Two women stand out in the crowded race to fill Joe Kennedy’s 4th district seat in Congess- Jesse Mermell and Becky Grossman. Mermell, from Brookline, has paid her dues in politics and public affairs for 20 years. Grossman, from Newton, is a relative newcomer to elected office.
Mermell headed the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and then served as VP for External Affairs at Planned Parenthood of MA. She was the youngest person ever elected to the Brookline Select Board, served as Governor Deval Patrick’s Communications Director, where she spearheaded the Governor’s Strong Women/ Strong Families initiative, and, most recently, served as president of the progressive Alliance for Business Leadership.
Given her background, it’s not surprising that reproductive rights and health care, clean energy and the Green New Deal, transportation, housing, and paid parental leave (which she negotiated in state legislation) are among her top priorities. She is passionate about reducing student debt and the need to support public universities, community colleges and technical schools. A supporter of Medicare for All, she would, if necessary, accept expansion of the Affordable Care Act as an interim step.
The fourth CD includes affluent communities like Newton, Brookline, Dover, and Wellesley but also Taunton, Attleboro, Milford and Fall River. This daughter of a nurse and hardware store owner, who grew up in a Pennsylvania farming town of 5000, says she is the only candidate in the 9-person race with “the lived experience of the whole district.” She communicates that kind of authenticity.
Mermell has significant union support, including Mass. Teachers and Mass. Nurses, NARAL, and the Coalition for Social Justice.
Becky Grossman, elected At-large Newton City Councillor in 2017, describes herself as “the mom Congress needs now.” While being a mom (her “most important job”) is her leitmotif, that theme understates her capacity. Asked to chair the City Council’s finance committee after just a year in office, Grossman is smart and thoughtful. She cites her experience leading the municipal budget process as a lesson in making hard choices. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, she is a former Middlesex County assistant district attorney and associate at Goodwin, Procter.
While there doesn’t seem to be much daylight between Grossman and Mermell on a full range of progressive issues, Grossman seeks to differentiate herself by repeatedly noting that, of 435 Representatives in the House, only 25 of them are mothers of school-age children. She decries the power of corporate special interests, especially big Pharma, and would “move in the direction of Medicare For All” by implementing a public option within the Affordable Care Act. She, too, is sensitive to the deep inequities in the district
Grossman also has support from union officials, including professional firefighters, municipal and state officials, party officials, and Moms Demand Action. Grossman comes from a family of Democratic heavyweights. She is the daughter of Steve Grossman, former State Treasurer of Massachusetts and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Her great-uncle, Jerry Grossman, was a leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement and a key funder of the presidential campaign of Senator Gene McCarthy in 1968.
The primary is just 26 days away and, in a pandemic, we are all in uncharted territory. Even beyond sorting out the candidates, voters need to educate themselves about early voting and mail-in voting, and resist misleading messages from outside PACs.
There is a lot of talent in the nine-person race, but it’s harder to get to know them in this pandemic. I’ve previously written about two other leading candidates, Alan Khazei and Jake Auchincloss, with whom I’ve had opportunities to engage in conversations in person. I’ve “met” Mermell and Grossman only in Zoom get-togethers. This isn’t the way I prefer to write about people. But it’s all we have.
What I can say with confidence is that all four of these candidates, in varying degrees, can be depended upon to continue the 4th district progressivism that goes back to Congressmen Bob Drinan in the 1970’s, Barney Frank for 33 years, and Joe Kennedy since 2013. And that is the very least we should expect from whomever we choose to represent us in the 117th Congress.
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