By Susannah Sudborough
BU News Service
At a Get-to-Know-Craig event at Harry’s Bar and Grill on Oct. 10, 36-year-old Craig Cashman, one of two final candidates for Boston City Council District 9, mingled with potential constituents easily, having in-depth conversations about transportation and housing policy between beers and free food.
In an unexpected turn, after one particularly long conversation during which Cashman had confidently displayed his expertise, his self-assured tone quickly changed to humility.
“Well, I hope you’ll consider me,” he told the man modestly, leaving the voter to mull over the conversation.
Though Cashman narrowly surpassed his opponent in the preliminary election for the city council seat back in November with 25% of the vote, there has been some debate on social media and at community meetings about what exactly Cashman stands for.
“I think people don’t think I’m progressive, which I think is kind of insulting,” said Cashman.“I think that I’ve been labeled as the neoliberal, establishment candidate, but my wife and I are young, progressive people raising our kids in a progressive household.”
Looking at Cashman’s blond hair, blue eyes and professional but modest dress shirt and pants, it’s understandable why this might be an easy assumption to make, especially when he is running against Liz Breadon, an Irish immigrant lesbian. But Cashman has supported policies as far left as allowing municipal IDs regardless of immigration status.
As a third-generation resident, Cashman is certainly not an outsider to the Allston-Brighton community. His father, a telephone worker, and mother, a former teacher at a local school, are well-known are long-time members of the community known for their involvement in Allston-Brighton happenings.
Growing up on Sanderson Place in Brighton, Cashman said he always loved the character of Allston-Brighton.
“It was a real unique place to grow up,” he said. “You had this semi-suburban lifestyle, but also this edgy urban neighborhood as well.”
As an adult, Cashman continued his father’s legacy of leadership in youth community sports, becoming president of Allston-Brighton Youth Hockey.
He also worked as a bartender at a local dive bar, Bus Stop Pub, for eight years. But the “townie establishment,” as he called it, has now closed and, according to him, is soon to become a victim of gentrification.
Cashman remembers the old bar fondly for its cheap beer and welcoming atmosphere. It had a mural on the wall on which patrons could pay a few dollars to have their faces painted, he said. Cheap local haunts like Bus Stop Pub where community members gather are the lifeblood of a neighborhood, Cashman said, and are going by the wayside.
If made a city councilman, Cashman said it’s this personality of the Allston-Brighton community that he wants to preserve.
“It’s always had a big art scene. It’s always had a huge immigrant population. It’s always had the college kids,” he said. “I just don’t want it to become a place that is empty condos, or millionaires from Wellesley who need to downsize from their home.”
But Cashman doesn’t just want to keep Allston-Brighton’s local flavor, he also wants to keep the crowd that currently resides there. Housing and rent prices, as well as development, have been hot-button issues in the community for a long time. Cashman said there is a large renter population that fears being displaced.
“The reality of this neighborhood now is that generational families, long-term renters, marginalized communities are being priced out by the millionaire class and real estate investors,” he said. “So for me, it’s just about making sure this community remains what it’s always been, which is a good working-class community.”
Cashman said he and his wife experienced these problems first-hand. A few years ago, they considered leaving the community because they simply could not afford rent. He said they were only able to stay because they were given the opportunity to purchase his wife’s grandmother’s house in Oak Square.
Cashman said he wants to make sure “anyone who wants to put down roots” in Allston-Brighton is able to do so, regardless of whether they want to buy a home or remain a renter.
Interestingly, one of the biggest negative messages about Cashman making its rounds on social media and at community meetings is that he is financially in the pockets of real estate developers. While it is true that he has taken money from real estate developers, Cashman claims it has only been from friends who live in the community who run small businesses, not big developers. He said he respects their right to contribute as potential constituents.
Cashman also said he has actually refused contributions from big developers such as Josh Fetterman of City Realty Group and Michael Kineavey of Cronin Group. He said he’s never had an interest in taking money from big developers, even though he hasn’t taken a public pledge not to do so the way his opponent has.
“I didn’t feel the need to take a pledge, it was just something personal I wanted to do,” Cashman said.
Public data from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance showed no donations from Fetterman. It did show Kineavey’s donation, but Cashman said since the donation was digital, it had to be reported and then returned.
Of the 449 donations made to his campaign reported through mid-October, only 13 were from real estate groups or associates, although 65% of the donations had no occupation listed. Among those groups were Charles River Realty Group, Charlesgate Realty, Bairos Properties and Mason Realty Corp.
Though only five donations came from out of state and a large portion came from the greater Boston area, 54% of his donations came from people who listed their address as being outside the Allston-Brighton area.
Comparatively, only 35% of Breadon’s donations came from outside Allston-Brighton for the same time period. But it is worth noting that Cashman has received nearly double the number of donations Breadon has, and raised more than three times the amount of dollars, collecting almost $76,000 so far. In raw numbers, Cashman has received 53 more donations from Allston-Brighton than Breadon.
Cashman’s undisputed strength is his experience in public service. For 11 years, he worked as a legislative aide at the State House for State Rep. Mike Moran, whose district covers all of Lower Allston and some of Brighton.
As a legislative aide, Cashman said, he was often in charge of communicating with constituents, made lots of connections and learned how to get policies enacted– experiences he said would greatly benefit him as a member of the city council.
“You might disagree with someone Monday, but you need their help getting a bill passed Tuesday,” he said. “We need someone willing to fall on the sword or pick up the mantle, and I don’t mind doing that.”
Three different supporters cited his legislative experience as the primary reason for their support.
“I don’t vote for someone just because I know them,” said Kelly McGrath, a supporter who said she’s known Cashman since he was a child. “I’m supporting Craig because I think he’s the one who can navigate City Hall.”
Cashman emphasized that he wants all his constituents to be heard by the city government, regardless of their current level of engagement. He said some immigrant residents are afraid to get involved in the community because of what’s happening politically on a federal level. This is part of a larger accessibility problem when it comes to getting involved in local politics, he said.
“Some people can’t come to a meeting at 6 p.m., and they don’t think to write a letter to their representative,” Cashman said. “So if you don’t come to the meeting, your voice just isn’t heard.”
Cashman said he hopes to get everyone in Allston-Brighton, especially young people, more involved in the community.
“One thing I’ve learned knocking on doors is that what you hear during phone bank calls and community meetings is not necessarily the prevailing view of the community. That’s why you have to dig deeper,” he said.
Cashman has been holding weekly get-to-know-Craig events to do just that, though at the events he often does much more talking than listening.
Outside public service, Cashman is primarily a father. He has two sons, aged one and two, who he said are his biggest motivation as a public servant.
Cashman is well-prepared to answer any questions about policy. His core-competency, not to mention what seems to be the source of his confidence, is his experience and know-how about Boston politics.
Yet there was one question that stumped him.
“What’s your favorite band?”
“This is a hard one,” he said. “This could be the make or break question.”
After much deliberation, he landed on The Police, but said he could give a different answer every day of the week.
True to his word, he texted the next day to say he’s a much bigger fan of The Replacements.