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Boston Globe Covers the Race for District 9, City Council

A neighborhood focus in Allston-Brighton council race

By Milton J. Valencia Globe Staff,October 26, 2019, 6:42 p.m.

One of them was born and raised in Brighton, a son of the local political machine who helps run the local youth hockey program like his dad did. The other is a relative newcomer, an immigrant from Northern Ireland who steered her way through the neighborhood over the last two decades as a community activist at evening meetings.

Craig Cashman, a 36-year-old legislative aide for the local state representative and the father of two young boys, and Liz Breadon, 60, a physical therapist who settled in Brighton’s Oak Square with her partner, are looking to claim the first open Allston-Brighton City Council seat in more than a decade.

In what has become the closest council race this fall, both are playing off of their backgrounds to connect with voters in a changing neighborhood that is made up largely of older, established families, or newcomers struggling to settle in the area.

“I think they both deeply care about the community, and deeply care about the future of our neighborhood, and approach it from different experiences, and backgrounds, and perspectives,” said Brandon Bowser, a community activist who has twice run unsuccessfully for the district seat.

Bowser said he has not endorsed either of them, but organized a forum Tuesday to press them both on issues directly affecting renters, who make up 80 percent of the district, according to city data.

“It’s important that whoever we vote for will look at the big picture of what our neighborhood is, and who we are as a community,” he said. “When we paint renters vs. homeowners, that’s how things get away from us, and I’d like to see someone who can represent both.”

In the September preliminary election, only 89 votes separated Cashman and Breadon in a seven-way race for one of the two slots for the Nov. 5 general election: A total of 4,794 voters cast ballots.

Now, both candidates have intensified their campaigns, hoping their messages will resonate.

District Nine, which covers all of Allston and Brighton, is a community of middle-class families who have held the same home for generations, and young professionals looking to plant their roots, of artists and immigrants, and college students who crowd three-bedroom apartments, sometimes seven at a time.

Harvard University, Boston College, and Boston University have big footprints in the area, through their control of land and their student populations.

Both candidates say the differing demographics are what make up the overall fabric of District Nine, an outlier from the rest of Boston. And both say that fabric is under threat by the sprawling luxury development that is taking hold in the area.

Each of them called for raising the city’s inclusionary development rate — the percentage of affordable housing units developers must set aside — to 20 percent, up from 13 percent for most projects.

Otherwise, Breadon said, the development will continue to transform the neighborhood.

“It’s a neighborhood of people, from all over,” she said. “The character of the neighborhood is subtly changing, and shifting, over time.”

She added, “There’s just a level of distrust in the neighborhood, that City Hall has turned a deaf ear to issues in Allston and Brighton, that we haven’t been heard.”

Cashman, the district director for state Rep. Michael J. Moran over the last 12 years, has generational roots in Brighton, and he and his wife bought her grandmother’s home in Oak Square five years ago. Cashman questions whether he would have been able to stay in the neighborhood if he didn’t have the opportunity to buy a relative’s home.

“That’s not what it should take to stay here,” he said in an interview. “That’s one of the messages of my campaign, it’s opening doors and pathways for people to stay here.”

Breadon, who began organizing to challenge the incumbent Councilor Mark Ciommo in January before he announced he is retiring, sees the opportunity as an extension of her work in the community, fighting against development and to improve schools. She has raised just over $20,000 through mid-October for the campaign.

When Breadon first moved here, she joined traditional civic groups, such as the historical society. Then, some 12 years ago, she saw the power a collective, grassroots movement could hold when a group of residents organized to preserve the Our Lady of the Presentation School — which the Archdiocese was looking to close — as a community center.

“It was an example of grassroots activism, mobilizing a community for a common goal, and it was inspiring to do that,” she said.

It was the type of activism she learned growing up in rural Northern Ireland. He father wasn’t an activist or a politician, but he was one of the first to go door to door calling for local farmers to unite to bring electricity to the area.

“My parents instilled in me that if you see something that needed attention, it’s your responsibility to do something about it,” she said. “I do have a habit of showing up in meetings and saying something.”

Cashman laid out a platform of protecting residents from the overdevelopment that is taking over the neighborhood. He was one of the first names to be mentioned among local political pundits as a potential successor to Ciommo, and raised roughly $75,000 in campaign money from April through mid-October, according to campaign finance filings.

He’s been politically active, particularly in local affairs, since his early 20s, recalling the days he held signs for the late mayor Thomas M. Menino. He always enjoyed working on campaigns. “You get to see the city,” he said.

One of his political mentors was Moran — also a family friend, and his former youth hockey coach — and he joined his legislative staff in 2007 to work on neighborhood issues, what he called, “the bread and butter stuff, the stuff I care about.”

“It was about constituent services for me,” he said, saying he always enjoyed talking to neighbors, “and solving problems” – whether it be over a neighborhood development, or helping a family find addiction recovery services for a loved one.

On weekends, you can find him at Hobart Park, or the Faneuil Library, with his young family, or working with the Allston-Brighton Youth Hockey program.

He said he looks to bring that same level of constituent service to the council, where he can focus on street-level issues such as overdevelopment, and transportation. That means hearing from homeowners and renters, business owners, and students.

Committee to Elect Liz Breadon     617-903-0208
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