Frankie Mancini / Gavel Media

Democratic Candidates for MA-4 Congressional Seat Debate at Boston College

On February 25th, The Gavel sponsored a debate between seven of the Democratic candidates for Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District—Jake Auchincloss, Dave Cavell, Becky Grossman, Alan Khazei, Ihssane Leckey, Jesse Mermell, and Ben Sigel—at the Boston College Law School campus in Newton.

The election was triggered when Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (D), the four-term incumbent, announced a primary election challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey (D), who is seeking a second full term representing the Bay State in the U.S. Senate.

Each candidate used their opening statement to explain why they chose to run for Congress.

Mr. Sigel spoke about the meaning of his campaign’s slogan, “We the Fourth”. “I believe our differences and our diversity are our strengths,” he said. “I am so sick and tired of us being divided. He continued on to talk about his Latino and Jewish heritage and the work he has done for both of those communities.

Ms. Leckey began by discussing how she came to the United States at the age of 20 with little else besides the values instilled in her by her parents. “When I got that first job, I was paid sub-minimum wages and faced sexual harassment and wage theft like millions of Americans do every day,” she recalled. She also called out the greed of the “mega-banks” in the 2008 financial crisis while highlighting her service as a Federal Reserve regulator.

Mr. Khazei, who is a co-founder of CityYear, centered his remarks around uniting people. “I’ve spent my life taking what to people seemed impossible and making it possible,” he said. “And here’s the secret sauce: there is nothing more powerful than people united in common purpose.” Khazei spoke of his ability to mobilize volunteers and his success in taking on former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), in his words “the Mitch McConnell of his day,” over funding for AmeriCorps.

Mr. Cavell talked about his resume and how his experiences would inform the type of representative he would be. He was a fourth-grade teacher in the Bronx—having homeless children in his class—and later became a speechwriter for President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama. He then joined the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy where he helped to investigate Exxon and sued Purdue Pharmaceuticals. “I’m sick and tired of a political system that tells us [that] we don’t matter unless you’re a swing state,” he concluded. “That’s not true. We do matter. This district matters.”

Mr. Auchincloss, a retired Marine Corps captain, focused on his military service. “I was proud to lead Americans from all walks of life who put service before self,” he asserted. “But as a platoon commander in southern Helmand [province], I saw the futility of our mission first hand.” He spoke of a hunger in America for unity and dignity in politics. Auchincloss’ priorities include reducing carbon emissions, improving transportation, and curbing gun violence. “I have lived government at its very worst and I have lived government at its very best,” he stated. “I am committed to making national government work again for all of us.”

Ms. Mermell opened by declaring her belief that “the people of the fourth congressional district deserve a member of Congress who won’t just fight back against the hate and the backwards thinking that’s coming out of the White House, but will fight for the future that we all deserve.” She described growing up in rural Pennsylvania and how interacting with Republicans on a daily basis gave her the skills necessary for coalition building. Mermell also touched on her work for former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s administration and at Planned Parenthood.

Ms. Grossman concentrated on being a working mother. “As much as I love being a Newton City Councillor, the job I cherish the most is being a mom to my two kids,” she said. She talked about school shootings from that standpoint and recounted explaining to her son how to avoid an active shooter. “That is not a conversation that any parent should have to have with their child or a fear that any child should have when going to school,” Grossman asserted. She ended by pointing out that out of 435 members of the House, only 25 are mothers of school-aged children: “If we had 100 or 200 members of Congress who are mothers of school-aged children, it would change the conversation on everything.”

Healthcare was brought up as a key issue in the debate. Two of the seven candidates—Mermell and Leckey—support the proposed Medicare for All legislation.

“Look, the ultimate goal is what we all want, which is universal access to high quality, affordable healthcare,” Sigel said. “That could be single-payer, that could be Medicare for all with a private option, or that could mean strengthening the [Affordable Care Act] with a public option.” He raised concerns about the cost and time for the implementation of any plan.

Mermell pushed back on criticism of the cost of Medicare for all. “I am not naive to the political realities that will need to be in place to make Medicare for All happen,” she said. “ I think we need to start by asking ourselves what is the cost of not tackling those issues. That is the most important thing.”

The majority of the candidates praised Representative Kennedy’s work and stated their intentions to continue where he left off. Leckey stood alone in offering criticism of Kennedy. “One area that I felt he came a little short was for the transgender community,” she argued. This was in connection to Kennedy’s hesitance to support Medicare for All, which Leckey viewed as necessary support for transgender healthcare.

There were multiple instances in which Cavell touched on issues directly relating to Boston College. He expressed support for the proposed Boston College graduate student’s union and for the establishment of an LGBTQ+ resource center on campus.

The final question posed to candidates was about whether or not they would endorse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for another term in that position should they be elected.

Cavell, Grossman, Khazei, and Sigel said that they would support Pelosi for speaker unequivocally with Khazei exclaiming, “Thank god for Nancy Pelosi!” Mermell also agreed despite having some policy disagreements with her. 

Auchincloss’ response was conditional on whether or not President Trump is re-elected. If he is, Auchincloss argued that there was no one who could stand up to him as well as Pelosi. If not, he would be open to considering alternatives.

Leckey gave an equivocating response and expressed her desire for Pelosi to show more support for “progressive women” in reference to the so-called “Squad” of Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Talib who have clashed with Pelosi in the past.

Cavell closed out the night by sharing his opinion on what is needed in American politics and this race in particular. “We just need to believe again,” he said. "We need to believe that we can get these things done instead of being right back here in two years, in four years, talking about these same issues all over again.”

The primary election for Massachusetts’ Fourth Congressional District will be held on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. The winner will then run as the Democratic nominee in the general election held on November 3, 2020. 

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