A Guide to Tuesday's Massachusetts Primaries

A primary season that has been full of unwelcome surprises will come to a much-anticipated conclusion Tuesday — although just shy of 1 million voters have already cast their ballots.
By Jasper G. Goodman

Quincy hall typically serves as an on-campus polling location in elections.
Quincy hall typically serves as an on-campus polling location in elections. By Quinn G. Perini

A primary season full of unwelcome surprises will come to its much-anticipated conclusion Tuesday — though just shy of 1 million voters have already cast their ballots.

In Cambridge, 34 polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voters are required to cast their ballots at the assigned polling place in their precinct, many of which have been temporarily moved this fall. Voters can also hand deliver their absentee ballots to the Cambridge Election Commission’s dropbox at 51 Inman Street until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know about the primary elections:

SENATE SHOWDOWN

With the national conventions in the rearview mirror, the United States Senate primary between incumbent U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.) has become the most-watched infight in politics over the past week.

Since the beginning, the race has been characterized by perplexing dynamics. Markey — a 74-year-old who has been a fixture in Washington since the 1970s — has the backing of young people and progressive groups who are normally more sympathetic to youthful challengers. The 39-year-old Kennedy, meanwhile — the heir to Massachusetts’s most prominent political dynasty — has tried to make the case that Massacusetts can “can get an awful lot more” out of its representation in the Senate.

Kennedy has scrutinized Markey’s record and claimed it is not as progressive as Markey asserts, pointing to Markey’s vote in favor of the Iraq War, his past opposition to busing to integrate Boston public schools, and his vote in favor of the 1994 Crime Bill.

A poll released prior to Kennedy’s entry into the race found he was up by a whopping 14 points in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup. After Kennedy declared his candidacy, “it seemed like a kind of sad ending to [Markey’s] career,” said David Paleologos, the Director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University.

“When you’re down 14 and you’re the incumbent, that’s a daunting challenge,” Paleologos said.

But just shy of a year later, Markey has closed the gap. A trio of polls last week show Markey with a clear lead going into Tuesday. A Suffolk poll released last Wednesday showed Markey leading Kennedy 51 percent to 41 percent.

“Kennedy’s challenge has helped Ed Markey find his voice,” Peter N. Ubertaccio, a Stonehill College political science professor, said. “By pushing back aggressively, and by making an [impassioned] defense of his record, I think Markey has surprised a lot of people. And that surprise has turned into them giving him a second look.”

It's been Markey’s more recent legislative activities — namely his co-sponsorship of the Green New Deal along with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — that have earned him the trust of Massachusetts’s energized left flank.

“Senator Markey has done a very good job of reinventing himself as someone on the activist left,” said former U.S. Rep. Barnett “Barney” Frank ’61-’62.

The Ocasio-Cortez endorsement has “made it really difficult” for Kennedy to make the case that Markey has been an ineffective legislator, Ubertaccio said.

Kennedy’s family name has also hurt the case he has tried to make that he’s an insurgent, Frank said.

“It turns out there are both advantages and disadvantages of being Kennedy,” he said.

The notoriety of Kennedy’s last name helped him capture the Fourth Congressional District seat with relative ease after Frank retired from it in 2012. “But,” Frank said, “it’s very hard for a Kennedy to run as an outsider or a challenger. So that’s made it possible for Markey to kind of reverse the dynamic here and be the dissident."

In a stark contrast to their online-only campaigns in March and April, after the coronavirus shut down the state, Kennedy and Markey have both barnstormed Massachusetts in recent weeks, holding socially distant outdoor rallies. Even as their campaigns earned the attention of national media in recent weeks, nearly 1 million residents have already cast their ballots after the state mailed every registered voter an absentee ballot.

The winner will face either Republican businessman Kevin O’Connor or Shiva Ayyadurai, a MIT-educated scientist who claims he invented email, in the general election.

LEGISLATIVE LOWDOWN

The Crimson reached out to each candidate running in a competitive legislative race in the areas around Harvard’s campus to answer a series of basic written questions about their candidacy.

State Senate

Of the three State Senators representing Cambridge on Beacon Hill, only one — longtime legislator Patricia D. Jehlen (D-Second Middlesex) — faces a primary challenge this year.

State Senators Sal N. DiDomenico (D-Middlesex & Suffolk) and Joseph A. Boncore (D-First Suffolk & Middlesex) are unopposed in Tuesday’s primary. There are no Republican candidates in the races.

Second Middlesex

Jehlen, who has served in the senate since 2005 and previously spent 14 years in the House, is being challenged by Gary Fisher, a retired teacher.

“Our district has so many people who are engaged in supporting important public issues, from climate change to reproductive rights, from protecting immigrants to planting trees, and so much more,” Jehlen wrote. “There are so many people dedicated to justice. My job is to help elevate their voices and help make the changes they want possible.”

Fisher, who did not respond to questions from The Crimson, supports progressive policies on housing, education spending, and tuition assistance, according to his campaign website. He posits that it is time for change, pointing to Jehlen’s age and longtime incumbency.

Fisher, who is Black, is one of several people of color who are hoping to improve diversity in the 200-person legislature, which has a Black and Latino caucus made up of just 14 members. The Senate currently has no Black members.

Fisher contends on his website that the Senate needs greater representation in order to tackle the racial justice issues that have been the subject of protests in Boston and across the globe.

Jehlen, who was a longtime advocate for pay equity and championed a 2016 equal pay bill that was signed by Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79, said she has not campaigned throughout the summer. The last in-person event she attended was on March 8.

State House

Two area state representatives — Rep. David M. Rogers (D-24th Middlesex) and Rep. Kevin G. Honan (D-17th Suffolk) — are facing the first primary challenges of their respective careers Tuesday. Meanwhile, in the only open seat in the districts around Harvard’s campus, a trio of Democrats are vying to replace State Rep. Jonathan Hecht (D-29th Middlesex), who is not seeking reelection.

Incumbent State Representatives Marjorie C. Decker (D-25th Middlesex), Mike Connolly (D-26th Middlesex), and Jay D. Livingstone (D-8th Suffolk) are unopposed in their primaries. The Republicans did not field a candidate in any of the six races around Harvard’s campus.

24th Middlesex

Rogers, who is facing his first opponent since he was first elected in 2012, is being challenged by Jennifer Fries, a former non-profit administrator.

Fries wrote that she hopes to champion investments in public transportation, schools, and work to address climate change all “with an eye on racial equity and a just recovery from COVID.”

Rogers, also a progressive Democrat, wrote that he hopes “to build on the many legislative successes of recent years,” citing his work on criminal justice reform, renewable energy investment, and pay equity. Rogers backed the police reform bill that came out of the House in July.

“Like any line of work, learning to be an effective legislator takes some time,” Rogers wrote. “Having been in office in both prosperous times, and now through the pandemic, has given me a depth and breadth of experience that I believe is a distinguishing hallmark. Having that experience now — as we navigate a challenging time — greatly benefits my district and the people I am privileged to represent.”

Fries wrote that she hopes to serve as an alternative to “a culture of secrecy on Beacon Hill in which people and corporations that can afford to hire lobbyists know what is going on, and the rest of us do not.”

“I will put the needs of the people at the center of my work, as I have for more than 30 years,” she wrote.

29th Middlesex

A trio of newcomers — David Ciccarelli, Steven Owens, and Mark Sideris — hope to replace Hecht in the 29th Middlesex district, which is made up of parts of Cambridge and Watertown.

Owens, a professional transportation consultant who serves as a member of the Democratic State Committee, wrote that climate change “is the reason I am running and my top priority.”

“We need to transition from fossil fuels and towards 100% clean and renewable energy while investing in green jobs here in Massachusetts. Our transportation policy must be anchored in climate sustainability and social equity,” he wrote. “We can reduce traffic and emissions with infrastructure designed for motorists, transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians.”

Hecht has endorsed Owens to replace him.

Ciccarelli, a businessman and consultant, wrote that his opponents “have focused too much on the environment and not enough on the people,” although he said he supports the Green New Deal. He wrote that he hopes to address the rising costs of higher education and healthcare in the legislature. Ciccarelli has consulted for the U.S. State Department, according to his website.

Sideris currently serves as the president of the Watertown Town Council and is a member of the Watertown School Committee.

“The difference between me and my opponents is that I am the only candidate who has a long record of voting on issues from budgets to climate change issues, affordable housing issues, transportation issues, zoning issues and many others,” he wrote.

17th Suffolk

Thirty-four years after Kevin Honan was first elected to the House, he has finally come across his first challenge: Jordan C. Meehan, a 29-year-old climate activist.

Meehan, who is backed by progressive organizations including the Sunrise Movement, said he hopes to take out Honan in one of the state’s closest-watched primaries this cycle.

“I am running for this seat because we are in the midst of a housing crisis, a transit crisis, a climate crisis, and an economic crisis, and the legislature is not acting with the requisite urgency that these issues demand,” he wrote. “I’m running to fight for housing justice and rent control, economic justice, fare-free transit equity, and a Green New Deal for Massachusetts.

But he is running up against a longtime legislator who has the backing of a laundry list of unions and politicians and would become the House’s most senior member if reelected.

“In our new world of uncertainty and instability, experience is the most valuable asset an elected official can offer,” wrote Honan, who co-chairs the Housing Committee. “As someone who has lived their entire life in Allston-Brighton, I know what our neighborhood and our city need to come through this recovery even stronger than before. Experience does matter.”

Meehan, who has served as the Chair of the Massachusetts Sierra Club’s Political Committee and works for the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, got his start in politics in campaigns, including that of Attorney General Maura T. Healy ’92 in 2014, although Healey has backed Honan in the race.

CONGRESSIONAL CONTESTS

Kennedy’s departure from his congressional seat in the state’s Fourth District opened the floodgates for a field of candidates vying to replace him.

Seven candidates — including a slew of Harvard affiliates — are still in the race, which has drawn a flurry of outside money and attention as the primary remains wide open.

The size of the field came as no surprise to Frank, who held the seat for 32 years before retiring in 2013.

“Open seats in Massachusetts tend to attract a lot of people,” he said.

Recent polling suggests that Newton City Councilor Jacob D. Auchincloss ’10 and former former Brookline selectwoman Jesse Mermell lead the field, with the other five contenders — Alan A. Khazei ’83, Benjamin Sigel, Rebecca W. Grossman, Natalia Linos ’03, and Ihssane Leckey — trailing. Mermell picked up the support of two ex-candidates who dropped out, and has the backing of Healey and U.S. Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley (D-Mass.).

Auchincloss, 32, whose family has funded a Super PAC that has spent more than $100,000 on ads backing him, has been a frequent target of his opponents, who have argued that he is not progressive enough to represent the district. The ex-Marine was once registered as a Republican.

Linos, the executive director of Harvard’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, picked up steam late in the race after declaring in May, though she faces a crowded field of other progressives, including Mermell and Leckey.

The Fourth District could be progressives’ best chance to pick up a congressional seat this cycle. Candidates challenging representatives U.S. Reps. Richard E. Neal, Seth W. Moulton ’01, and Stephen F. Lynch face uphill battles, Ubertaccio said.

Pressley and U.S. Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), who represent the Cambridge area, are both unopposed.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.

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