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Diann Slavit Baylis: Civility Begins With Listening

Editor’s Note: Each of the candidates for State Representative of the 8th Essex District sat down with Marblehead Beacon to discuss their lives, professions, and path to the primary election on September 6th. As part of a series, we are introducing readers to the field of six Democrats. This week’s coverage will offer some personal and professional background gleaned from each candidate’s interview, and next week the candidates’ key issues will be presented. Upcoming coverage beyond next week will include the candidates’ written answers to in-depth questions, as well as summaries of forums attended by the group.


“I am living in a place I’ve always wanted to live, and this is the job I always wanted to do,” says Diann Slavit Baylis, 55, one of six Democrats running for the 8th Essex District State Representative seat. She sat down to speak with Marblehead Beacon, and her campaign manager and husband, Angus McQuilken, a longtime Democratic operative, sat in as well. 


A twin and the youngest of nine siblings, Slavit Baylis grew up in Haverhill, where her dad was the longtime Harbormaster. She lived in various towns on the North Shore including Ipswich, Topsfield, and Newburyport, before eventually settling in Marblehead just under a year ago. A graduate of Merrimack College and Suffolk Law School, Slavit Baylis has worked in a variety of positions. Her LinkedIn profile includes more than a dozen jobs, most of them in the legal realm, including her current position with Catholic Charities of Boston. 


Passionate about helping the dispossessed, Slavit Baylis is particularly committed to her speciality, immigration law, but supports other non-profits, including Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization co-founded by her husband, and the North Shore NAACP. She has been involved with such community service volunteerism for many years, and has also participated in Democratic political circles. Most recently she has donated some of her free time to the plight of undocumented children. “There is lots that needs to be done,” she says about this. Kids in Need of Defense (“K.I.N.D.”), an organization for which she serves as a pro bono attorney assisting children in immigration court proceedings, is one such cause. 


Slavit Baylis has years of experience working as an attorney and advocate, but this is her first time running for office. When Representative Lori Ehrlich’s seat opened up, Slavit Baylis decided “the time was right” to seek out a leadership role to improve schools, make headway on the environment, help keep the communities of this district safe, and defend civil rights. “I have the experience and the energy and the passion to get into a job like this and be a really good representative,” 


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Slavit Baylis is especially focused on the need for more civility in public dialogue. “If people cannot talk and listen, we cannot get things done,” said Baylis. Underscoring this sentiment was her shared experience as a cast member in a 2019 PBS documentary entitled Divided We Fall. There were twelve cast members–six Trump supporters and six “not Trump'' supporters–at a secluded location in western Massachusetts for three days. The cast initially attended a day-long seminar on active listening and then spent the remainder of the time discussing important national issues. She credits the success of the program to the listening seminar, explaining how each side found they had much more in common than they had thought and realized they “all wanted the same thing.” In fact, she says, she and the cast members established strong friendships that they maintain to this day, which she believes is a strong indicator that the civility mindset she intends to bring to Beacon Hill is both tenable and much needed.  


With her intense schedule there may not be a lot of extra time for Slavit Baylis to read and watch movies, but she did tell Marblehead Beacon that her favorite film is The Last Hurrah, and the last book she read was Eleanor, a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, written by David Michaels. Should she be elected, Slavit Baylis does not plan to work outside of her role as legislator, but she notes that she may continue her pro bono work on behalf of child immigrants.


Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error in the name of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. 


Editor’s Note: The author of this story, Jenn Schaeffner, is on the steering committee of the group PowerUP!, on which another candidate for the 8th Essex District–Terri Tauro–serves. Prior to launching Marblehead Beacon, Schaeffner contributed to Tauro's campaign. Additionally, Marblehead Beacon co-founder Lena Robinson and her family have been close to one of Slavit Baylis’s opponents, Jenny Armini, and her family for more than 25 years. Robinson’s husband, Dwight Robson, has donated to Armini's campaign