^ 4 visions 4 : from Left : Evandro C. Carvalho; Karen Charles-Peterson; Jennifer Johnson; Barry Lawton. (a fifth candidate, Roy Owens, did not participate in the Forum)
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Yesterday afternoon voters of the 5th District had this campaign’s only opportunity to see, on one platform answering questions, four of the five candidates who seek to represent them. About 100 of the District’s residents showed up. There was plenty of enthusiasm among them — which was a good thing, because every one of the four needs to up his or her speaking craft.
That’s OK; I don’t expect candidates for State Representative, in a special election hurriedly called after the February 5th expulsion of Carlos Henriquez following his domestic violence conviction, to be silver tongued orators or think tank masters. This was a neighborhood event, and its candidates sounded like neighbors.
Moderated diligently by Boston Neighborhood News’s Chris Lovett, all four candidates — Evandro C. Carvalho, Karen Charles-Peterson, Jennifer Johnson, and Barry Lawton — managed to give Forum attendees a pretty fair impression of who they are, why they are running, and what they are likely to work on as the District’s State House representative. Still, all had some difficulty focusing on State legislation matters rather than concerns more appropriate for a City Councillor.
This was true even of Barry Lawton, who in his opening remarks said “i am the only candidate on this stage who has written legislation” — which he likely did as a staffer to former State Representative Royal Bolling, Jr. — but then proceeded not to mention even one piece of legislation that he would sponsor if elected. Lawton did have plenty to say, however, about vacant city lots, jobs, and his long experience as an activist.
Evandro C. Carvalho did make at least one potential legislative point — to include expansion of vocational education in state school reform bills — but, curiously, given his history as a Suffolk County prosecutor of gun crimes, failed to mention the very detailed gun control legislation now before the legislature’s Public safety committee.
In fairness to Carvalho, neither did any of the other three candidates mention, much less discuss, this legislation. it was a curious omission considering the urgency, in neighborhoods of the 5th District, of curbing gun violence.
Karen Charles-Peterson at first spoke in the quiet voiced generalities that anyone who heard her chief political backer, Charlotte Golar-Richie, during lat year’s mayor election is quite familiar with. But half way through the Forum she suddenly became a different Peterson. She had sat; now she stood up. as Barry Lawton spoke loudly, with hand gestures like a preacher, so now did Charles-Peterson. She ended strongly, announcing that “I will take all 40,000 residents of this District with me to the State House” and “I will give everyone my personal cell phone number, call me any time.” Charles-Peterson also discussed aid for the small businesses that string the length of Bowdoin and Hancock Streets, in the center of the District. that said, neither she nor any of the four, except Jennifer Johnson, uttered the place name “Uphams Corner” — despite its being the major crossroads of the District.
And now I come to Jennifer Johnson. Ostensibly she’s an unlikely candidate ; Caucasian in a District largely of color and an authentic issues voice among candidates unclear about which issues matter, and in what way, to a legislator. Johnson’s far from being the polished, focused speaker she will need to be if she’s to make issues heard and understood; but she spoke in some detail about the formal, even bureaucratic, task that small businesses face as they seek loans; about how and why business development matters to a District among the lowest income of all; about how to frame affordable housing agreements with developers; about raising the minimum wage (strangely, this initiative, so vital to the District, was hardly mentioned by the other three candidates)and, most fascinating of all, about technology : connecting technology enterprises to the District and to schools, and the District to technology jobs.
Johnson could easily have delivered her remarks to the chamber of commerce or a Business round table. Odd it felt to hear a 5th District candidate talking enterprise and cutting edge innovation. But why not ? She called herself a “Kennedy liberal,” a phrase as attuned to business success as to social justice. Would it be too much a reach to say that the two reinforce each other ? (It was shrewd of Johnson to talk so much about business. Business development was John Barros’s signature, and by talking it, Johnson sought to take up the banner of a man who was given 2,071 votes — first place — from the District in last year’s mayor race.)
There was plenty of applause for Johnson, and for Charles-Peterson; but the day’s noise prize was won by Carvalho, who, with John Barros unavailable, has picked up the banner of Boston’s Cape Verdean community. It dominates the 5th District, and if Carvalho spoke softly, seemed to be thinking out loud, and often rambled, he could afford to do so; his vote is energized and likely will be the largest bloc on the April 1st Primary day. Alone of the four, his vision seems to be : who i am. Or to phrase it another way, If I win, all Cape Verdeans win.
At the Forum, it worked. And though I think that the District’s Cape Verdeans could as well as any other District residents use the technology advocacy that Johnson would surely put in play, getting to that may well take much more time than the one week that remains for voters to consider who best can be their political clout — to the City or at the State House. Nor will there be another Forum to help them. Yesterday was it.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere