In the lead up to the the 8th Essex District Democratic primary on Tuesday, Sept. 6, the race’s half-dozen candidates have agreed on nearly every issue in public forums – but they’ve struggled to separate themselves from the contest’s pack.
The candidates, in an attempt to bring distinction to their candidacies, noticeably spoke to their professional and life experiences during the Marblehead Democratic Town Committee picnic on Monday evening. The annual gathering – which raises money for an academic scholarship – was staged on the sprawling lawn of a Marblehead Neck home three weeks before Election Day.
With no Republican on the September ballot, the primary election’s Democratic victor is almost certain (barring a successful blitz write-in campaign) to be the successor to former state rep. Lori Ehrlich and will represent a district composed of Marblehead, Swampscott and a sliver of Lynn.
And the 8th Essex District candidates’ remarks played out as the middle act in a conveyor belt of stump speeches from Democrats seeking their party’s nomination. Candidates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, Essex County district attorney and sheriff and state representative were also present.
“It’s a crowded race with six Democrats and no Republicans,” Titcomb, a welfare and family lawyer, told about a hundred Democrats seated in lawn chairs fanned out before a podium. “On top of that, we have a lot of overlapping values and principles.”
Like others in the 8th Essex District race, public service has been a cornerstone in the Swampscott resident’s life. She has served as an elected Swampscott Town Meeting and Select Board member as well as a Finance Committee appointee.
“I feel my municipal experience doesn’t just demonstrate my commitment to public service,” said Titcomb. “This isn’t a second career choice or an interest of mine. It is my path one way or the other. It’s what I am built to do and what I will find a way to do.”
She lauded the difficult, sometimes unpopular, decisions and conversations that she and her fellow Select Board members made, proof that she’s “not afraid of conflict and challenge.”
“For nearly a decade, I’ve been focused on the needs and the challenges of my municipality. And I understand the levels of funding that the state provides and the needs that municipalities have from the state that aren’t always met,” Titcomb said. “And so as a legislator, I feel that’s important.”
Armini, a speech writer and co-founder of the grassroots political group ElectBlue, echoed a resident whom she said called her “shovel ready” to take on the district’s issues and succeed Ehrlich.
“I have deep legislative and public policy experience on both Capitol Hill and on Beacon Hill,” she said, adding that she has crafted policies addressing parental accountability with regard to paying child support and LGBTQ rights in the workplace. “I have spent the last years helping leaders translate complicated public policy into powerful speeches.”
She considers relationship-building as a critical ingredient to forge success in politics.
“In this job, relationships matter: Relationships in the community and with your colleagues on Beacon Hill. That’s how you identify challenges and opportunities,” she said. “I have spent nearly 17 years building relationships in this community.”
She spoke to a Marblehead exceptionalism that brought, in 1789, President George Washington to the town.
“He was deeply grateful to Gen. [John] Glover and Glover’s Regiment. But he also understood that this place is what shaped their tenacity, their grit, and their commitment,” she said “Washington wanted to see it.”
She said present-day Marblehaders continue this legacy, fighting for “strong democratic values.”
“When George Floyd was murdered, we took to the streets. When Roe was overturned, our high school students organized rallies,” she said. “And when Trump was elected, we fought for candidates who would challenge him. I am privileged to be part of this community. I am running to bring our Marblehead spirit to the State House.”
Smith, a Swampscott resident and recent law-school graduate, framed himself as having “waged a very conscientious campaign with the hopes of earning your trust and your faith that I am the person who can fill the humongous shoes left behind by [Ehrlich].”
“While knocking on thousands of doors and connecting with so many voters, one thing is constant,” the coach and teacher said. “We can’t be afraid of big ideas to take on the big challenges that we’re facing.”
He added, “We have to solve the climate crisis. We have to solve our public transportation issues, which is a social justice issue. We have to solve our education inequities, we have to solve our housing problem, housing crisis, so that everyone has a place to live, because that is a right.”
He said his candidacy embodies an opportunity to elect “the next generation of leaders. ” These leaders, he argued, must be ready to tackle modern-day issues.
“As someone who joined the Swampscott Democratic Town Committee at 16 years old,” he said. “I know how important it is to get young people involved in politics and learn civil discourse and learn how to be a part of civic engagement.”
“With just three weeks to go in this campaign, I bet you’re all wondering, ‘Well, how do we differentiate from each of us – especially Jenny and I – we both have red hair,” Slavit-Baylis quipped to widespread laughter. “But there are differences.”
Slavit-Baylis, a Marblehead resident, is an immigration attorney. Since she was young, she has been involved in the causes of the Democratic Party.
“I’m a lifelong Democrat. My first job out of college was on staff at the Democratic State Committee. I worked there for six years,” she said. “I’ve worked on countless Democratic campaigns, and I also was an intern on Capitol Hill.”
She testified before state lawmakers to support a gun control bill – now law – that permits a judge to issue an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), also known as a red flag law, that suspends a person’s license to possess or carry a gun.
“I was really proud when the Red Flag Law got passed, I have to say that was probably my biggest accomplishment as an advocate,” Slavit-Baylis said. “And that is a distinction. I’ve gotten real results as an advocate for legislative change.”
Thompson, a Swampscott resident, possesses a quarter century of macro-level professional experience in state and federal government.
“I was the chief financial officer for the state Medicaid program, delivering large-scale change here in Massachusetts, implementing health care reform, managed an $850 million budget,” he said. “The teams I led there, and other organizations have benefited over one million people.”
During his tenure in government, he said he generated hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.
“That can be put back into additional primary care, mental health and geriatrics,” he said. “I was deeply immersed in moving large-scale legislation forward. The budget process is the biggest [legislative] process we have.”
He said, like others in the race, he has knocked on thousands of doors.
“I hear something very clear that people want progress. People want change. People want practical solutions. People want experience,” he said. “I offer you that experience, that independence, and those values to move us forward.’
Tauro is an assistant to the Marblehead harbormaster and the president of a consortium of the town’s unions. She capped the 8th Essex District lineup of stump speeches, and she described herself as a “what you see is what you get” type.
“I never had political aspirations. I’m not polished. I’m not trained. I don’t own a set of pearls,” she said. “But what I am is a true fighter.”
She said she has advocated for pay equity and diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace as well as better health care for municipal employees. She also acknowledged the similarities among candidates.
“We want to protect the environment. We want to reform healthcare, and we want to do all these great things – and I want the same things,” she said, adding that she “doesn’t know everything.” “But I think what sets me apart from everybody else, is my vast network of grassroots support. I have this big network of people.”
Like Armini, she emphasized the importance of relationships.
“None of you out here are names on a piece of paper or numbers….that’s not who you are to me,” she said. “You are my neighbors. You’re my co-workers because I work here, and you’re my family and friends because I live here.”