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The resignation of Anthony Petrucelli, the First Suffolk/Middlesex’s State Senator, comes at an inopportune moment for potential successors. The District’s shape has a lot to do with why. Centered on East Boston, it includes all of Winthrop and Revere, the North End, Beacon Hill, parts of the South End,and a slice of Cambridge along the Charles River from Western Avenue east to Kendall Square. There’s not much to connect these disparate neighborhoods, several of which appear to be tacked onto an East Boston – North End – Winthrop core.
Thirty years ago, the previous alignment of this District included only East Boston, the North End, and Winthrop. It wasn’t difficult to see it as the state’s premier Italian-American Senate seat, and in the hands of Bob Travaglini, it was exactly that. “Trav” eventually became Senate President and remains a local hero to long-time voters in the present First Suffolk.
Prior to “Trav,” the First Suffolk/Muddkesex was fought over, back and forth, between Mario Umana and Michael LoPresti, whose son represented the seat after Umana’s last term and before “Trav.”
Much of that history no longer applies. Italian-Americans dominate only in Revere. Winthrop is less than 50 percent Italian name, East Boston maybe only 30 percent. The North End has long since become an upscale, young professionals’ neighborhood. Italian name people own tons of North End boutiques and restaurants, and the street action does a good job of pretending to be Bologna or Naples; but their proprietors mostly live elsewhere. maybe 15 percent of North End voters have an Italian last name. As for Beacon Hill, the South End, and Cambridge. Italian was never part of their heritage and isn’t today. My guess is that voters with an Italian last name barely amount to 30 percent of this year’s First Suffolk/Middlesex.
Which makes it difficult, this time, for an East Boston candidate of Italian heritage to assume victory in what promises to be a multi-candidate primary. Nor does the obvious East Boston choice, Adrian Madaro, clear the field : barely nine months ago he was elected State Representative in a special election occasioned by Carlo Basile’s joining the Charlie Baker administration as Appointments Secretary. Given the condition of today’s First Suffolk/Middlesex, Madaro would be in a much stronger position to “clear the field” if he had won a November re-election; that won’t happen until 2016. (Disclosure : Madaro would be my choice, and I have committed to him if he runs. It’s also my neighborhood, my Mother’s family having come to “Eastie” in the late 19th Century.)
Three candidates so far seem to have decided to run : Revere City Councillor Jessica Giannino, who easily won the most votes in that city’s municipal election last month; defeated Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo; and State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, who has represented the District’s North End and South End precincts for two full terms. And what of East Boston, the presumptive core community ? So far, no obvious candidate.
UPDATE : Philip Frattaroli, of the North End, who ran very credibly for Boston City Council in 2013, has let me know that the race interests him. Frattaroli comes from a prominent North End restaurant family (Filippo’s), owns one himself (Ducali), and has recently opened an East Boston eatery, Cunard. Frattaroli’s entry would almost certainly end any chance that Aaron Michlewitz might have.
If no East Boston candidate of note runs, it will signal the end of this neighborhood’s dominance of a Senate District that, in one form or another, has provided Boston-area voters of Italian heritage a powerful voice. Granted that ethnic politics are fading away, to be replaced by ideological alignments — hardly an unmixed blessing. How likely is this outcome ? We’ll soon find out. Myself, I cannot imagine, yet, that East Boston and Winthrop do not still form the First Suffolk/Middlesex’s power center. Many East Boston voters actually live in Winthrop; many Winthrop voters once lived in East Boston. The two might as well be one; and — do not forget — Winthrop’s State Representative is Speaker Robert DeLeo, the state’s most powerful elected official. DeLeo may well avoid involvement in this scramble; but if he chooses to, he can — so I see it — dictate the winner.
Even if he does not involve, there are plenty of Winthrop leaders for a quality East Boston candidate to link up with. I have one such leader in mind.
In a special election, the very populous Beacon Hill, South End, and Cambridge precincts aren’t very likely to turn out as intensely as the District’s core community. There’s still lots of life in East Boston’s dominance of the First Suffolk/Middlesex.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere