When reporting to the commonwealth about which political party they favor, more than half of registered voters—about two-and-a-quarter million Massachusetts residents—check the box for “unenrolled” rather than align with Republicans or Democrats. Pollsters and spin surgeons have myriad ways of explaining and exploiting said phenomenon, but regardless of why we are increasingly reluctant to identify with juggernauts, compelling evidence suggests a yearning for alternatives. According to Gallup, and contrary to blue state folklore, Bay Staters “are no more Democratic than the nation as a whole.” Rather, “Massachusetts is a state with a small Republican base, but with a large base of those who don’t have a strong allegiance to either party.”
Enter Evan Falchuk, founder of the commonwealth-based United Independent Party. He’s a husband, a father of three, and a 44-year-old multimillionaire. With professional experience in healthcare and technology, Falchuk has the tightest grasp on innovation of all five candidates for governor. He’s handsome, animated, and intelligent, and has by several accounts recently shined at events including the El Mundo Heritage Breakfast, where he goofed on Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley in fluent Spanish. Falchuk has been endorsed by a number of prominent black community leaders, and if that’s not enough, his brother Brad, a Hollywood heavyweight behind the hits “Nip/Tuck,” “Glee,” and “American Horror Story,” is rumored to be dating Gwyneth Paltrow.
In short: Evan Falchuk seems to be the kind of godsend candidate who informed donors should be bending over forward for, and who everyday constituents constantly claim they want in leadership roles. With an elephant and donkey fight atop the ballot that is staler than a Stella D’Oro breadstick, one might expect the masses to embrace Falchuk with open checkbooks, especially since his areas of expertise, tech and wellness, have played so prominently throughout the race. So far, though, the progressive Falchuk and the two right-leaning independents—deadpan homophobe Scott Lively and lax bro capitalist Jeff McCormick—have together only captivated between 5 and 6 percent of poll participants. All of which begs a few questions: Have people not heard the Falchuk campaign spots on news radio? Have they yet to meet or see him in person? Do they actually prefer Coakley? Baker? Or are millions of self-declared independents in the Bay State full of shit?
Though the status quo chugs on statistically, it’s not all awful news for Falchuk. Even if he’s steamrolled in his bid for governor, the Newton native also filed paperwork to underpin the United Independent Party, which will be recognized by Massachusetts on par with Republicans and Democrats if Falchuk bites off 3 percent or more of the statewide pie in November. That’s only about 75,000 votes, less than half what independent candidate for governor Tim Cahill nabbed four years ago. But while folks from Lynn to Lenox moan about political malfeasance on the one hand and swoon over new blue hopes like congressional candidate Seth Moulton on the other, Falchuk appears to be stuck in a system that not only makes fundraising difficult for startup parties and excludes him from important debates, but that’s essentially rigged against half the Massachusetts electorate.
HANDSHAKES AND MIDDLE FINGERS
I’m riding shotgun up I-95 in a Tahoe wrapped in Falchuk decals with the candidate behind the wheel. He’s headed to lecture at Brandeis University, and to stay on schedule Falchuk drives like he campaigns, with head-first confidence and his foot on the gas. We met for the first time a few hours ago at his office above Boston Common near the Boylston T stop, and already I admire him for more than just his sweet anime hairdo. Unlike most politicians who try acting cool around journalists by using swear words on background, Falchuk impresses by acknowledging unsettling realities that office-seekers tend to avoid. In doing so, he convinces me in a matter of minutes that significant reform has no place in the Democratic party.
“Just look at Don Berwick,” he says of the lefty Dem and former Obamacare official who ate dust in the September primary. “He was saying a lot of the same things I’m saying.” Telling somebody to tweak the establishment from within, Falchuk argues, is tantamount to having asked a young Mark Zuckerberg to harvest Facebook in the Google garden.
As we drive I get the feeling there is nothing Falchuk won’t unload on the record. If he thinks it, or he means it, he’ll say it. No filter. On low voter turnout: “That’s how the Republicans and Democrats like it.” On anti-tax zealotry and so-called child-proof zoning: “It’s appalling, but our state legislature won’t do anything about it.” On spineless donors and entrenched lawmakers who resent his candidacy: “They’re loyal to party above all. There’s a shared desire to play by their rules.”
While he religiously rails against platitudes, the candidate does lean on some cliché slogans himself. Falchuk often compares running for office to a job interview, and stresses his campaign is “not interested in gimmicks.” Nevertheless, his gnawing critiques of Beacon Hill business as usual qualify him as a true crusader for the lower class. Though Falchuk served as vice chairman of the online medical consulting giant Best Doctors, where he banked enough to pump more than $1.5 million into his own war chest, he does not appear to harbor plans for world domination. It’s true he’s voted for Republicans in past elections and enjoyed a privileged life, but every plank of the United Independent Party platform is conservative kryptonite.
Falchuk was raised in Newton, and attended the prestigious Noble and Greenough School in Dedham. Growing up he says he was exposed to multiple cultures, and often traveled to his father’s native Venezuela with family. After high school Falchuk matriculated to Lehigh University for a BA in history, then stuck around the Keystone State to earn his Juris Doctor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. As an attorney, in the late-’90s Falchuk worked for a private firm in Washington, D.C. In his five years there, besides dealing with bureaucrats on behalf of clients, he says he didn’t indulge in Capital politics, though he did have front row seats to the Monica Lewinsky circus, and at one point had an office in the same building as controversial independent counsel Ken Starr.
By the time we arrive at the domestic politics class at Brandeis, the candidate is fired up. Many of the students are from Massachusetts and in tune with regional problems, and Falchuk goes directly to roasting his favorite comparative target—the new billion dollar expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on Summer Street. He rants: “There’s 1.1 billion, but there’s no money for job training; there’s 1.1 billion, but there’s no money for veterans …” His voice softens as the list unfolds. “There’s 1.1 billion, but there’s not enough money for seniors. 1.1 billion, but not enough money for schools. This experiment in self-government has run awry,” adds Falchuk, “and it’s because we as voters do not hold elected officials responsible.”
The undergrads respond well to being treated like adults; as it turns out, they’ve been covering the downfall of democracy all semester. Once Falchuk clicks with the crowd, he becomes less wonkish and recalls a personal trial from the trail about an ignoramus he encountered at the Fourth of July festivities in Duxbury. Though radical by many measures, Falchuk is far from a being a hatchet man or firebrand. Still he hacks the body politic to pieces in describing the Duxbury dimwit, dressed in an American flag shirt, who refused to shake his hand out of devotion to another party.
“That’s what’s out there,” says Falchuk. “Mr. I Don’t Shake Hands With The Enemy votes … Our politics have been taken over by that mentality. And campaign advertisements are geared toward voters like that. That’s why things that really matter don’t get dealt with—because that’s what is happening.”
In case you have been smart enough to ignore them, most of the gubernatorial showdowns thus far have been bland. Or at least they were until the Providers’ Council forum on September 24 at Faneuil Hall, where Falchuk dipped his mitts in glue and glass and battered both sides of the aisle. Though the overall dialogue was bogged down in healthcare and workplace minutiae, the independent spoke plain English in accusing Baker and Coakley of sitting idly while state officials helped deregulate the healthcare market, and now as conglomerates pursue the “monopolistic consolidation of hospitals.” For anybody watching closely, including political analysts in their follow-up accounts, Falchuk’s disruption registered. “Money’s being spent in the wrong places,” he blasted at the Faneuil Hall forum. “Everybody knows it, but nobody is doing anything about it.”
While neither major party is shaking, there is talk of Falchuk as a potential spoiler. “There’s absolutely the chance that he’s the Ralph Nader of this election,” says Kevin Franck, a strategist and former spokesman for the Massachusetts Democratic Party. I don’t personally take stock in the opinions of insiders or experts, but Franck has a reputation for being brutally honest, so I gave him a ring anyway. He finds Falchuk to be “poised and well-spoken” and “very good at engaging people.” “Raw talent,” Franck says. At the same time, he adds, “I haven’t seen that the Falchuk campaign is running the best grassroots organization.” According to Franck, if the United Independent Party wants to battle the big boys and girls, “They’re going to have to train organizers who can train organizers,” who can train organizers, and so on.
In the meantime, to put it like Franck, Falchuk “has nothing to lose in statewide TV debates,” and “can at least make for some uncomfortable moments.” Which is exactly what he did at the Western Massachusetts Media Consortium crossfire the week after the Providers’ Council forum. In our interview, Falchuk said he had already spent months knocking on doors in the Pioneer Valley and other vote-poor locales other candidates ignore. He’s also attracted more than 100 supporters at events in Western Mass, which is significant considering that Coakley drew about that many for a rally with Senator Elizabeth Warren in Boston two weeks ago. By the time the Media Consortium debate came, Falchuk knew the Berkshires from its restaurants to its back roads, and it showed.
“There is no one size fits all [for different corners of the state],” he railed from his seat at the kid’s table with McCormick and Lively. Falchuk noted that his running-mate for lieutenant governor, housing planner Angus Jennings, hails from Wilbraham, and called for border tolls and overdue improvements to I-91. Unlike partisan hacks with presidential aspirations, he assured, the United Independent Party is happy to make enemies with voters in the Granite State if that’s what it takes to assist western counties. As for Coakley and Baker: “They talk about those parts of Mass like they’re foreign countries,” Falchuk tells the Dig. He brought similar sentiments to Springfield: “They don’t understand the difference,” he quipped, “between the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires.”
As important as the candidate are the people powering his mission. I’ve worked for underdogs myself before becoming a journalist, and the experience can be dispiriting. Falchuk is smart and charismatic, but he’s no Abbie Hoffman or Deval Patrick. He’s not a cult leader type or a mesmerizing stump speaker either, and so with this being his debut campaign, I wondered who’s impressed enough to tirelessly flank the cause. Especially against so much naked adversity; after his performance in Springfield, Falchuk was dis-invited from an October 27 NECN debate, while he was altogether left out of another televised scrum sponsored by the Boston Globe and WGBH.
I find a typical field office, the one near the Boylston T stop, with evidence that people have been grinding for months. Desks are decked with personal effects, and there are cartoons of the candidate hung on a wall near the entrance. Falchuk seems to live here, with plenty of spare dress shirts and blazers on a coat tree in the corner by the window. Down the hall is a small war room for field organizers—“they make the trains run on time,” Falchuk says—next to a bullpen for co-op interns who dispatch all across the state. With such a small operation, the candidate travels solo or with a one-person entourage in order to keep the most bees simultaneously buzzing. That’s more or less been the routine since he announced his candidacy in February 2013.
“It’s a really fun campaign to be on,” says Falchuk Press Secretary Trinidad Carney. A recent graduate of Emerson College, Carney met her current boss when he spoke to a class she was in last semester. She adds: “I was cynical about politics, but he walked into the room, put his blazer on the floor and got into some real talk, and I started hounding the campaign after that. I’m really passionate about what Evan’s working towards. For me that’s empowering.”
Carney’s not alone. Though Falchuk’s chemistry with younger voters has yet to manifest in a mass movement, it’s clear that he has more in common with the college crowd than Baker and Coakley combined. Sophie Gildesgame, a 2014 Brandeis alumna from Arlington, signed on as an intern in June and accepted a paid field organizer position in July. She says, “After three years of learning theories about why politicians are destined to fail, I was planning on going into development and institutional advancement.” Yet here she is, holding placards over highways, and working overnights for a long shot.
Asked about his appeal, Falchuk extolls his candidacy modestly: “A lot of the issues the others aren’t talking about are the issues that people are dealing with every day.” For Field Director Taylor DiSantis, that means corporate pollution in the Berkshires. The recent UMass Amherst graduate held signs for Dems at rotaries in Western Mass his whole life, but has been disillusioned by his representatives of late. In Falchuk, he sees a way to remain active without having to plug his nose and help Coakley.
“I’ve seen a lot of good people win and I’ve seen a lot of good people lose,” DiSantis says. “I’ve also seen a lot of good people do the wrong thing so they could win. Evan to me was just someone who stood out from that. He wasn’t going to sacrifice his morality to get a victory.
“To me that wasn’t only admirable, but something that we need a lot more of in our political system.”