Making Campaigns Matter

An Op/Ed Column by Joe Kriesberg, MACDC's President

As this year’s gubernatorial campaign heats up, community developers, like others, are beginning to focus on the different candidates and considering what this election will mean for our field and our communities. Many non-profits, including MACDC, want to do more than simply observe the process and speculate on the outcome.  We want to engage and shape it. But how can we do that? As non- profits, we cannot endorse a candidate; and no matter who wins, we have to work with the new Administration.  Indeed, during my time at MACDC, I have worked closely with five different Administrations (Weld, Celluci, Swift, Romney and Patrick) and fully expect to work successfully with a new one next year regardless of who wins.

But political neutrality does not mean that we should sit on the sidelines.  Campaigns don’t just determine who will govern, but they also shape how the winner will govern.  Campaigns help identify the top tier issues for the next Administration and campaigns often generate promises and commitments from all the candidates, including the eventual winner.  Do they keep all of those promises? Of course, not. But do their campaign promises influence their behavior after the election? Absolutely.

In 2006, Governor Patrick, and two other candidates for Governor, came to the MACDC convention at the Hynes Convention Center on October 14.  At a candidate forum moderated by Pam Cross from WCVB, we asked each candidate three questions: (1) Would s/he fund the Affordable Housing Trust fund at $40 million? (2) Would s/he fund the state’s newly established Small Business Technical Assistance program? And (3) Would s/he enact legislation to preserve expiring use properties?  Candidate Patrick said “Yes”, “Yes”, and “Maybe”.  He expressed skepticism about expiring use legislation and whether it would be fair to both owners and tenants, but he promised to listen and to work with us to explore possible solutions. (Side note: We did not ask about the Community Investment Tax Credit because we had not even come up with the proposal yet!)

So what happened? In his first capital budget, the Governor proposed just $35 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. After a short, but vigorous response from the housing community, he quickly restored full funding. I can assure you that his campaign promise was a big reason for the quick turn- around. He then funded the Trust Fund at $40 million for the next seven years.

With respect to the Small Business program, the Governor kept funding the program even as the state budget crisis unfolded during the recession. He kept the program alive by funding it “off-budget” through the Mass Growth Capital Corporation and then this year he helped secure a $2 million appropriation from the legislature, restoring the program to full funding:  8 years of funding – just as he promised in 2006.

Expiring use legislation was harder, but the Governor kept his promise and listened to the views of all stakeholders and then helped to fashion a compromise bill that was enacted in 2007 as MGL Chapter 40T.   This law has now helped to preserve nearly 10,000 homes as affordable housing.

Three for three, by my count.

MACDC is thankful that Governor Patrick kept these commitments and we know it reflects his commitment to these issues. But we also know that a Governor has to balance hundreds of competing priorities, so we were glad to help the Governor fulfill these commitments by working closely with his Administration (and the legislature) throughout the process.  In other words, campaign commitments matter, but they don’t complete the task. Advocates have to stay with the process after the election too.

So as the 2014 campaign heats up, MACDC and its members and allies need to engage the gubernatorial candidates.  The MACDC Board of Directors has already met with six of the candidates (Baker, Berwick, Coakley, Falchuck, Grossman and Kaymen) to have thoughtful discussions where we were able to introduce them to the CDC field, learn about their priorities and discuss important issues to our communities.   We are now cosponsoring a major Candidate Forum on Affordable Housing with our colleagues at CHAPA and throughout the housing field on July 9 at 2:00 at Faneuil Hall.  And on October 25, 2014, MACDC will host another convention, this time at the Westin Hotel in Back Bay, where we expect to hear from all the candidates who make the final ballot. 

What questions should we ask them this time? What commitments will they make? Which ones will the next Governor keep?

My plea to community developers and nonprofit advocates around the state: Don’t just wait to see what these answers are. Get involved and help shape the answers.

I hope to see you on July 9 and October 25. And most of all, plan on voting on November 6, 2014.