The Aug. 24 endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, along with endorsements of several other high-profile Massachusetts political figures announced by the campaign of Tristan Smith, “highlight the structural failures of our political system” and appear to be the product of “generational loyalty… maintained, if only in part, by significant financial contributions,” the four women competing with Smith in the Democratic primary to represent the 8th Essex District said in a joint statement Aug. 29.
The statement, authored by candidate Polly Titcomb but also signed by Jenny Armini, Diann Slavit Baylis, Terri Tauro and Polly Titcomb, expressed their joint disappointment in learning of Markey’s endorsement, but not due to its potential impact on the race “but rather what it says about the state of our political system and the structural deficiencies in our electoral process.”
The statement notes that, in addition to Markey, Smith has been endorsed by former U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and John Tierney, former Lynn Mayor and Lynn City Councilor At-Large and City Council Vice President Buzzy Barton.
What links these endorsers, the candidates say, is their “long-standing professional relationship with Tristan Smith’s father, James Smith, a former representative and current owner/partner of the lobbyist firm, Smith, Costello & Crawford.”
The elder Smith has donated to Markey, Frank, Tierney, McGee and Barton, as have partners at his lobbying firm, according to FEC and OCPF public campaign finance data, the statement notes.
Endorsements are a fact of life in campaigns, the four candidates acknowledge.
“They become problematic when they surpass the professional relationship with an elected official (current or former) and evolve into a generational loyalty to one another’s family that is maintained, if only in part, by significant financial contributions,” the statement reads.
The statement continues, “However well-meaning, endorsements such as Senator Markey’s perpetuate the representational inequality in our political landscape and highlight the structural failures of our electoral process.”
The four candidates note that there is no Republican opponent in the race, and the six Democratic candidates “all share substantially overlapping priorities and progressive values.”
“Under such circumstances, we cannot understand why such a high-ranking official would be compelled to influence such a unique and promising contest,” they write.
In an interview with the Marblehead News, Congressman Frank confirmed that Jim Smith had indeed been the impetus for his endorsement of Tristan Smith.
But he added that he had since become impressed at Tristan Smith’s willingness to devote his life to public service from such a young age, suggesting that the Massachusetts political scene would benefit from more career public servants.
In his response, Tristan Smith expressed pride in a campaign built around not just high-profile endorsements but legwork. He said he had knocked on the doors of more than 10,000 voters in Marblehead, Swampscott and Lynn.
He added that he was also proud to have “earned the trust of so many people who have been legislators at many different levels, and know me and know the job,” including Markey, Frank, Tierney and McGee.
Smith also highlighted his more local endorsements, including that of Marblehead Select Board member Jackie Belf-Becker.
The four women candidates clarified in their statement they are not alleging any violation of campaign finance law.
“To the contrary, it is precisely these lawful exchanges that highlight the structural failures of
our political system,” they write.
The statement notes that Massachusetts Legislature has always been dominated by men – and
“predominantly white men,” with only 28.5 percent female and the state legislature is disproportionately white.
“Such underrepresentation is due to pervasive cultural and discriminatory practices that have historically inhibited women and other marginalized groups from running for office,” the statement reads.
The four women made a joint plea for reforming campaign finance laws, which they called “fundamental to achieving a more representative democracy.”
“At a minimum, candidates and elected officials should exhibit sensitivity to the power imbalance by explicitly disclosing to the public the full context behind their support of individual candidates,” the statement concludes. “The people of the 8th Essex district deserve an election and a choice between candidates free of undue influence.”