LYNN — Challenger Marven Hyppolite missed an opportunity to reach key voters this week in his bid to unseat Ward 5 City Councilor Dianna Chakoutis.
The 27-year-old candidate was not among the 16 hopefuls invited to the Lynn Democratic City Committee’s candidates’ forum on Monday.
The reason? The one-hour session was reserved for party members. In June, Hyppolite switched his affiliation to unenrolled, or Independent, from Democrat, according to the City Clerk’s Election Office.
An appearance in front of more than two dozen activists who are skilled at getting out the vote would have given Hyppolite a chance to make the case for his election. Chakoutis was at a Friends of Ward 5 meeting at police headquarters that night and couldn’t attend.
It’s conceivable he could have won over skeptics reluctant to abandon the three-term incumbent and the only woman on the 11-member City Council.
This is Hyppolite’s third attempt to defeat Chakoutis. In 2017, he lost by 106 votes. Of the 1,468 ballots cast, she won by a 53 to 46 percent margin.
It was a tough year for Chakoutis. She put aside a door-to-door campaign because her much-loved husband, Nicholas “Nick” Chakoutis, was dying of brain cancer. The couple spent as much time together as possible as she balanced her waitress and council responsibilities. One of the last events they attended together was the city’s 2017 Christmas Eve Parade. He died one month later at age 54 surrounded by his family.
On switching party affiliation, Hyppolite said he did not feel welcome at the Lynn Democratic City Committee.
“There are some lovely people in the group,” he said. “But to be quite honest, it’s not an inclusive organization and hasn’t been for quite some time. It’s not for young people or change agents, and that’s why I unenrolled.”
He is not alone in his choice.
In Lynn, 50 percent of the 52,498 registered voters are Independent, while nearly 43 percent are Democrats, and 6 percent call themselves Republicans.
The first time he ran for the seat at age 22, he was shunned by the eight-member panel, Hyppolite said.
“Not a single person from the committee reached out to me and asked why I was running,” he said. “I have a valid message. The majority of the city is not being adequately represented, large segments do not vote because no one ever reaches out to them, including immigrants, and lots of young, disenfranchised residents who are never spoken to. I brought it up several times at the meetings and nothing ever changed. Even when I attended, no one ever spoke to me or made me feel welcome.”
Messages left at the Lynn Democratic City Committee’s phone number listed on its Facebook page were not returned. Agnes Ricko, chairwoman of the Democratic City Committee, did not return multiple calls to her home seeking comment.
Joseph Scanlon, a member of the committee, said he was miffed by Hyppolite‘s allegations.
“Unwelcome?” he said. “I have no idea what he’s talking about. I’ve said hi to him whenever I’ve seen him.”
Hyppolite insists he doesn’t want a public fight over the issue.
“I don’t want to start any drama,” he said. “I don’t want this to be a big deal, and I don’t even want this to be printed in the paper because I’m scared of the blowback.”
Still, his criticism was not limited to Lynn’s Democratic Party. Increasingly, he said, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is ignoring large segments of voters.
“Myself, many challengers, lots of youth, and many people of color don’t feel welcome in either the Lynn or the National Democratic Party,” he said.
The DNC did not respond to a request for comment.
Hyppolite said he’s running because Chakoutis has failed to represent the entire ward.
“I won three out of the four precincts last time because those sections of the city have been ignored,” he said. “Our rents and property taxes are rising while city services are dwindling and we have a councilor that is not reaching out to us. She supported a $2.5 million tax break (for the luxury apartment building under construction on Munroe Street) with no community benefits. It’s not fair. We all deserve to be heard, represented and afford the city we live in.”
On trying to beat the only woman on the City Council, he said Chakoutis is a very nice lady, but the city is hurting.
“We need a leader who can step up and reach out to everyone in the ward,” he said. “It’s not about being a woman, it’s about the future of the city.”
For her part, Chakoutis said she is not bothered that her opponent is unenrolled. The races in Lynn are nonpartisan, she added.
But she defended her support of the tax break for developers of the $90 million luxury apartment building that will feature 259 market-rate units by Procopio Enterprises Inc. In addition, she listed her accomplishments as a councilor over the last six years.
“I supported the tax break because it took an undeveloped lot and turned it into a tax generator for the city,” she said. “That’s revenue we can use for city services, schools, police and fire.”
She also said her support of the $31 million Gateway North created 71 units of mixed-income housing on Washington Street.
Chakoutis has also backed the creation of small apartments for young adults on Munroe Street and was supportive of transforming the former Lynn Armory into veteran’s housing. She has endorsed spending money to refurbish Lynn Common with new lights, benches and fences, she added.
Chakoutis disputed allegations that she’s failed to represent the district and especially the downtown.
“I represent those precincts as well as I do the rest of the ward,” she said. “I do not get as many calls from downtown and when I do I’m right on top of it.”
Hyppolite is employed as a caseworker by Salem Democratic U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton.
The congressman told the Item he was unaware of Hyppolite’s switch.
“Marven will make his own decisions,” he said. “I’m a huge Marven fan. He’s incredibly committed to the city of Lynn and always has been.”
Moulton has not endorsed either candidate in the race.