City Council candidate Lydia Edwards.

Credit: City of Boston via Boston.gov

Forget The Mayor's Race, Women Of Color Are Remaking Boston Politics

September 27, 2017

Lydia Edwards is the newest rising star in Boston politics, after a surprisingly strong second-place showing in Tuesday’s preliminary election put her in likely position to win a district city council seat in November.

Edwards, an African-American attorney, should be able to ride momentum and a more favorable general-election turnout to beat first-place finisher Stephen Passacantilli, according to political veterans I spoke with, who were uniformly impressed by Edwards coming within 80 votes of Passacantilli in the preliminary, out of more than 7,500 cast.

Edwards had previously run an impressive campaign for state senate, finishing a strong fourth in that 2016 primary while winning East Boston. On Tuesday, she again won East Boston, along with Charlestown, according to unofficial returns, while Passacantilli won in the North End, in the race to succeed Sal LaMattina.

If she wins the November final election, Edwards will have not only bested a close ally of Mayor Marty Walsh and political family scion, she will become the first holder of the District 1 seat not of Italian heritage, since the districts were created in 1983.

Edwards was not the only African-American woman whose political star rose on Tuesday. In fact, this election made ever more clear that the New Boston we’ve heard about for so long is finally arriving — and it’s being led by minority women.

The change is remarkable, when you consider that just 10 years ago there was just one woman on the 13-member City Council — Maureen Feeney of Dorchester — and no minority woman had ever won a seat there.

Today, Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu dominate at-large city council voting, while Andrea Campbell defeated incumbent Charles Yancey to win a district council seat in 2015.

Two more may soon join them. In addition to Edwards, education advocate Kim Janey easily topped the preliminary in Roxbury’s District 7.

It was nearly a two-woman final. Anti-violence activist Rufus Faulk barely edged Deeqo Jibril and Domonique Williams, who finished third and fourth in the 13-candidate field.

And Faulk’s surprising success was made possible by another rising powerhouse: state representative Chynah Tyler. Tyler, a former aide to state senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, won an open seat just last year in her first political effort. She endorsed Faulk and demonstrated her political muscle by helping propel him into the top two.

There was at least one minority woman behind the scenes in the city’s other open district preliminary as well.

District 2 became a complicated duel between South Boston’s Ed Flynn and the South End’s Michael Kelley. Flynn, son of former mayor Ray Flynn, had a lot of Southie political backing. Kelley, a long-time aide of Tom Menino, had much of that political operation behind him.

When Flynn ran for that same seat and lost in 2007, he was hurt in large part by Menino’s ability to deliver votes in Chinatown to Bill Linehan. This time — despite efforts by former Menino loyalists, and even his widow Angela campaigning in Chinatown — Flynn dominated the vote there. He also did much better than expected in some of the South End’s liberal precincts..

A big part of the reason was the backing of the increasingly powerful Chinatown Progressive Association, and their leader, Suzanne Lee—who twice ran against Linehan in that district.

Lee, although not an officeholder herself, fits into the mold of most of those named above—as well as state senator Linda Dorcena Forry, perhaps the leading example of this crop of city leaders.

They are steady, hard-working, smart, and politically savvy—working carefully to enhance their power as studiously as any old-school machine pol.

Tyler’s effort for Faulk is a good example of that. Another is Wu’s machinations to win the Council Presidency—including an alliance with Linehan, to the dismay of her progressive backers.

Or witness how Edwards got the endorsement of the state senator who defeated her last year, Joe Boncore—as Boncore saw the wisdom of aligning himself with someone more diverse than the next Italian-American man in line for office.

And, they have plenty of years ahead of them to amass power. Wu, Campbell, Chang-Diaz, Tyler, and Edwards are in their 30s. Pressley, Janey, and Forry aren’t much older.

And, they have continued rising as the men who were thought to be carrying the New Boston flame have petered out.

Notably, many of the voters coming out for Edwards and Janey on Tuesday were clearly marking their mayoral ballot for Marty Walsh, rather than the potential first black mayor of Boston, Tito Jackson.

Jackson ran a distant second in the mayoral preliminary, even losing to Walsh in his own District 7, according to unofficial returns.

The attempted political comeback of former state representative Carlos Henriquez—expelled after his conviction for assault—ended poorly Tuesday, as he finished an embarrassing 11th in the District 7 preliminary.

Felix G. Arroyo, once considered the city’s top Hispanic political talent, campaigned poorly in the 2013 mayoral race, and has been fired from his city cabinet position over allegations of sexual harassment. Other men, from Sam Yoon to Russell Holmes, have briefly looked like they might lead a Mel King-style coalition, only to fade from influence.

Perhaps these women will, too. But it looks more likely that they will be joined by others, both in office and behind the scenes, as they continue to build their power and influence going forward.


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