Jake Auchincloss: a top-tier player in race to fill Kennedy’s seat by Marjorie Arons-Barron

With all eyes on the Presidential contest,  it’s still important to keep focus on down-ballot races.  With Cong. Joe Kennedy challenging U.S. Senate stalwart and climate change expert Ed Markey, more than seven candidates are vying to fill Kennedy’s fourth congressional district seat. The leaders (at least in fundraising) are City Year founder Alan Khazei, a highly effective community activist, and Jake Auchincloss, an Afghanistan war veteran in  his third term as a Newton City Councillor. Councilor Becky Grossman of Newton and Jesse Mermell of Brookline also appear viable.

Khazei, whom I’ve written about before,  couples passionate idealism with a track record of success in Washington and elsewhere. Auchincloss is stylistically cooler and approaches problems more as a dispassionate technocrat.  His top priorities are transportation and climate change, particularly the nexus between the two, since transportation generates 40 percent of carbon emissions.

So what has he accomplished on the transportation mess as the City Council’s chair of the Public Safety and Transportation Committee? Not much, he concedes, because “there’s not a whole lot you can do at the local level.”  He is well versed in the complexity of the issue, from local development controversies to environmental impacts.  National political leaders have come up short too, he notes, citing unwillingness to invest in infrastructure.  He proceeds from the premise that for 70 years we’ve planned development around the car, which hasn’t worked. The answers, he says, lie in multi-modal approaches – mixed use developments along with investments in buses, trains, roads, and  infrastructure for biking and walking.

Auchincloss is most passionate about transportation in the context of climate change. “There is no greater threat to humanity than our changing climate. And there is no greater daily struggle for Massachusetts residents than our broken transportation system.”  While pleased that the Green New Deal has “gone from being a hashtag to how to improve lives,” he disagrees with the proposal’s promise of jobs for all, which he calls “a recipe for bloat without creating higher wages or more productivity.”

Not surprisingly, Auchincloss has his eye on a spot on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, whose ranking member had been Somerville Congressman Michael Capuano, defeated in 2018 by Ayanna Pressley.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chair Richie Neal of Springfield tapped Boston Congressman Steve Lynch to fill Capuano’s seat on the committee, and Lynch has enthusiastically embraced his role as a member.  Some states do, however, have more than one seat on this all-important committee, so a place for Auchincloss could perhaps not be out of the question.

Gun safety is also a top priority for him (as it is for candidate Khazei.) This week, on the second anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Auchincloss announced a six-point gun safety program.   As a Marine in Afghanistan, he slept, ate, trained, and patrolled with an assault weapon for four years. “In the Marine Corps,” he explains, “you keep any assault weapon behind three locked doors.” It’s three months “before they let you put a bullet inside the chamber.  These are weapons of war and death,” adding that there is no right for people to have such weapons of war in their homes, be they machine gun or semi-automatic. He proposes a mandatory buy-back,  a heavy lift when we remember how poorly it was received when advocated by former Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Domestically, Auchincloss supports building on the Affordable Care Act, including a public option, rather than Medicare for All.

Auchincloss’ maternal great-grandfather was a Russian Jew who fled the pogroms. His grandfather fought in W.W. II and went to college on the G.I. bill. That family history and his own wartime experience have heightened his interest in foreign policy. He asserts we should not be fighting two wars simultaneously (Afghanistan in Asia and Iraq in the Middle East), explaining that our involvement is a waste of blood and treasure, a misuse of American military power.  Although we’ve spent $6 trillion on Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, “those wars are strategically useless,” he says. “They’ve accomplished nothing.” He sees our core priorities in the Middle East as protecting Israel and eliminating safe harbors for  terrorists.

He worries about Congress’ having ceded power to the Executive over spending priorities and where we wage war. He maintains the Pentagon doesn’t need a trillion dollar budget.

Auchincloss’ descriptions of his accomplishments as a city councilor may seem a little thin.  He cites his communication with constituents, including regular office hours, a monthly newsletter, and overall trying to be objective and  analytical. That seems a low bar given our expectation that all our councilors should at least do that.  He also feels he has  moved forward the Council’s “conversation” on developing a progressive land use policy, and he is proud of Newton’s Welcoming City ordinance, which makes Newton effectively a sanctuary city.

Auchincloss is bright and policy-oriented and could be helped in the race by Newton’s being the largest community in the district, though fellow city councilor Becky Grossman, running for the same seat, may divide their home town support.  All the candidates – now as many as nine – face an uphill challenge in this oft-gerrymandered, serpentine Congressional district, which runs from Newton and Brookline in the north to Attleborough and other towns near the Rhode Island border.