In Boston race for open state rep seat, a field of 1
Special election for Santiago seat now a cakewalk
IT’S BECOME A dismal, recurring storyline underscoring the state’s political torpor: Massachusetts is among the least competitive states in the country when it comes to elections for state legislative seats. The electoral malaise is often framed as a function of the lack of challengers to entrenched incumbents.
But a special election for state representative playing out this spring in Boston’s South End is taking that lack of campaign energy to a new level.
For the first time in more than 40 years, no incumbent will be on the ballot for the Ninth Suffolk District seat, which represents much of the South End as well as a chunk of Roxbury and a swath to the east where Dorchester and South Boston meet. But following the recent withdrawal from the race of one candidate, John Moran is now the only one vying for the seat vacated last month by Jon Santiago after his appointment as secretary of veterans’ services in Gov. Maura Healey’s cabinet.
Moran, a South End neighborhood activist who works in management at Cambridge-based Biogen, is the lone candidate now campaigning in the May 2 Democratic primary. The only other Democrat to qualify for the ballot, fellow South End resident Amparo “Chary” Ortiz, dropped out last week, citing family reasons. No Republicans have entered, so Moran will run unopposed on the May 30 general election ballot.
Along with Ortiz, a third candidate initially signaled he would vie in the Democratic primary but never submitted nominating signatures to appear on the ballot.
“I’m definitely a little surprised,” said Moran. “We had a number of interesting candidates at the beginning, and for family reasons or other reasons they decided not to run.”
It’s a seat with a notable history of activist leadership. It is the House seat that the late Mel King held for 10 years, after which it was held by Byron Rushing for more than 30 years. In 2018, Santiago defeated Rushing in the Democratic primary.
“There’s an important legacy for someone to continue in that seat,” said Cohn.
Moran, who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and came to Boston to attend Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said that’s something he’s acutely mindful of.
“It’s a heavy burden to take on,” he said of living up to the district’s history of strong progressive leadership. “It just makes me want to work harder and make sure we focus on the people who are the most vulnerable.”
Following two Black lawmakers – King and Rushing – and Puerto Rican-born Santiago in the seat, the election of Moran, a white gay man, would reflect a big shift that has occurred in the demographics of the South End over the last 40 years.
He said he’ll be as attentive to concerns about community-led development in Roxbury as he is about issues facing the South End and the addiction and homelessness issues around Mass. and Cass.
Moran has been a member of the District 7 Advisory Council formed by Roxbury-based district City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who has endorsed his run.
With Ortiz’s withdrawal, what was planned as a candidate forum with the two Democrats last Thursday turned into a “town hall” session in which Moran fielded questions from moderator Cheryl Crawford of the nonpartisan civil advocacy group MassVote. Last night, Moran was mingling with residents at a Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association social in the South End.At this point, the adversary he faces is indifference and lack of attention to a race with only one candidate. To combat it, Moran said he’ll stay on a vigorous campaign schedule.
“It’s complicated to make sure voters get out to vote and our voices are heard – and I’m held accountable for the 9th District priorities,” he said. “That’s why I’m planning on continuing to knock on doors as if I’m in last place.”