Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Kayyem touts connection to young voters


PITTSFIELD -- Gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem is confident her name will appear on the Democratic primary ballot in September, and at that point she believes her message will resonate loudest with voters.

"There will be no difficulties if I am on the ballot. This is the hard part," said Kayyem, who faces candidates with far greater name recognition in the race to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick.

Those include Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steve Grossman. Kayyem acknowledges with a laugh that her name was recognized by only 2 percent of voters when she announced her campaign in August, but she believes a strong grassroots effort and enthusiasm among younger Democrats has changed that.

"Now, I am tremendously confident I'll be on the ballot," she said during an interview Friday at The Eagle.

Kayyem said she believes she has a "unique background" among the candidates and will appeal to younger generations. "I think I alone represent a new generation," she said, promising a fresh perspective and approaches to issues.

The 44-year-old Cambridge resident said she's also the only Democrat with experience working in the governor's office and in federal positions with the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.

Kayyem, who lives with her husband, David Barron, and their three school-age children, is a daughter of a Christian Lebanese immigrant family. She is a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School and began her legal career at the Department of Justice.

As a civil rights attorney she litigated cases involving the rights of children and defending progressive causes.

She was appointed as the state's undersecretary for Homeland Security by Patrick in 2007 and oversaw the National Guard, security planning and the distribution of Homeland Security funds. At the federal level, Kayyem served as assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs in the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration.

The candidate said she believes she has a unique progressive approach to issues rooted in managerial experience and in seeking practical solutions that "will resonate with a majority of voters in the state" in the fall race against a Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Few candidates have worked for civil rights causes, she said, and also have overseen the Massachusetts National Guard. Her commitment to veterans issues is strong, she said, and is illustrated in part by her Women in Combat series while she was a columnist for The Boston Globe. The series was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2013.

Kayyem also favors reforming the criminal justice system to stress drug treatment and other services, which she said would lower costs and be more effective in preventing recidivism than focusing on incarceration.

In making climate change one of her major issues, Kayyem said her practical approaches would include encouraging alternative energy and efficiency efforts and a Green Bank initiative that would support innovative companies.

There are ways to protect the environment and encourage business development at the same time, she said, and she promised to appoint a person in the governor's office to lead and coordinate those efforts across state departments and agencies.

Her work with Homeland Security also gives her experience in managing to avoid problems and recognize and deal with risks. "Homeland Security is about risk reduction," she said.

The candidate was in Pittsfield on Friday to visit the William Stanley Business Park on former GE land off East Street that required an environmental cleanup and now is being marketed for reuse by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. She is touring the state's 26 Gateway Cites and meeting with local officials and residents.

Her leadership style, she said, would be to first listen to solutions put forth in a community and try to assist those efforts. "Not everything has to be focused on Boston," she said.

Kayyem expressed support for the reuse of brownfields sites like the PEDA property as one method of "increasing economic vitality" around the state, particularly to provide struggling cities with a wider tax base so that local leaders can address problems.

She also pledged strong state support for infrastructure, including full broadband service to all areas of the commonwealth.

"The next governor is going to have to invest in these," she said, adding that her state and federal government experience will allow her to "use the tools of the governorship" to accomplish those goals cost-effectively.

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