Boston’s Primary Earthquake Ripples into Western Mass Sea Change…
NORTHAMPTON—Amid an upheaval in Boston legislative seats, a new delegation took shape here and points north. All three of the Hampshire County-based seats were vacant due to retirements or death. The adjacent 1st Franklin, also picked a new rep along as did the region’s state senate district, vacated by the resignation of Stanley Rosenberg.
According to unofficial numbers, Jo Comerford, the former campaign director for MoveOn.org, has bested her rivals in the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat. Also going to Boston are four new state reps from the region. They join a House rocked by the primary defeats of two top lieutenants of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and a possible grassroots insurrection against the lower chamber’s inattention to the progressive agenda.
The new reps from Hampshire County—barring any surprises in the general—are Lindsey Sabadosa of Northampton, Daniel Carey of Easthampton, Mindy Domb of Amherst and Natalie Blais of Sunderland.
None of the contested primary races noted in this article will feature a contested general election.
Downriver in Springfield where only two meaningful primaries were taking place, incumbents won. Richard Neal, who would likely become chair of the Ways & Means Committee if Dems take the house, flattened Tahirah Amatul-Wadud by a 40-point margin.
Neal’s victory was more than could be said for his colleague, US Rep Michael Capuano. The former Somerville mayor collapsed under the weight of Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s upstart bid. Capuano had seemed strong early on and Pressley’s case to unseat Capuano faced accusations of being identity-driven. Yet, Capuano seemingly have lost his footing in the final month while Pressley only perfected her stride.
Back in Springfield, State Senator James Welch of West Springfield held off former Springfield City Councilor Amaad Rivera. This race always seemed likelier to surprise than Neal’s, but in the end Rivera fell short. While Rivera exceeded the margin Melvin Edwards had in his 2012 bid against Welch, the one-time councilor did not replicate Edwards’s Springfield numbers.
Figures from Chicopee and West Springfield specifically were not immediately available, but the results suggest a drop for Welch in one or both of those communities. He returns to Boston victorious, but bloodied.
Despite running a write-in campaign for the sprawling Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester District, Comerford overcame, Chelsea Kline, who had filed before Rosenberg’s exit. Rosenberg’s resignation—due to scandal involving his spouse Bryon Hefner—came days after the filing deadline. Still, a field of candidates exploded onto the scene and ultimately included City Council President Ryan O’Donnell and Steve Connor, a veterans services officer here.
Comerford and Kline quickly became the principles of the race and were the only ones in contention during the evening. Though Comerford has not declared victory, numbers WMassP&I has seen prompted its calling of the race for her.
Although Comerford executed a tremendous feat as a write-in, the larger story may rest in the State House of Representatives. The Chair of Ways & Means on Beacon Hill, Jeffrey Sanchez, lost his nomination to Nika Elugardo while Byron Rushing, another leader in the House, lost to Jon Santiago.
Their losses could destabilize DeLeo’s speakership or at least his capacity to hold back liberal priorities—or any tough votes—at the behest of Dems in more conservative districts. Up to now, that policy produced grumbling but few electoral risks among reps in solidly Democratic districts.
Now, when Sabadosa, Carey, Domb, and Blais take their seats in January, they could be stepping into a maelstrom, even if DeLeo announces plans to retire at the end of next term, as many suspect.
Their own races carry significance, too.
Sabadosa’s opponent, Diana Szynal, was the aide to Peter Kocot who died after a brief illness earlier this year. Many of the region’s powers-that-be and Kocot’s widow were behind Szynal. Yet, Sabadosa, an organizer of the Women’s March in Northampton, apparently out-organized Szynal.
Early returns in some Northampton precincts, which anchors Sabadosa’s 1st Hampshire District, showed an early lead for her. According to Masslive, she won with 59% of the vote.
In the 2nd Hampshire, which covers Easthampton, Hadley and South Hadley, Carey reclaimed the seat his grandfather once held. Currently an at-large councilor in Easthampton, Carey’s victory also represents a geographic shift of the district’s center of gravity to his city. The current rep, John Scibak, lives in South Hadley.
A somewhat less surprising development was in the Amherst-dominated 3rd Hampshire. There, Mindy Domb, the executive director of the Amherst Survival Center, overcame School Committee member Eric Nakajima.
Although Domb was a substantial contender, the race seemed to favor Nakajima early on. In 2016, he had placed second behind the Democratic primary’s winner, Solomon Goldstein-Rose. However, Goldstein-Rose triggered the Domb-Nakajima primary when he left the Democratic party earlier this year. He had been running as an independent, but dropped his bid entirely last month.
Meanwhile, Domb’s campaign picked up momentum, receiving a shot in the arm when Attorney General Maura Healey endorsed her last month. Domb’s win brings her career somewhat full-circle. After college she became an aide to the late Ted Weiss, a congressman for New York’s Upper West Side. She left political professionally for a career in public health, specifically around AIDS.
Finally, the 1st Franklin seat when to Blais, a former aide to US Representative James McGovern and former Rep John Olver. Another massive district—by House standards—Blais made a pitch based on her experience in government. With the region losing the influence of longtime rep Stephen Kulik, Blais’s play apparently worked. She more than doubled her closest rival in a crowded field.
Where these four new reps-to-be will fit into the now-unsettled House is not yet clear. It could have implications for Governor Charlie Baker if he’s reelected in November, though. Historically, Republican governors have been worn down by their super-majoritarian Democratic legislatures essentially reducing the governor to prime minister.
Baker has avoided that fate as the House has basically refused to engage the more active and progressive Senate’s agenda. If House member clustered in cities, college towns, and liberal suburbs demand new leadership or a new posture from DeLeo, Baker could end up like his GOP predecessors.
That is if he wins reelection first. He must defeat Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez first. Baker is much better funded than Gonzalez and the punditocracy likes Baker’s reelection chances. Yet, Baker enters the general after spending considerable sums to defeat his fringe primary opponent, Scott Lively. Baker prevailed, but Lively, who had almost no money, still won 35% of the GOP primary vote.