In Allston-Brighton rep race, a progressive showdown
Activist Jordan Meehan gives Kevin Honan his first challenge in 34 years
IF A WINNING campaign starts with a candidate who seems well-matched for the district, Jordan Meehan looks primed for success.
The young gay lawyer is pushing a decidedly progressive platform — with rent control, transit improvements, and climate action at the top of the agenda — in an Allston-Brighton state representative district brimming with with tenants, MBTA riders, and young people concerned about climate and environmental issues.
“As a 29-year-old renter who relies on the T and has been a climate activist for years, I live these issues every day,” said Meehan, who works as policy coordinator at the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth. Compared with his opponent, Meehan said, “I think I’m much more suited to bring urgency to these issues.”
His campaign has won endorsements from several environmental groups, including the local chapter of the Sunrise Movement and the Sierra Club, and he has the backing of the liberal advocacy group Progressive Massachusetts and the Victory Fund, a national LGBTQ political action committee.
Kevin Honan, the district’s veteran incumbent state rep, has been around Boston politics long enough to remember when a campaign fundraiser was called “a time.” In recounting past affordable housing battles during a recent candidate forum he name-checked Ray Flynn, who left the mayor’s office nearly 30 years ago. But the affable 62-year-old with a thinning mop of gray hair also claims a decades-long progressive record — and a laundry list of endorsers to back it.
“I’m running on my record. I’ve always been progressive. I think I’m doing the job,” said Honan, a lifelong resident of the district, who attended Boston College as a Green Line commuter from home.
As the longtime co-chairman of the Legislature’s housing committee, he’s also in a position to do that job from a powerful perch when it comes to one of the most pressing issues facing the district. Honan ticks off housing bond bills he has shepherded to passage, legislation to preserve existing affordable housing, and his work to lower the threshold for municipal approval of development projects from a two-thirds vote to majority support of the local governing body.
Channeling the message insurgent challengers have brought to other Democratic primary contests in recent years, Meehan laments the pace of change from Democratic leaders, including Honan, who control the agenda on Beacon Hill. He says the coronavirus crisis has only been made worse by long-festering housing and public transportation crises.
“The Legislature just hasn’t been responding to any of these with the urgency needed,” said Meehan, who was born in Malden and then moved at age 9 with his family to New Hampshire before heading to college at George Washington University.
On the climate crisis, Meehan, who has lived in Allston since 2014, calls legislation passed last month by the House a “baby step” in the face of what’s needed. He advocates a more aggressive schedule of transitioning to renewable energy, and supports public ownership of utilities.
“We have an overly cautious Legislature,” said Jacob Stern, deputy director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club. “We’re really looking for candidates with a vision for the future,” he said of the group’s endorsement of Meehan.
On housing, Meehan supports a return to rent control, which was outlawed by voters in a 1994 ballot question. It is perhaps the most aggressive measure being pushed by advocates in the face of spiraling housing costs.
But the issue also underscores the challenge Meehan has faced finding daylight between his views and Honan’s on some issues. In May, Honan advanced out of the housing committee legislation that would allow cities and towns to impose rent regulation at the local level.
Honan hasn’t been leading the charge on reviving rent control — which faces long odds to make it into law — but state Rep. Mike Connolly, one of the bill’s cosponsors, said his support and willingness to work with housing advocates to move the measure forward is a huge step.
“Every time I’ve gone to Kevin to ask for support or asked for a role in shaping policy he’s supported me. I think that’s a style of leadership that has to be recognized,” said Connolly, who endorsed Honan in a lengthy post on social media over the weekend.
He likened Honan, who was elected to his seat in 1986 and is facing his first reelection challenger in 34 years, to Ed Markey — a veteran progressive lawmaker who has been willing to mentor and encourage young colleagues.
Connolly, a member of the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter and one of the Legislature’s most left-leaning members, won his seat four years ago by defeating a veteran incumbent in the Democratic primary. He offers praise, but not support, for Meehan’s effort to do the same. “I very much appreciate what he and his campaign are doing, and I think it will have a positive impact well into the future,” said Connolly.
Meehan chalks up the endorsement to the way politics often works. “You saw a very similar dynamic at play in the Jeffrey Sanchez-Nika Elugardo race, where a lot of progressives that you would think would back the more progressive candidate backed the person they had worked with more,” said Meehan, referring to the 2018 Democratic primary in Jamaica Plain that saw lots of liberal political players rally behind Sanchez, the powerful chairman of the House budget committee, who nonetheless lost his seat.
Meanwhile, the local Democratic Socialists chapter, which Meehan is also a member of, has not made an endorsement in the race. Emails to several people at the chapter went unanswered.
If reelected, Honan would become the longest serving member of the House next year. While that might help strengthen the case for change, his longevity has also enabled Honan to draw on the loyalty of various constituent groups he has backed over the years. Although Meehan has the support of the national Victory Fund gay rights PAC, Honan has been endorsed by Bay State Stonewall Democrats, the state party’s LBGTQ affiliate. Honan backed a gay civil rights law in 1989, a time when support for such measures was hardly a given.
“Many of these groups remember. They know I’ve been there the whole time,” said Honan, whose endorsement also include Chinese Progressive Political Action, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, and Planned Parenthood.
Honan has even compiled a legislative record that earned the endorsement of a group called Massachusetts Voters for Animals. Pets may not be able vote, but Honan recognizes their place in the lives of many who can.
“Pets are important members of so many #Allston #BrightonMA families, including my own. I’m proud to represent the interests of both the people & pets of MA,” he tweeted last month, promoting his endorsement by the group complete with a picture of himself and his family’s rescue dog Frankie.Meehan is banking on enough voters not only looking back, but ahead at a time when he says everything from climate change to transit woes demands a more aggressive approach.
“I don’t think I’m fighting for anything that’s radical. I’m fighting for what is necessary,” he said.