SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) — Facing mounting criticism from his Democratic primary rivals, Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss on Wednesday formally apologized for a decade-old social media post that alluded to burning the Quran.
Auchincloss — who is viewed as a frontrunner in the race to replace Congressman Joe Kennedy — wrote in a 2010 Facebook post, “So we can’t burn their book, but they can burn our flag?” He linked to an article about Pakistani lawyers burning the American flag.
Auchincloss initially described the comment as a “sarcastic” remark he made as a 22-year-old Harvard student, and stopped short of apologizing outright. His rivals pounced: fellow Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman called the comments “inexcusable,” and former Assistant Attorney General Dave Cavell called them “disqualifying.”
Another candidate, Jesse Mermell, suggested the Facebook post was “only the most recent transgression of Auchincloss’s to come to light,” alluding to a previous controversy over him comparing the Confederate Flag to a gay pride flag or a Black Lives Matter banner during a 2016 episode in Newton involving students displaying the Civil War emblem. Brookline lawyer Ben Sigel has even called for Auchincloss to drop out of the race.
Nazda Alam, a Muslim American and Democratic Party activist, issued a statement Tuesday saying she was “deeply disturbed by Jake Auchincloss’ hateful comments” and calling on other elected officials who are supporting him to rescind their endorsements.
The issue also appeared to alarm members of the Boston Globe editorial board just days after they endorsed him to represent the 4th Congressional District, which stretches from northern Fall River through the Attleboros and Taunton up into the suburbs bordering Boston.
“Many @GlobeOpinion readers and community members have expressed concerns about what we’ve learned about the candidate’s statements and campaign finances since the board’s deliberations,” Bina Venkataraman, the Globe’s editorial page editor, tweeted Tuesday. Saying they “deserved to know more,” Venkataraman announced she will conduct a virtual Q&A “about his record on racial justice, free speech + other questions” on Monday.
Auchincloss backtracked on Wednesday.
“As a white man, I recognize that I need to interrogate my own privilege,” he said in a statement. “I’ve gotten this wrong, years ago, in tone-deaf social media posts that could cause offense to Indigenous and Muslim communities. I’m sorry for these comments — I regret them, and I’ve learned from them.”
He added that he is supporting an initiative by the group Families Organizing for Racial Justice to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Newton.
The assault on Auchincloss by his opponents come as all nine Democratic candidates are under mounting pressure to separate from the rest of the pack, with mail ballots for the Sept. 1 primary expected to start arriving in voters’ mailboxes as soon as this week.
Auchincloss was endorsed last week by Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan, one of the highest-profile Democrats in the southern part of the district, which could be a helpful boost considering all nine candidates hail from Newton, Brookline or Wellesley.
Auchincloss is also financially formidable, having raised over $1 million for his own campaign and also getting outside support from a six-figure super PAC partly funded by his parents, the Experienced Leaders Matters PAC, that has begun buying TV ads on his behalf.
The 4th District candidates will take part in a virtual forum hosted by Stonehill College’s Martin Institute for Law & Society on Aug. 18, moderated by WPRI 12 politics editor Ted Nesi.
The Democratic nominee will take on the winner of the 4th District GOP primary between Julie Hall and David Rosa in the November election.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook