(Here are the candidates and the race as I see them. Full disclosure: I support and volunteer for Steve Ultrino’s campaign. Please add your thoughts, whether you have questions, more info to share, or see the race differently.)
Upcoming Debate July 17: Malden Access Television (MATV) and the Malden Observer will host a Democratic Primary Debate on Thursday July 17 at 6pm at the Malden Senior Center. The candidates, Malden City Councilors Steven Ultrino and Neil Kinnon, will answer questions from a panel of local media. Former Malden Chamber of Commerce director Ted Coates will moderate.
— Update: A video of the debate is now available. The link is to the MATV Video On Demand Page — just search on State Rep Debate and select from the list. I will add a comment below with my thoughts on how it went.
A Race for the Open Seat
The 33rd Middlesex district of Massachusetts is wholly contained within Malden, comprising roughly 2/3 of the City’s 60,000 population. It includes Ward 2, Ward 3 Precinct 1, Ward 4, Ward 5 Precinct 1, Ward 6, Ward 7 Precinct 2, and Ward 8.
Three of Malden’s city councilors are vying for the open seat currently held by Rep. Chris Fallon. Two are Democrats: Councilor Steven Ultrino, representing Ward 2, and Councilor Neil Kinnon, representing Ward 6. The winner of the September 9 Democratic Primary will face an independent in the general election, Councilor John Matheson, who represents Ward 3. (No Malden Republicans have entered this race, though Councilor at Large David D’Arcangelo, who leads Malden’s Republican City Committee, is a candidate for Secretary of the Commonwealth.)
All three State Rep candidates were raised in Malden and have been deeply involved in the community, serving on the boards of local organizations. No one questions their knowledge of or long-term commitment to the City. All can list some City Council accomplishments. All advocate increased funding for cities and towns. But their views of the community, their priorities, their personal approaches, and their stands on broader issues are quite different.
My Choice, Steve Ultrino
In my view, the clear choice for Malden is Steve Ultrino, given his “real Democrat” values, commitment to public service, experience in and passion for education, and down-to-earth, respectful, and collaborative approach to people and problem solving. Deciding early in the year that it was time for a change in Malden’s representation, Ultrino was ready to fight for the seat whether or not 18-year incumbent Chris Fallon sought another term.
Steve Ultrino is the most progressive candidate in the race. While rooted in Malden’s past, he embraces the increasing diversity of Malden (the second most diverse community in the Commonwealth after Chelsea) and wants to address the needs of all Malden residents—multi-generation Maldonians, new immigrants from Somerville or from across the globe, and people of all ages and backgrounds. (The phrase “all means all” comes to mind here, though that belongs to Don Berwick. 🙂 ) I’ve canvassed in Ultrino’s ward and seldom seen such enthusiastic constituents, but he has also earned respect throughout the City for listening to residents and colleagues, building coalitions, and solving tough problems.
Ultrino has been a high school teacher and principal, holds a doctorate in education, and currently works as Director of Education in the Middlesex County Sherriff’s office where he gained first-hand knowledge of the challenges posed by (and reforms needed in) our criminal justice system. A School Committee member for eight years before serving on the City Council, Ultrino is a passionate advocate for public schools and the right of every child to receive a top-notch education. Like many progressives, he seeks modernization of the Chapter 70 formula.
He staunchly defends a woman’s right to earn equal pay and to make her own reproductive healthcare decisions. He takes thoughtful, informed positions on both local and statewide issues, focusing on the needs of working families, women, minorities, and the most vulnerable people in our society. He advocates a living wage, has supported the Raise Up campaigns, and seeks improvements to Malden’s housing and transportation infrastructure that will benefit working families and seniors over the long term.
Ultrino’s Support and Endorsements
The Malden Democratic City Committee, which typically does not endorse in primaries, named Steve Ultrino a Democrat of the Year in March at its annual St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast. Two well-respected former city councilors, Judi Bucci and Greg Lucey, are working on his campaign. Four current city councilors, including Council President Neal Anderson, are enthusiastic supporters along with most of the Malden School Committee—and State Senator Jason Lewis. Congresswoman Katherine Clark, in an unusual pre-primary move, endorsed Ultrino at his May 1 campaign kickoff. He has also earned endorsements from the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1604, the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators & Asbestos Workers Local 6, the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), The Boston Teachers Union (BTU 66), Mass Alliance, Mass Equality, and Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts.
Who Else Is Running?
City Councilor Neil Kinnon, a Democrat, has a finance background and is Director of Financial Systems for Iron Mountain, a Fortune 1000 storage and data management company. He also chairs the Board of Trustees for the K-12 Mystic Valley Charter School (MVCS). In that latter capacity he has been in the news for 1) run-ins with the Massachusetts Board of Education over conditions they want MVCS to fulfill before allowing enrollment increases, 2) a conflict of interest, given his role as a City Councilor voting on the disposition of property in which MVCS had a vested interest, and 3) his questionable judgment in using MVCS students to staff his campaign. (Just Google Neil Kinnon if you want to find these.) Several of his friends and relatives have jobs at MVCS, which has also caused controversy.
Kinnon often takes unpopular stands and presents himself as an independent voice on the Malden City Council and an advocate for choice in education. The man does not inspire neutral reactions. While he has some loyal followers, I have heard a number of people who have worked with him—including parents of MVCS students—describe him as obstructive, belligerent, controlling, and other terms I won’t repeat. (When I was collecting signatures for Ultrino back in April, voters logically asked, “Who else is running?” When I told them, they practically grabbed the clipboard out of my hand to sign Steve’s papers.) To many, Kinnon is a Democrat in name only. His campaign literature emphasizes reducing the overall size of the State Budget (as a way to allocate more $ to cities and towns) and reducing the tax burden on homeowners through a higher residential exemption. Though he, like Ultrino, supports a higher minimum wage, Kinnon advocates a reduced “training wage” for young people, a controversial measure, generally advocated by conservatives, which some experts say would fail to achieve its objective, create harmful incentives, place an undue burden on low-income families, and benefit only large fast-food businesses. Kinnon is well known within his ward and the world of MVCS, but like Ultrino, he needs broader name recognition. Kinnon and his team have been spreading literature around the City and knocking on doors in an effort to introduce him to the rest of Malden.
City Councilor John Matheson, a personable center-right-leaning lawyer, has expressed disdain for party politics and is running as an independent. A practicing civil trial attorney, he chooses his words and his battles carefully. Some see Matheson as “really a Republican,” though both Democrats and Republicans say he keeps them guessing about where he will stand on a given issue. Matheson entered the race after it became clear Fallon would not run, and his campaign has not been very visible thus far. He seems to be biding his time, appearing at community events but not yet campaigning aggressively. Does he really have the stomach for a fight? Matheson will likely garner votes from Malden Republicans, but he’ll also need support from Democrats to win the general election. He could have that support in the unlikely event that Neil Kinnon wins the Democratic Primary.
Electing a Real Democrat for Malden on September 9
Each of these campaigns has strengths and weaknesses. That said, Steve Ultrino and his team have been busy meeting with organizations and answering their questions, knocking on doors, calling voters, holding meet-and-greet events, and answering residents’ questions, in addition to his usual City Council and community work. He wants to earn every vote and takes nothing for granted. Ultrino’s committee has also been hard at work raising funds.
The Ultrino field operation, arguably the most energetic and consistent in the race, is ably run and staffed by local progressive activists—including a core of super-volunteers who have honed their skills in the Warren, Markey, Clark, and Lewis campaigns and are making Steve Ultrino their priority at a time when many other progressive candidates would love to enlist their help.
But make no mistake, this is NOT a slam-dunk—either in September or in November. The result is up to the district’s voters, who must be contacted, informed, and encouraged to VOTE in the primary and general election. To help spread the word and send the right person to the State House this fall, please follow the campaign’s Facebook page, donate, and/or volunteer by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.