So… Who Were Those People on My Primary Ballot?

By Jonathan Cohn

Jonathan’s Guest Opinion appears in the April, 2024 issue of The Fenway News.

If you voted in the presidential primary in March, you would obviously see some familiar names—the current president or the former president or other presidential candidates that you have been hearing about in the news for months upon months end (even though their chances were by then slim to nil).

But you may have seen other familiar faces: some of your neighbors. That’s because in Massachusetts, Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian ward and town committees are elected on the presidential primary ballot every four years.

Each of Boston’s 22 wards (i.e., the political subdivisions composed of a collection of precincts) has a Democratic committee. Only two of them—West Roxbury’s Ward 20 and Brighton’s Ward 22—have a Republican committee. And none of them has a Libertarian committee.

But what are these committees anyway? The existence of such political committees is actually built into Massachusetts General Law (Part I, Title VIII, Chapter 52), but their function is less spelled out. They have to hold a meeting after their election to select officers, and they have to hold caucuses every year to elect delegates for the state party conventions. These party gatherings can be pep rallies in odd-numbered years, but during election years, they determine ballot access for our September primaries.

The committees can consist of elected officials, City Hall staff, State House staff, and local activists who have volunteered on many campaigns over the years (or are just getting started). District 8 Councilor Sharon Durkan, former District 8 Councilors Kenzie Bok and Josh Zakim, and State Rep Jay Livingstone, for example, are all members of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee. Former state representative and Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services of Massachusetts Jon Santiago is a member of the Ward 4 Democratic Committee. But most of the members aren’t so titled. They are just your neighbors.

These local committees can host educational events about city and state issues, listening sessions with state and local elected officials, social events, and candidate forums. The Boston Wards 4 and 5 Democratic Committees, for example, have hosted at least one (well-attended!) candidate forum each year since 2018 (with the exception of the pandemic’s 2020) and will do so again later this year. Their 2021 mayoral forum was the first of a busy season.

If you recognized a name from your ballot, the best thing to do would be to reach out to the person you recognize and ask them what their committee is doing. If you want to get involved, let them know. And if your committee has open seats, think about whether you want to jump in. Democracy starts local.

Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee Members from the Fenway (includes East Fenway / Symphony and Longwood Medical Area)

Amelia Aubourg

Harold Brogan

Mary Ann Brogan

Christopher Cantwell

Jonathan Cohn

Lisa Jeanne Graf

Ryan Hatcher

Carol Lasky

Timothy Mahoney

Andrea Olmstead

Sheneal Parker

Grant Young

Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee Members from the Fenway (includes Kenmore Square and most of West Fenway)

Suzanne Comtois

Kristen Mobilia

Sharon Hucul

Boston Ward 21 Democratic Committee Members from the Fenway (includes Audubon Circle and some of West Fenway)

Michael Gaffney

Daniel Lander

Jonathan Cohn is the secretary of the Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee and program director for Progressive Mass.

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