. “He is the only person in this race who has not been a legislator in the past.”
Culpepper, in the interview, also took aim at the fourth candidate in the race, former Sen. Wilkerson. Bringing up in the same breath his time with HUD and her time in jail on bribery charges, Culpepper said, “I can be trusted. I will say that she breached her trust as a public trust officer.”
Wilkerson’s campaign did not make her available for comment at this point, but at a forum in July, she said that the last three years, which involved the pandemic, had spurred her to co-found a coalition focused on vaccines and testing within the Black community and were “determinative” in her desire to return to public office.
Earlier this month she pitched a $7.5 billion “Contemporations” plan that she would promote were she returned to office. The money would be directed to the city’s Black residents, including cash payments, support for Black and Latino businesses, and a homeownership fund. “
Two years ago, racial reckoning and social justice became a near household phrase,” she said in a statement. “This plan will make it a reality.”