An Idealistic Challenger Takes on a Pragmatic Incumbent in J.P./Mission Hill District

Jamaica Plain activists find fault with Sánchez’s ties to legislative leadership

by Yawu Miller, Senior Editor, Bay State Banner

Perched at a picnic table at Mission Hill Playground, state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez sits at the center of civic life of his old neighborhood. To his right is the towering puddingstone and granite Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where as a child he served as weekend sacristan, opening the church for services, cleaning its floors, polishing candelabras and assisting priests with Mass.

Behind him is the rebuilt Mission Main public housing development where he grew up and watched his mother and other neighborhood elders organize for better living conditions.

Although Sánchez now lives in the high-voter-turnout Moss Hill section of Jamaica Plain on the far side of Jamaica Pond, when asked where his electoral base is strongest he replies, “Right here,” without hesitation. He spends much of his time and much of his legislative capital on the Mission Hill side of the 15th Suffolk/Norfolk District, and many of the legislative victories he cites are aimed at the residents of the neighborhood, including the passage of a $1.8 billion bond bill for the creation of affordable housing in Massachusetts.

“I am a product of this community,” he says. “My entire life is dedicated to figuring out how we do better.”

The challenger

While Sánchez prepares for a meeting in Mission Hill, a mile to the south, in Hyde Square, candidate Nika Elugardo makes fundraising calls from her apartment in a Sheridan Street triple-decker. Elugardo, who came to Boston from Cincinnati and graduated from MIT in 1995, has worked as a senior policy advisor to state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, and most recently founded anti-youth violence and education programs at the Emmanuel Gospel Center in the South End.

Elugardo says she decided to challenge Sánchez because she is frustrated with the slow pace of progressive change in Massachusetts and the apparent unwillingness of legislators to pass measures such as the Safe Communities Act to counter the Trump administration agenda.

Sánchez, she notes, was given a C+ grade by the group Progressive Massachusetts.

“I love that Sánchez has mastered the old school game,” she says, alluding to his role on House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team. “But it’s a game we as people of color cannot afford to play. It’s a plantation model, where if you can get favor with the master, you can come into the house.”

All too often, Elugardo says, those who obtain favor with the Legislature are the powerful and connected.

“How are we giving half-a-million dollars in tax credits to the biotech industry when we can’t fund higher ed?” she says. “It’s never been working for us.”

Elugardo is one of several left-leaning Boston candidates challenging incumbent Democratic representatives this year. Other Boston reps who are members of DeLeo’s leadership team — Majority Whip Byron Rushing and Assistant Vice Chair of Ways and Means Liz Malia are also facing progressive challengers. Like the other insurgents, Elugardo seems poised to ride a rising tide of ire directed at DeLeo’s often-cautious approach to progressive legislation.

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