Friday, June 14, 2024

State Rep. Mike Connolly at a Jan. 14 rally in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

State Rep. Mike Connolly has decided to leave the Boston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, he announced Monday.

Connolly’s decision comes after Boston DSA introduced a motion last week to expel him. In the motion, a group charged Connolly with a variety of offenses, including endorsing Gov. Maura Healey and not participating in the organization’s endorsement process. Boston DSA would have voted on the expulsion July 23 at its monthly general meeting.

Rather than fighting these charges for much of July, a particularly busy time for the Massachusetts General Court, Connolly said, he will devote his energy toward serving his constituents in Cambridge and Somerville. He has been a reliably progressive candidate and legislator, pushing for electoral reform, criminal justice reform and affordable housing, including rent control and the new notion of “social housing.”

“I need to focus on continuing to represent our community on Beacon Hill and delivering for my constituents,” he said.

The charges against him were largely incoherent, Connolly said, making an example of the first charge accusing him of not engaging with DSA’s already opaque endorsement process: The chapter does not have a bylaw requiring members in elected office to seek the endorsement of the organization.

The DSA motion to expel him cited a 2021 chapter bylaw for endorsed officials, using it to condemn actions Connolly took in 2020.

“As you recall from your fifth-grade social studies class, that’s what they call an ex post facto,” Connolly said.

The motion also accused Connolly of endorsing public officials who “are fundamentally opposed to socialist reforms.” These officials include Healey, State House speaker Ron Mariano and Somerville city councilor Matthew McLaughlin.

Connolly said he was disappointed to see that some in Boston DSA do not understand the necessity of cooperation. “For all of us who want to transform society, we need to understand that it’s going to take building broader coalitions, and it’s going to take working with and persuading those in positions of state leadership,” he said.

DSA issues statement

A few hours after Connolly announced his departure from the organization, Boston DSA’s Coordinating Committee, the chapter’s leadership council, issued a press release addressing the news. 

According to the release, individual chapter members, not the committee itself, moved to expel Connolly. The committee followed the chapter’s procedures by bringing the motion to a vote, which it does with all properly submitted motions. 

Though the committee neither endorsed nor opposed the motion, two of its 11 members helped initiate the motion, the release said. One of its members initiated the censure amendment.

Because moving forward with the vote would have been redundant, the committee removed it from the meeting agenda for July 23 and will instead discuss the upcoming DSA national convention and UPS Strike Ready campaign. At a future general meeting, the committee will officially debrief chapter members on the motion, according to the statement.

In-fight draws national attention

The clash drew national media attention, with Ryan Grim at The Intercept noting “a sizable portion” of local progressives supporting Connolly publicly.

Left-leaning local journalist Jason Pramas was critical of the move in an essay published in Cambridge Day, saying the attempt at ideological purity just divided and diminished an already dwindling movement.

“The tiny faction of the shrinking chapter of the smallish group in question is trying to purge Connolly as if it is somehow in leadership of not just a political party, but a ruling political party – in some kind of Soviet-style communist regime that is the antithesis of the beloved community DSA is supposed to be trying to build in what their members believe will be the better socialist and democratic future to come,” Pramas said.

Politico called Connolly’s departure “a setback for the Boston-area democratic socialists who, after years of making gains on local city councils, are now watching their state legislative ranks dwindle from two representatives to one.” Its remaining representative is Somerville’s Erika Uyterhoeven.

The DSA’s Nate Clauser was contacted Sunday for comment but did not immediately reply. A follow-up request for comment was sent to Clauser on Monday after Connolly’s announcement. An organization press release said it wouldn’t address the issue until the vote.

Met with an ultimatum

The rupture began in May when a few of Boston DSA’s new leaders invited him to a 90-minute meeting, Connolly said. Though he was expecting to discuss policy, he was met with an ultimatum from those leaders: If he did not leave the organization immediately, they would move to expel him.

The ultimatum shocked Connolly because he had been an active member of the organization and had endorsed every DSA office holder in Cambridge and Somerville. Some of the chapter’s leadership, Connolly said, represents a 16-member faction with a particular understanding of how the organization ought to engage in politics. Expelling him was a way to demonstrate that approach.

“What DSA ought to do is actually work out in greater detail what its political approach is and how it can navigate the different contradictions and tensions of a multi-tendency organization,” he said.

“Toxic situation”

Had he continued with the process, Connolly is confident the moves to censure or expel him would have failed. Connolly has received much support from other DSA members and officials across the state.

“I’m thinking of all my friends and supporters in DSA. I want to thank them for offering their support,” he said.

In its press release, the Coordinating Committee noted that because Connolly resigned before the vote, it cannot be sure whether a majority would have supported the motion.

Though Connolly said he felt sad about leaving, he also felt liberated and thankful he could focus on his real job: representing his constituents.

“As the past week unfolded, it became clear that continuing to take on these incoherent charges, and these really-bad faith efforts, was not fair to the people who are counting on me to deliver results and to work on their behalf,” he said. “What was most important was to remove myself from that toxic situation.”

This post was updated July 10, 2023, with a statement from the DSA. The headline was changed to reflect the statement’s focus.