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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Legislative Choices:
Easy, Hard, Strange, Nonexistent

Dennis Fox

August 8, 2002

Brookline High School's Martin Luther King, Jr. Room was packed last Wednesday night. Because of the vagaries of politically calculated redistricting, three Boston state-representative districts include -- not always happily -- one or two Brookline precincts. So a dozen Boston politicians came seeking local votes in next September's Democratic primary.

Judging from the sea of campaign posters and stickers, most audience members knew exactly whom they'll vote for.

The first 45-minute debate showcased wannabe's from the 10th Suffolk District, which now adds Brookline's suburban southern half (Precincts 15 and 16) to West Roxbury and Roslindale. All four thirtysomethings were eager, but the outcome in Brookline is easy to predict: Sara Hamlen in a landslide. She's got links to Brookliner ex-Gov Mike Dukakis, she's an unabashed pro-choice liberal with Statehouse experience and a masters degree from the Kennedy School of Government, and she's got a sense of humor and sense of proportion.

Her three opponents -- John Hickey, Brian Kenneally, and Mike Rush -- paled in comparison. They fumbled for answers, repeated themselves, parroted one another, and looked stilted and amateurish. Still, their pro-life stances and even their efforts to portray political inexperience as a virtue may put one of them over the top, unless splitting the district's conservative majority lets Hamlen squeak by.

The 15th Suffolk race is harder to dissect. The district covers Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, plus Brookline's adjacent Precinct 5 -- which makes some sense -- but also 14, our most bizarrely shaped precinct, stretching across Route 9 through Brookline's geographic center all the way to Beacon Street. Their placement with Roxbury and JP must especially annoy wealthy Fisher Hill residents whose own priorities will get short shrift among the half-dozen progressives vying for less-well-off urban voters.

In contrast to the earlier debaters, the five 15th candidates who showed up were dynamic, passionate, and knowledgeable as they agreed about everything and tried to demonstrate their familiarity with Brookline. Jeffrey Sanchez, Bill Allan, Rich Giordano, and Juan Lopez all sounded good, but former Brookline resident Kathryn Brookins made comments I sometimes couldn't decipher. I talked afterwards with Giordano, the candidate-of-choice of a Mission Hill friend experienced in progressive politics and community organizing. He seemed pretty sharp.

By the time the third debate started my attention was fading as fast as the candidates'. Perhaps the mutual fatigue added to the finale's strangeness.

The Suffolk 18th includes Allston-Brighton and Brookline's Precinct 1. Unlike the other districts, here there's an incumbent seeking re-election, a challenger who lived in Brookline until just this month, and plenty of open disagreement.

Brian Golden wants to keep his job, but knows he alienated Brookline's Democrats by working to help George W. Bush survive the Florida recount in 2000. His approval of autocratic House Speaker Tom Finneran and his views on abortion and Clean Elections further reduce local support. Golden, who seemed honest, independent, and tired, was resigned to being targeted.

His main challenger is local liberal favorite Dave Friedman, who just moved to Brighton. Smart and confident, Friedman -- a lawyer who also flew to Florida in 2000, to work for Gore -- will do well here. Paul Felker, the third candidate, emphasized job creation but failed to explain what he meant by "no more politics as usual." I'd like to see that, but I'm not sure what he has in mind.

State Rep Frank Smizik, representing the two-thirds of Brookline residents living in our remaining legislative district, runs for re-election unopposed. Moderating the evening's debates, Smizik joked that he was entirely neutral. Based on their politics, though, I'd bet the PAX-affiliated liberal wants Hamlen and Friedman to win.

Ronny Sydney, who Smizik beat two years ago, told me with a smile she was glad she wasn't up front answering questions. But I would have liked her up there asking a few, trying to pin down Smizik on how his efforts in office have matched his campaign promises. Given Finneran's iron fist, it's not clear that Smizik's replacing Sydney has made much difference.

Which makes me wonder: Until Smizik and his fellow insurgents manage to democratize the House, maybe debating who to send downtown to join them is much ado about not that much.

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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