Sullivan frames secretary of state run as ‘unique moment for our democracy’

Boston NAACP president says she’d bring ‘fresh perspective' to post

THE SECRETARY OF STATE position across the 50 states is not normally one that inflames deep passions or draws lots of attention when it comes to electing the person holding the office. But these are not normal times, and the usually rote business of running elections and certifying vote totals – the chief responsibility that goes with the job – has become a major fault line in US politics.

It is against that backdrop that Boston NAACP president Tanisha Sullivan launched her campaign on Tuesday for secretary of state in Massachusetts. “This is a unique moment for our democracy, and it is a very strong reminder of just how young and fragile our democracy is, and in this moment we need urgent action,” Sullivan, a Democrat, said in an interview. 

The assaults on voting rights in many states and the failure of Congress to advance new voting rights legislation are what bring urgency to these issues, said Sullivan, an attorney who has worked for Boston area pharmaceutical companies and also served a stint as chief equity officer for the Boston Public Schools. Although Massachusetts has not seen movement on efforts to restrict voting access, Sullivan said there is still work to be done here to expand the democratic process, citing the state’s failure to make permanent the pandemic-era changes that allowed for mail-in ballots.

Secretary of State William Galvin, a six-term Democratic incumbent, has yet to announce whether he’ll seek another term this fall. He has said he first wants to secure passage of a measure changing the date of this year’s primary as well as vote-by-mail legislation. A bill that the House expects to vote on today, and the Senate will vote on next week, would set the primary for September 6. Galvin did not return a phone message on Tuesday, but he has hinted recently at running again. “I believe I still have work to do,” he told Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky last week.  

Along with serving as the state’s chief election official, the office oversees the state’s public records law as well as securities regulations and lobbyist activity. Sullivan isn’t sure about extending the public records law to the Legislature and governor’s office – Massachusetts is the only state in which both of those branches are exempt from the law. “I believe it’s a conversation we need to have,” she said of proposals to eliminate the exemptions. 

Galvin shares Sullivan’s support for permanent vote-by-mail legislation as well as same-day voter registration, the two biggest measures being backed by voting-rights advocates in the state. 

Should Galvin run for a seventh term, it’s hard to avoid the parallels that would set up between a race against Sullivan and the 2018 Democratic primary that saw then-Boston city councilor Ayanna Pressley upend longtime incumbent congressman Michael Capuano. Just as Pressley became the first Black woman to win a congressional seat in the state, Sullivan would, if elected, be the first woman and first person of color to hold the secretary of state’s office. 

Pressley never attacked Capuano’s record directly and conceded that she and the liberal former Somerville mayor would vote the same on almost everything that came before the US House. Instead, she argued that it was time for new representation from someone bringing a “new lens” to the issues facing the district and country as a whole. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

When asked where Galvin has fallen short or where she would differ with him on issues, Sullivan, a 47-year-old Hyde Park resident, also demurred and spoke more broadly about her candidacy, which she said will be informed by “a life experience that is different.” 

“I have deep respect for Bill Galvin and his service,” she said. “I’m not running against Bill Galvin. I am running in order to bring a fresh perspective, to help usher in a new era in our government as we seek to expand democracy, and we seek to ensure a more inclusive and vibrant democracy.”