By Samantha Drysdale
BU News Service
BOSTON — From an early age, Quentin Palfrey seemed to have everything in his favor to make it in American politics.
The great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, he was named after Quentin Roosevelt, the president’s son, who died a hero in World War I. His family’s roots could be traced back to the 17th century in Salem, Massachusetts and the family’s history book featured an aide-de-camp to George Washington, a 19th-century congressman and a member of John F. Kennedy’s Atomic Energy Commission.
People close to Quentin Palfrey claim he was destined for a life in public policy and today, as Republican Gov. Charlie Baker controls the State House of the historically liberal state of Massachusetts, the new candidate for lieutenant governor shamelessly stands far left. He hopes to reach the hearts and votes of progressive New Englanders in the upcoming gubernatorial election.
Returning from President Barack Obama’s White House, Palfrey is running to represent Democrats in his home state. Unafraid of polarizing progressive rhetoric, he advocates for improvement of the healthcare system, free and accessible public education and equality for all citizens.
The impeccably clean conference room in Palfrey’s office had a large wooden table in the center with two notebooks, a laptop, an iPad and a Starbucks coffee cup carefully stacked on top of one another in a calculated manner. The politician wore business-casual attire, no hair and a beaming smile.
Fidgeting with his computer mouse thoughtlessly with his ever persistent smile, Palfrey explained the two pillars of his campaign: Equality and the elimination of poverty.
Palfrey was the executive director of The Abdul Jameel Poverty Action Lab North America, the domestic part of the poverty lab at MIT that researches the most effective social services for philanthropies and governments to invest in.
Given his experience in poverty research, Palfrey’s policy positions target social inequality.
“I think [equality and poverty] touch on a whole bunch of domestic policy issues such as education, health, criminal justice reform, housing, and economic development. They are all important pieces of that puzzle,” Palfrey said.
The Southboro native believes his passion for accessible healthcare stems from his parent’s involvement in the medical community. Both Sean and Judith Palfrey are pediatricians, healthcare advocates and educators.
The candidate for lieutenant governor followed in both his parents footsteps by attending Harvard University as an undergraduate student. Now, Sean Palfrey is a professor of Clinical Pediatrics and of Public Health at Boston University and Judith Palfrey is a professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University.
“Judy and I worked in this field for most of our professional lives, with poor people, and spent endless hours trying to find ways that everyone could get healthcare,” Sean Palfrey said.
Quentin Palfrey also worked as the Chief of the Healthcare Division in the Attorney General’s office. He advocates for Obamacare and the recently politically vulnerable Children’s Health Insurance Program.
In addition to healthcare, Palfrey said he has put education at the top of his agenda, which focuses on the distribution of resources to schools in different socio-economic situations.
Avery Serven, a sophomore attending Boston University, is a Massachusetts resident, registered voter and graduate of the public education system. She said the issue of education would influence her vote, especially as she had grievances with the currently in place Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity Program.
The purpose of the program as defined by the original grant is “to expand educational opportunities, increase diversity, and reduce racial isolation by permitting students in Boston and Springfield to attend public schools in other communities that have agreed to participate.”
“The METCO Program has a lot of issues,” Serven said. “It’s a Boston program that brings kids from the city into the public schools in the suburbs. The program was created to give these people opportunities, but it just creates problems. At my school there were legit race riots. There’s a lot of segregation within the school.”
Addressing programs such as METCO and under-resourced schools, Palfrey said: “We need to make sure that every child, no matter where they grow up, the color of their skin, or their socio-economic situation, has access to a free and appropriate public education.”
Palfrey has a personal investment in education as a parent of children attending Massachusetts public schools in his home in Weston. His wife Anna and himself have three children all below the age of 10.
“I honestly have no idea how he and Anna manage,” said Palfrey’s campaign manager, Jess Lieberman. “It’s kind of heroic that they are doing this with three little kids like that.”
The self-claimed proudest moment of Palfrey’s professional career was when he worked as a Senior Advisor for Jobs & Competitiveness in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) under former President Barack Obama.
His admiration for Obama was apparent through his dazzling smile and the sudden stillness of his ever-fidgeting hands as he reflected on his time within the president’s administration.
The candidate recounted his son trick or treating within the White House and Obama’s kind nature while meeting his children.
Palfrey’s proclaimed firm belief that Obama’s administration would be remembered kindly by history contrasted with his strong words against President Donald Trump and his administration.
“I think about the Trump administration as an attack on our democracy,” Palfrey said. “Both through Trump and Trumpism, it is going to take us a really long time for us to recover from the ways in which this is an attack on our values. One of the things I think that makes me feel confident is seeing a generation of people step up and run for office or get involved in their communities.”
He claimed that the federal Republican party lacks evidence-based policy, which was cause of the vacancy of the director position for the OSTP for the first 560 days of Trump’s presidency. Kelvin Droegemeier was recently appointed to the position in August.
When asked about any potential shortcomings in the campaign, Palfrey’s demeanor instantly changed. Both of his legs retracted from their formerly outstretched positions to fold neatly under the large table as his arms retracted inwards. “When you’re running for office you have to make the case that you’re the best person for the job,” he said.
On Nov. 6, candidates Jay Gonzalez and Quentin Palfrey will run together on the Democratic ticket to challenge incumbent Republicans, Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito.
Palfrey’s field director, James McCarty, spoke about the odds of Palfrey’s potential election.
“As of right now I think there’s a little bit of pessimism among the general voter who thinks that Charlie Baker is too strong, too popular, has too much money, is too tall to be beaten,” said McCarty. “I think if this blue wave of democratic activism can come in on time, people are going to be very surprised that Charlie is in fact beatable… with a candidate that believes in making the economy accessible, making medicine accessible and making democracy accessible to everyone.”