Voters hand defeats to two key members of DeLeo leadership team

Elugardo tops Sanchez; Santiago takes out Rushing

ON A PRIMARY NIGHT when Beacon Hill incumbents fared well overall, two members of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team from Boston were defeated by newcomers to state politics.

Nika Elugardo, a self-described member of the “super left,” defeated Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a 15-year veteran of the State House, by four points. And Jonathan Santiago, an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center, defeated Rep. Byron Rushing, the assistant majority leader and a 26-year veteran of the House, by 10 points.

Sanchez was the highest-ranking Latino legislator on Beacon Hill and Rushing was the highest-ranking black lawmaker.

Elugardo’s victory was the most surprising, given that she was heavily outspent (the incumbent spent $198,122 and Elugardo spent $87,027 through August 17) and Sanchez had the support of not just DeLeo but Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and US Rep. Joseph Kennedy III.

Elugardo, who is black, succeeded in painting Sanchez as a politician who failed to use his power to pass legislation favored by his constituents, specifically safe communities legislation limiting how local police can cooperate with federal immigration agents. Sanchez sponsored the legislation, but was unable to push it through a House-Senate budget committee because of what he described as a lack of consensus in the more conservative House.

In a brief interview as her predominantly white supporters hugged her and took selfies with her at the Frogmore in Jamaica Plain, Elugardo described the victory as a miracle. “The miracle is so many people coming together across so many lines behind a vision. And that vision is not just a vision of justice for all of our citizens,” she said. “It’s a vision that our State House should operate as it is intended to operate so that the voices of the people are educating the decisions of the legislators.”

Asked if her victory represented a condemnation of Beacon Hill politics, Elugardo said she wouldn’t describe it that way. “People are always condemning the way Beacon Hill operates,” she said. “What’s different about this victory is that we’re latching on to a positive vision of what we can be as the people of Massachusetts and the people of the United States. That’s what’s different about this. We’re not fueled by anger. The fuel is really a love for the people of the Commonwealth.”

When it was pointed out that she didn’t sound like most Beacon Hill politicians, Elugardo said: “I don’t think we can have those anymore.  We need a new kind of politician. And some of those are already in the State House and waiting for their own personal transformation and they will come to be that type of politician. And some are going to have to be replaced because that’s not what they want or are capable of.”

Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston, speaking at Ayanna Pressley’s congressional victory part, said the upsets of Sanchez and Rushing showed that lawmakers have to do the bidding of their constituents and not DeLeo.

“I know that was the message 100 percent tonight. This is clearly a rebuke against the Speaker and the way he’s doing things, and how those things translate to our districts,” Holmes said. “You cannot be beholden to the Speaker. You have to be beholden to your district, and that’s what became very clear tonight.”

Holmes was stripped of his vice chairmanship of the housing committee after urging black, Latino, female, and progressive lawmakers to band together to select the next speaker.

Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez enters the Puddingstone Tavern to address his supporters. (Photo by Bruce Mohl)

Sanchez, whose election night party was held at the Puddingstone Tavern in Mission Hill, seemed stunned as he thanked his supporters and staff. He did not congratulate Elugardo in his public remarks and declined to discuss the outcome of the race. He said his time in the Legislature was a “dream come true.”

“The outcome of this race does not define our values,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s who we are as a community and what we do every single day making sure we’re all bringing each other up.”

Rep. Robert Koczera of New Bedford was the only other incumbent who appeared to be in danger of losing his seat. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, challenger Christopher Hendricks was holding on to a slim lead of 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent.

Seventeen other Beacon Hill incumbents faced challengers in Tuesday’s primary, and most of them, including Reps. Denise Garlick of Needham and Elizabeth Malia of Boston, who are also part of DeLeo’s leadership team, cruised to victory. So did Republican Rep. Randy Hunt of Sandwich and Democratic Reps. Dan Cullinane of Boston, James Hawkins of Attleboro, Jose Tosado of Springfield, Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, Kate Hogan of Stow, Sean Garballey of Arlington, Joseph McGonagle of Everett (by four points), Jerald Parisella of Beverly, and Colleen Garry of Dracut.

Reps. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park and Rady Mom of Lowell won with the help of crowded fields. Scaccia, who had four opponents, came away with nearly 40 percent of the vote, while Mom, who had three opponents, won with 35 percent of the vote.

In the Senate, incumbents Adam Hinds of Pittsfield, James Welch of West Springfield, and Jason Lewis of Winchester won easily.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Of all the incumbents who faced challengers in Tuesday’s primary, only three – Sen. Lewis and Reps. Hunt and Hawkins – face challengers in the general election, which means the other 17 winners will automatically move on to the Legislature.

Michael Jonas of CommonWealth contributed to this report.