Dems Mulling Baker Challenge Speak At Cambridge Forum

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CAMBRIDGE — An unofficial kickoff to the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary season occurred in Cambridge on Thursday night, as a handful of Democrats who are seriously considering challenging Republican Governor Charlie Baker held court during a candidates’ event.

The event, sponsored by the Cambridge Democratic City Committee, saw four speakers take the mic, including Newton Mayor Setti Warren, former state senator Dan Wolf, Somerville activist Bob Massie, and Cindi Roy Gonzalez, the wife of former state Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez.

The four speakers took turns telling attendees about themselves and their policy priorities before delving into their criticisms of the incumbent Baker — and any perceived connection to the recently-inaugurated GOP President Donald Trump.

“Jay and I are worried that we’re not leading anymore, and in an era where Donald Trump is president, it is more important than ever that we do lead — that we do continue to push forward,”

Cindi Roy Gonzalez, wife of potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez. (Evan Lips — New Boston Post)

Gonzalez told the crowd. “Now a lot of people over the last couple weeks have said to Jay and I, ‘Charlie Baker, he’s fine,’ but when did it become OK, when did the bar get set so low that we’re good with a governor who is ‘fine’?

“I don’t want a governor who’s fine — I want a governor who’s great — and I want a governor who will stand up to hate and discrimination.”

The theme of questioning Baker’s leadership persisted throughout the night. Massie, who leads the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s Sustainable Solutions Lab, made it clear that his top priority is addressing climate change. Massie’s political background also includes a Democratic primary win in 1994 during an ultimately unsuccessful bid to become lieutenant governor.

Massie warned that scientific climate change models indicate that Boston could “lose a third of land in the next 20 or 30 years” and added one strong source of concern is the development in the city’s Seaport district, an area of growth that is now home to General Electric. Massie pointed out that the area was once a tidal marsh and added that if sea levels continue to rise, the Seaport’s displacement would also affect lower-income neighborhoods in Dorchester and Mattapan.

Massie also took aim at Trump.

“We are living through the worst attack on the Constitution of the United States and on the republic probably ever, and certainly since the Civil War,” he said. “We are seeing an attack on free speech, on immigration and human rights — we have people hiding now because they’re worried they’re going to be sent abroad.

“Unless we find a way to pull together and defend the Bill of Rights, we are going to fail.”

Bob Massie of Somerville (Evan Lips — New Boston Post)

Massie questioned whether Baker can withstand the policy overhaul currently taking place in Washington D.C.

“Charlie Baker, nice guy, very tall — I worry a little bit when I’m standing next to him — but let’s consider his record,” Massie said, drawing some laughs from attendees. “He’s done — I can’t remember — but let’s point to what he hasn’t done.”

Massie chastised Baker for being at one time “a climate denier” and claimed that the Swampscott Republican “still does not understand about economic and racial injustice.”

“Have you ever heard those words come out of his mouth?” Massie asked, noting that Baker was absent from last month’s women’s march on Washington and the protests that erupted at Logan Airport following Trump’s travel-related executive order concerning seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“We don’t need him as a governor in the future because we don’t have him as a governor now,” Massie added.

Warren, who was elected mayor of Newton in 2009 after completing a tour of duty in Iraq as a Naval intelligence specialist, listed several of his accomplishments and stressed the fact that he did not shy away from pushing for a city property tax increase through an override of Proposition 2 1/2 during his reelection year in 2013.

Newton voters ultimately voted in favor of reelecting Warren, and in favor of the tax override.

“People said don’t do it,” Warren said. “I won reelection with 72 percent of the vote, and I tell you that story because this is the kind of leadership we need here in Massachusetts.”

Newton Mayor Setti Warren (Evan Lips — New Boston Post)

Warren proceeded to criticize Baker for cutting $98 million out of the upcoming budget and said he supports the so-called “millionaire’s tax,” a proposal that continues to gain traction on Beacon Hill that calls for adding an additional 4 percent tax on top of the state’s 5.15 percent income tax for those earning more than $1 million per year.

The tax proposal is currently on track to appear as a ballot question in 2018.

Warren added that he also supports raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour in addition to implementing paid family medical leave.

Warren, who worked for then-U.S. senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign before landing a job in his Senate office, also took several shots at Trump.

“In Newton as in everywhere else we have to stand up against bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and sexism,” Warren said, noting that Newton earlier this week passed a measure designating itself a de-facto sanctuary city. “We have to reach out, we have to demonstrate our values, and we have to lead.”

Wolf, who founded the Cape Cod-based airline Cape Air in 1989, won election to the state Senate in 2010 but announced in 2015 he would not be seeking a fourth term. Wolf talked about his background in activism, including his 1979 arrest for participating in a demonstration on Wall Street to protest economic inequality on the 50th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash.

“I’m not afraid of speaking truth to power and making a democracy work,” Wolf said.

Wolf said his three daughters inspired him to enter politics. He recalled his first job out of college, when he worked in Boston for ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).

Cape Air CEO Dan Wolf (Evan Lips — New Boston Post)

“The neighborhoods that I door-knocked on almost 40 years ago are as bad or worse in economic plight than they were then,” he said. “Go up and down Blue Hill Avenue — this is under continuous Democratic leadership in Massachusetts.

“We not only need to look at Charlie Baker but we need to stop and look in the mirror when we walk by it because when we come together, we can win this, but it is about speaking truth to power.”

Wolf added that it’s “not about the shiny little objects that Donald Trump keeps waving in front of us” but rather “it’s about challenging his piggish wealth and acquisition of all the things he has at the expense of all the people he has looted and taken from.”

“That represents a class, and it’s time to take that on, it’s time to stop it,” Wolf said.

Wolf continued to criticize Trump, but was noticeably quiet about Baker.

“My primary message is this — as a businessperson, as a CEO, as a guy who sits on the board of a community bank, as somebody who chaired one of the largest chambers of commerce in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I am a business person and a capitalist through-and-through,” Wolf said. “But I understand the role of our democracy in this economic system and that is what I intend to do should I decide to run.”