Yet another of Boston’s nine Council Districts will be choosing a new member. In this case, its’ my own District, #One, which brings together the oldest of Boston’s neighborhoods : Charlestown, the North End, East Boston — 25 precincts all in.
The opening is gifted to us by the retirement of Sal LaMattina — not exactly a surprise, rumors had reached me, but still a major shift, LaMattina had voiced our District’s interests at the City Hall for years, and his voice was very distinctive: the last of his generation of rough-throated Italian upbringing in what was then the City’s biggest Italian Ward (East Boston). Whoever replaces Sal may well have an Italian last name, but there’s been enormous change since Sal became an adult; his successor will speak differently, in different words, in different worlds.
Several candidates have been mentioned : Lydia Edwards of East Boston, Jack Kelly of Charlestown, Stephen Passacantilli of the North End. Of these, Passacantilli has the longest political pedigree: I well recall his Dad Dan Passacanatilli when he was first hired to be a City Council staffer about 40 years ago. Edwards is the newcomer of the group, yet she is no rookie; in last year’s Special Senate Senate Election to succeed the #1stSuffolkMiddlesex’s Anthony Petrcucelli, Edwards won East Boston outright, with 941 votes in a seven-candidate field.. Meanwhile, Kelly, who hails from a long-time Charlestown family, ran for City Council at large in 2013 and received some 3709 votes out a total of 5557 in Ward 2.
Many Districts draw candidates who have no major political exposure. Its a token of #CouncilDistrict1’s intense commitment to local government that all these candidates could run the table in many of the Nine Districts.
But there will be time to assess the candidates and their campaigns. First, what of the District ?
Turnout. Despite the intensity of its activists’ activism, participation by the full electoral falls short. East Boston (Ward 1) beat the City average by ten points — but there was a very contentious casino referendum on the ballot. Charlestown’s 43.81 percent turnout is a true representation: six points better than the city average — not much. The North End’s four precincts tallied a mere 2956 votes, eight points UNDER the City average. This will be a Mayoral election years, so turnout will tend toward the high rather than the low. That said, more recent elections have seen Ward 1 tally about 4600nbqllot, \Charlestown about 2700, the North End about 1600. Thus your “turnout over – under.
Demographics : When I drafted this District (as well as the others)_ for then councillor Terry McDermott’s 1981 (I think, this was a bit ago, y’know) committee pursuant to the Charter Change voted that year, District One wrote itself: it was to elect a traditional, Italian-American voice to represent what was still overwhelmingly populated by such — with Charlestown thrown in because geographically there was no option. There still IS no good option; but Charlestown and East Boston have almost completely changed. Today they are much more alike than in 1981. Charlestown’s vote is at least 30 percent gentrified, while East Boston’s has divided into four parts : young singles in Precents 1 and 3; gentrified in Eagle Hill and much of the Dom Savio Area; Hispanic and Brazilian along the “battle” streets and those that intersect from the tracks and Library Park to about the Eastward side of Trenton Street. As for the “Italian vote,” it can be found in almost every precinct but dominant only in Precincts 11, 12, and 13 — Orient Heights. And even there it has lost sense of command.
Issues : 35 years ago local Council contests weren’t driven by issues but by who one’s friends were. These were patronage elections, and which ward you came from determined your fate. Today that’s not nearly true. Council District 1 is divided by issues of housing, the housing market, education, business development, and availability of parks and sports playgrounds in ways that unite across the district as the divide within it. The same is true of the District’s substantial union membership. Not much labor unity can be discerned between Teamsters in ward 2 and Local 26 Hotel Workers in the mid-section of Ward 1.Whoever runs successfully will have targeted with almost surgical care.
Interests : If Council District One isn’t the City’s number one restaurant district, it’s close. the North End alone accounts for at least 20 per cent of all the city’s restaurant licenses.
Income : 35 years ago, District One was almost uniformly working class, when working class meant something. Today much of it affluent, even very affluent. Charlie Baker easily won the North End, just missed carrying Charlestown, and kept his loss in Ward One respectable. He will almost certainly do even better in #CD1 next year.
NEXT : the candidates
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere