Proud, old-school Boston Pol faces new progressive challenger at Dorchester

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In a year of historic political change in Boston, watching Dorchester City Councilor Frank Baker’s re-election campaign is like stepping into a machine backwards.

The Dorchester native, 53, an old-fashioned Boston Democrat – he has a poster in his office of former mayor / governor / congressman / convict / legend James Michael Curley – is running for a sixth term to represent the 3rd district of the city.

Challenging Baker is Pennsylvania-born Stephen McBride, 31, a proud progressive whose political heroes are Senator Elizabeth Warren and Georgia voting rights activist and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. McBride moved to Boston for college and now lives in Jones Hill with her husband.

If the money raised was a reliable forecast, Baker would be a cinch for re-election. He has a five-to-one advantage over McBride. But if McBride managed to beat the odds, the upheaval would amount to a political earthquake for Dorchester and the city.

The Showdown – one of only two council races this year where a starter faces a challenger – offers a case study on the evolution of city politics: one of the more conservative poles of Boston is tested in one year Michelle Wu, a progressive and unabashedly-throated rent-control lawyer, appears to be the frontrunner in the mayoral race.

On a recent, cool October morning, Baker stood outside his campaign headquarters and constantly paused his strategy with volunteers to greet the drivers honking their support as they drove down Savin Hill Avenue.

“My opponent says no one knows me,” Baker joked when asked about the friendly interruptions.

Encumber Frank Baker.

Saraya Wintersmith / GBH News

“What I’m proud of is being this conduit to town hall,” said Baker, recalling the early days of his tenure with his campaign volunteers. “Thirty years ago, we didn’t have good parks, all our playgrounds were dirty, the fields were [expletive]“Now,” he said, “We have new libraries, new parks, municipal services have really taken it to the next level. I’m afraid all of this will suffer if we don’t talk about this election. ”

For McBride, the race is about bringing a “collaborative” approach from District 3 to the board. It’s a characteristic he says he cultivated in his work as a project manager – and found insufficient in his opponent.

“I have found out over and over that he’s not just on the board side that I might not agree with, but he’s alone on an island,” McBride told GBH News. For example, Baker cast the only votes against the creation of the Police Accountability and Transparency Office; against a home rule petition for voter registration on polling day; and against a resolution approving a moratorium on rent payments during the pandemic.

“It sends the wrong message – that we support these votes and District 3 is on this side, and I don’t think most of my neighbors are,” McBride said.

Baker’s tendency to be the odd man inspired the Boston Globe to call him “Councilor No”, a nickname he considers a “badge of honor.”

“I have my own mind, I own my votes,” he said when asked about the nickname.

Baker argues that the board, now filled with progressives and more diverse than ever before, has adopted a “herd mentality” in an era of politics characterized by a social media-fueled backfire for positions unpopular.

Challenger Stephen McBride.
Brendan Capuano

“There were council members who wanted to vote with me, but didn’t want to be harassed in the Twitterverse,” said Baker, the only city councilor without a Twitter account.

At one point last year, Baker said the virtual rage over his opposition to the non-binding rent moratorium resolution had turned into real harassment.

“I had people climbing all over my house, I had fireworks fired at my house, I had a fire behind my house, I had all my phones ringing, my wife’s phone ringing. ringing, my ringing phone, people [calling to] harass me, call me a bastard, “he recalled. The situation, he added, made it difficult for his wife to support his decision to run for office.

“This is new politics,” he said. “It was only because I didn’t agree.”

Still, Baker said he felt responsible for his district, which is why he said he was running again.

Where are the candidates?

Baker and McBride both try to reach new voters. Baker’s campaign distributed registration forms to players of voting age at a local hockey rink; McBride’s campaign website is translated into Cape Verdean Creole and Vietnamese.

The two haven’t debated the entire campaign season – a circumstance Baker acknowledges might have given his opponent time against voters – but they differ sharply on some of the season’s biggest issues.

The two say relieving the population with mental health, addiction and housing issues near the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue, or “Mass and Cass,” would be a top priority.

Baker supports Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins’ plan to relocate the residents of Mass and Cass to the South Bay Correctional Center, while McBride only supports it if the city uses the involuntary commitment to the center sparingly. .

“Some people will probably need it, that’s not where I want to start,” McBride said, adding that he wanted to be careful not to criminalize anyone or interfere with their rights.

McBride said he supports expanding the “inclusive development policy” – which requires developers to contribute to Boston’s affordable housing stock – and is open to taxes on high-end real estate sales and vacant properties. .

Among those proposals, Baker said he would only consider supporting the luxury tax.

On the city ballot question on whether to revert to an elected school committee, McBride supports at least a majority of elected members, while Baker supports a majority of mayor-appointed school committee members.

“Ultimately, it is the mayor who must take the lead in schools,” he said.

Baker is supporting the transformation of Boston’s only vocational technical high school, Madison Park, into a regional vocational school for Suffolk County.

McBride said he would like to push for every student in Boston public schools to have home internet access.

Baker opposes the ballot issue that would give city councilors more power to influence the city’s budget process and bring a citizen-driven budgeting measure to city hall.

“Do we want a civic education lesson or do we want to have good budgets,” Baker said, saying the move would have a negative impact on the city’s excellent bond rating.

McBride supports the question.

“I don’t really buy into the story that 13 adults can’t work together and that [the budget process] will turn into strongholds, ”McBride said.“ And then on participatory budgeting, I think the general population having more of a say in where their money is spent is never a bad thing. “

The race was not poll tested and was not on the preliminary ballot, so there is no indicator of how the district is feeling except for the mayor’s results. Mayor Annissa Essaibi George’s finalist, whom Baker endorsed, won half of the district’s 32 constituencies in the September 14 preliminary election.

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