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By Andy Metzger

BOSTON, DEC. 15, 2017....An attorney who has worked in non-profits and a state senator's office wants to give Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, a Jamaica Plain Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, his first competitive primary since 2010.

Nika Elugardo, a former aide to Jamaica Plain Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, said she was dissatisfied by Sánchez's alliance with House leadership and she thinks others in the district are too.

"In a primary you're going to get very high-information voters that care a lot about whether progressive issues are being passed, and that aren't impressed by a House leadership that requires loyalty, that aren't impressed by what happened to Russell Holmes when he got demoted for standing up to Speaker DeLeo," Elugardo said, referring to Holmes losing a vice chairmanship after he spoke openly about seeking a successor to Speaker Robert DeLeo. "I think that doesn't just infuriate me. I think it infuriates a lot of the voters here."


Elugardo said House leadership is too moderate, criticizing the legislative branch for how it handled criminal justice legislation, which would repeal some mandatory minimum sentences for street-level drug dealing while leaving other mandatory punishments in place for cocaine and heroin trafficking.

"Mandatory minimums don't work, especially for non-violent crimes. There's not any good reason to have them," Elugardo said in an interview. Believing there are no areas where she is more centrist or conservative than Sánchez, Elugardo said she used to be an independent because "Democrats weren't left enough."

After serving as Health Care Financing Committe chairman, Sánchez moved up the legislative ladder this summer when DeLeo promoted to chairman of Ways and Means, making him the first Latino to occupy the post and also giving him substantial sway over the flow of legislation.

"Growing up in Boston, many of my childhood friends felt the impacts of an unjust criminal justice system," Sánchez said after the House passed its criminal justice bill. He said, "Through a number of practical and progressive reforms, the House has taken steps to improve the criminal justice system, so people can make the most of opportunities and end the cycle of incarceration."

Sánchez traveled to Israel last Thursday for a 10-day trip with a dozen other lawmakers and was unavailable for comment.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, Elugardo has an exciting life-story that she said included witnessing firsthand her father's role in a drug-dealing operation before she convinced him to quit. Her family regularly faced eviction and had to move, but Elugardo made it into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has gone onto to have a career working in public policy.

Sánchez also rose from humble beginnings, growing up in Mission Main public housing and working for the late Mayor Tom Menino before first winning office in 2002. He has earned loyalty along the way. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told the News Service he is with Sánchez "1000 percent."

Elugardo worked on a financial literacy initiative backed by then-Treasurer Steven Grossman. When asked about Elugardo, Grossman pivoted to Sanchez.

"Jeff Sánchez was one of the Boston representatives who had probably as significant a level of interest in the work that we were doing around financial empowerment and economic development as any members of the Boston delegation," Grossman said.

Chang-Diaz will not make an endorsement in the race, she told the News Service.

"This is one of the difficult aspects of Democratic primary politics: multiple people with whom you’ve got relationships sometimes run against one another. In this race, in particular, you've got two very strong candidates: Chairman Sanchez is in a position of enormous power in the State House, and he's been very present and passionate in places in the district like the Mildred Haley development," Chang-Diaz said in a statement. "Nika is a hugely talented and effective advocate and has devoted her career to justice, opportunity, and making Boston stronger. This is going to be a big decision for voters and I have personal relationships with both candidates -- so I won't be endorsing in this race."

Elugardo, 44, worked on establishing what she said was an anti-corruption party in India, headed up a foreclosure prevention effort by the National Consumer Law Center, and currently works part-time at Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Asked to describe Elugardo, her former aide, the senator said she is "top-shelf: super smart, deep conviction and values, decades of commitment to the community. Without question one of the most talented people I’ve ever had work in my office. She can think big, in terms of policy connections, but she’s also extremely tactical— there’s no BS, she wants to jump in and actually get work done."

The district covers Mission Hill, much of Jamaica Plain and part of Roslindale, a racially diverse area of Boston. Elugardo is African American and Sánchez's family is from Puerto Rico.

Sánchez trounced his last primary opponent, picking up 81 percent of the Democratic vote in 2010.


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