The four candidates for the 15th Suffolk District state representative seat discussed their leadership style, the housing crisis, pandemic, climate change, and more during an online JP Progressives forum on May 24.
The four candidates Richard Fierro, Roxanne Longoria, Sam Montaño, and Mary Ann Nelson will face each other in the primary election on September 6, and the winner will advance to the general election on November 8.
With the scheduled moderator Julio Valero unable to attend the forum, Vanessa Snow (from Mijente and RTCV), Cindy Lu (from JP Progressives), and Melissa Beltran (from JP Progressives) moderated the conversation between candidates.
The forum consisted of candidate opening statements with their top three priorities, in-depth and rapid-fire questions, and candidate closing statements. Below is a summary of each candidate’s opening statement, responses to in-depth questions, and closing statements.
Below is a full recording of the forum.
Candidate Opening Statements:
Fierro is a graduate student at Northeastern University studying public administration. He spoke about his time working for Boston’s 311 constituent services office, the governor’s operations office, and Boston’s Elections Department.
“Although I am not originally from here, I have grown to love the city and beautiful Jamaica Plain, and I am proud to call myself a Bostonian,” Fierro said.
He said that Massachusetts “must create an example for the rest of the country and push comprehensive legislation for green energy and climate resilience, for addiction and recovery services, for housing stability, and for universal Pre-K and tuition-free community college."
Fierro’s top three priorities are climate change, child care and education, and affordable housing.
“I’m running for state representative because I know who is affected when systems fail and I want to use my lived experience to be part of the solution,” Longoria said.
Longoria spoke about her experience working within former Mayor Marty Walsh's administration as Director of Youth Homelessness Initiatives and how she “saw how we need elected officials who understand firsthand the challenges facing our city and its residents."
“I will build coalitions to help achieve the rent control, climate justice, transit funding, and the criminal legal system reform our city and state desperately need,” Longoria said.
Montaño opened their speech with a brief acknowledgment of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Montaño then introduced themselves as a “queer, nonbinary Latino who uses she/they pronouns.” They spoke about their experiences that informed “two priorities: housing and substance abuse and recovery with mental health investments.” In addition, Montaño prioritizes environmental justice and “holding space for communities of color as they navigate this quickly changing climate.”
“For the last eight years, I have been deeply engaged in JP, from advocating for and leading community processes for affordable housing as an organizer with JPNDC to working with Mildred C. Hailey [Apartments] youth in supporting them in their successful campaign for a youth center and painting the unity mural that you see on 273 Centre Street in response to the gun violence that happened,” they said.
Nelson currently lives in Mission Hill and practices environmental law “for several state government agencies.”
After looking to see who was running for state rep, she said, “I thought ‘they need me. We need me.’”
Nelson chose to address her three priorities in her final comments.
Approach to representing the interest of your constituents
“I want to get engaged with as many of the community groups as possible, especially around issues that concern the district and that people are concerned about,” Nelson said.
Nelson referenced Nika Elugardo (D-15th Suffolk) saying, “I think we’ve had a good example of our current state rep meeting with local organizations, trying to help solve local problems. I’d like to continue using that similar type of approach."
“I think that we need to approach this through an inside-outside game. So on the inside, I am doing the organizing and advocacy with other elected officials, especially ones who are more hesitant to move forward. And then I’m also being completely transparent and organizing with folks on the outside, as well,” Montaño said.
Montaño recognized the importance of working with community groups while also acknowledging that these groups don’t represent every constituent in the district.
“Part of my role is continuing to door knock and continuing to do that outreach on the group to folks who are in the community, whether it's myself or these groups hitting the doors,” they said.
“I would bring in my coalition building, my connections, and just strategic thinking to make sure that everybody's on the same page and collaborating with each other to move towards a goal together,” Longoria said.
Longoria is interested in working with Justice 4 Housing, “which is a really great organization that’s looking at providing emergency housing for young people who have queries,” she explained.
She is also interested in working with nonprofit ESAC in Jamaica Plain, an organization in which she has been a board member for seven years. “I would continue to work with them to build out coalitions to make sure that I’m serving who needs to be served,” Longoria said.
“One of the best ways to really serve the interests of the people is to just have conversations with them and talk to them constantly while you’re a representative,” he said.
He said he would employ his experiences working in Boston’s 311 constituent services office in his work as a representative. He wants to “actively employ what [constituents] say into legislative plans.”
He mentioned working with Mass Vote and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
Three words to describe your leadership style and an example of where you’ve made an impact in your career
Montaño described their leadership style as collaborative, humorous, and empowering.
Montaño discussed their role as Executive Director of Organizing for Green Roots, an environmental justice organization. Montaño oversees seven different organizers to train them in both organizing and community outreach.
“I’ve learned how to style-flex so that I’m able to communicate with one person’s mode of listening and understanding and another person’s mode of listening and understanding,” they said.
Montaño spoke about their ability to act quickly and respond to community environmental issues with others they work with.
Longoria described her leadership style as equitable, inclusive, and impactful.
Longoria spoke about her work of giving direct cash transfers to young people who were experiencing homelessness during the pandemic “to support their basic needs,” she said.
“That’s why a lot of my platform is based on youth and young adults… to give them… just an extra footing to stand up and be empowered to use their voice and have their own autonomy to make their own decision,” she said.
Fierro described his leadership style as having transparency, humility, and humanity.
“I want to be completely honest and truthful in the way I’m thinking and in my actions,” he said.
He also believes that everyone in a workplace, especially a representative, should be “humble and carry themselves with a degree of humility.”
He did not speak about an example of where he made an impactful change.
Nelson described her leadership style as collaborative, empowering people, and problem-solving.
Nelson spoke about working with her neighbors to help fund and build a garden.
“Each step along the way we had to solve problems and then I think I empowered the other participants in the process to be part of the process to feel like the garden is theirs,” Nelson said.
Increasing transparency in the state legislature
“I think the key thing that we need to bring is information and people together in order to create change,” she said.
She added, “legislators need information to make good decisions and I think by providing information to my fellow legislators we would be able to change the strong speaker dynamic…”
Montaño is in favor of making all the votes at the statehouse public, including committee votes.
“Whenever we’re working in coalition, we need to be transparent and I promise to be that advocate and that state rep who is being transparent with the coalitions and who is letting who know what’s going on and what are our barriers,” they said.
They also added, “We aren’t doing the grassroots organizing work across the state to move forward a lot of these policies,” Montaño said. Montaño said legislators in central and western Massachusetts aren’t getting as much encouragement to be transparent from constituents.
“I will be a champion for legislative transparency and I will hold myself and other legislators accountable in making their votes public record,” she said.
“It’s really important that we, as legislators, understand that we are not beholden to anybody inside the building, but that the reason that we are inside the building is because the constituents and voters gave us the opportunity to serve in that capacity,” Longoria said. “Legislative transparency also to me means accountability.”
He said all votes should be made available to the public. Fierro believes there should be a secret ballot vote for House and committees leadership positions.
He also supports creating a legislative budget office, “so that legislators are more informed in crafting their budget for a fiscal year,” he said. He added that he supports the unionization of statehouse workers and legislative staff.
Priorities for addressing the current housing crisis
“I like some of the more current legislation that’s been passed,” Fierro said. He specifically mentioned the Zoning Act that would require “all the MBTA communities to establish multi-family zoning along every commuter rail and bus station in those 176 commuter rail cities."
“For me, housing is really a supply issue and there’s a great disparity in terms of a lack of supply and a disproportionately high demand for housing here in Boston,” he said.
Fierro wants to build more multi-family housing, as well as eliminate parking minimum restrictions in new developments for housing and brokers fees for rental units.
“First we need to support the people who are already providing affordable housing,” Nelson said while specifically referencing older property owners who have been renting to tenants at “affordable rates for a long time.”
Nelson also spoke about creating a state law that provides property tax relief. She also spoke about creating more affordable homeownership.
She said, “I think legislatively there’s a need for rent stabilization and as the city of Boston develops this I think that would probably be one of my first priorities…getting that passed so that people can have secure places to live.”
Montaño spoke about the importance of creating rent stabilization, providing opportunities for tenants to get the first right of refusal, and modernizing housing.
“Something I’ve been talking about with friends is homeownership opportunities through state-funded public housing,” they said. Montaño explained that state-funded public housing is “much more accessible that federally funded public housing.”
They also spoke about the need for investing in a more equitable transit system.
“I understand the fear and the shame of housing instability, especially when you’re a provider,” Longoria said.
Longoria said she “would be a champion for housing equity,” focusing on rent control and affordable housing.
“The pandemic left so many families vulnerable and we need just cause eviction protections, we need stronger foreclosure protections, and we need anti-displacement zones,” she said.
Policies to address issues of racial equity
“My father spent the majority of my childhood incarcerated on racist cannabis charges that wouldn’t be prosecuted today…” she said.
Her experiences taught her “that the political is also personal and that policy always has direct life-altering impacts on real people whether or not their voices were present at the policy table.”
Longoria said she'd advocate for expungement of low-level marijuana offenses from criminal records to "mitigate the impact of the racist and classist war on drugs on Black and Brown people."
She added that she would support non-armed community-based personnel to respond to emergency calls while also advocating to end qualified immunity for state, local, and correctional officers. Longoria also said she would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 18- and 19-year-olds.
Montaño discussed their support for the Massachusetts Public Bank “to create equitable access to funding for Black and Brown folks who we know can’t access funding… whether it’s related to their poor credit, ability to access credit, any sort of homeownership assets because of redlining, things like that.”
Montaño also spoke about the importance of equitable education. They ask, “What are we doing to ensure that we’re investing deeply in BPS schools—and not just those three exam schools but every single school across the BPS system because that’s how we create equity and that’s how we help bridge gaps.”
They spoke about knowing young men of color who were victims of gun violence and added that “the racial equity lens needs to be on everything and every single thing we do…”
Nelson agreed that everything should be looked at through a racial equity lens. “As a Black person, I think about it all the time. Every day, every event, I’m looking at the equity issue,” Nelson said.
She said that schools in Boston need to be “adequately funded” and “we need to end the receivership process.” When discussing receivership she added, “clearly it’s just a way to grab power and not to improve the schools.”
She said, “I think we should use our budget process to promote racial justice and also to promote minority and women-owned businesses as contractors and providers of services to government.”
“Racial equity and racial injustice touches every facet of our lives, and all the different issue points compound together to create miserable situations,” Fierro said.
Fierro supports using the Student Opportunity Act and Fair Share Amendment funding for public schools in the most need.
Regarding tax reform, Fierro said, “I want to increase the maximum rental deduction from $3,000 to $6,000. I also want that standard income tax deduction to be raised to $20,000, maybe even higher if we can convince the legislature to do something like that.”
Fierro said he wants to provide funds for tuition-free community college, as well as vocational and technical programs.
Steps to address pandemic recovery
Nelson discussed the importance of supporting small businesses, promoting employment for people, and having a plan to address long-COVID experienced by many.
Nelson also talked about maintaining COVID protocols to prevent future waves of the virus.
Montaño first acknowledged the loss of life from the pandemic. They also discuss the loss of income “across the board” and closing income gaps, they said.
“We need to continue to support people through these next few years,” they said. Montaño added, “I think that we need an influx of mental health providers and we need to be supporting folks who are going into that career path. Same for nursing. Same for doctors.”
“Right now I think that challenges are multi-pronged. You have record inflation, stagnant wages, and things are not getting any better,” he said.
He said the state legislature needs to request and receive more funding and support from the federal government.
“Working-class families were hit the hardest during the pandemic and income inequality continues to be on the rise,” she said. “I would be a champion for wealth redistribution to vulnerable communities and neighborhoods that were the most impacted during the pandemic.”
She added, “I think it’s also really important for us to criminalize wage theft and reject setting a lower youth minimum wage.”
Top policy proposal to address climate change and environmental justice
“I think that one of the most impactful ones that can really have an impact on our community in Jamaica Plain would be allowing municipalities to enforce electrification of buildings,” they said.
An electrification policy would decrease electrical bills, create more energy efficiency, and cut down on harmful emissions, Montaño explained.
Montaño believes that deed restrictions should be implemented into such policy “so that we aren’t displacing folks and so that landlords who are making these modifications are keeping a stable rent forward.”
“We must prioritize climate action over special interests and corporate profit. We have a major opportunity with a progressive mayor and a progressive city council to make bold, progressive change, but we need allies in the statehouse,” she said.
Longoria said she is ready to be one of those allies. She emphasized converting buildings to use renewable energy and focusing on “getting cars off the roads” with free transit.
Fierro’s primary climate policy is weaning off the state’s natural gas imports. “We need to replace those natural gas-fired plants with other forms of renewable energy. I want to maximize our capabilities of wind and solar,” he said.
He also wants to “explore the potential to bring back a nuclear power plant for Massachusetts and to encourage our neighboring states to do that same.”
“I think one of the big things we need to do is make it easier for people to reduce their own energy consumption in their homes…” Nelson said.
Nelson also believes that landlords should be encouraged to implement forms of renewable energy on their property.
Candidate Closing Statements:
“This is going to be a continual process of learning what are the issues and the best way to resolve them… and I’m really interested in hearing what other people have to say about the things that we discussed tonight and what your ideas are for addressing them…,” Nelson said.
Her top three legislative priorities are to enact legislation to “keep Boston diverse and affordable,” ensure the state budget “adequately addresses” education, natural resources, environmental protection, and transportation, and create systemic change within the government. Such change includes restructuring the MBTA, eliminating receivership provisions, and improving health coverage.
Montaño said they are deeply invested in the Jamaica Plain community and listed their community leadership and involvement.
“I am in Jamaica Plain to invest in this community, and I know that these connections that I’ve made with you all through my organizing and the people that I’ve met mean that we will bring a strong, united front to the statehouse…”
“As a caregiver to an elderly parent, the daughter of a formerly incarcerated father, and a queer woman of color, I look forward to bringing my perspective to Beacon Hill and lifting up all of the voices that are too often shut out of power,” she said.
She added that what sets her apart from the other candidates is her “experience fighting for progressive change inside a more moderate institution.”
“My core values are integrity, transparency, and accountability. I am not a fortune teller. I do not know everything and I am not an expert by any means,” he said. “I am an average citizen who wants to do the right thing and create a stronger future for the district and for the Commonwealth.”
“I want to provide representation for all people in the district, especially those who feel abandoned by the system and have no voice,” Fierro said.