^ “new leadership” in Boston : District One candidate Lydia Edwards (l) with her “cm” (campaign manager), Gabriela Coletta, a veteran of several successful local campaigns

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Upon seeing the September 26 vote, my former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein wrote that “women of color are leading the new era” in Boston politics. He has a point; but their leadership is much less about skin and much more about candidates who really know their stuff. Yes, Chyna Tyler, Linda Dorcena Forry, Michelle Wu, Ayanna Pressley, Andrea Campbell, and now Lydia Edwards, a District One candidate, are all “women of color.” But voters are not stupid, nor, in Boston, do they vote for skin. They vote for whom they perceive to be the best candidate.

Long connection does make a difference. The reason why a broad spectrum of “women of color” have only begun to break through in the past five years or so is because they are not connected to the old connections of Irish and Italian-descended voters whose connectivity as formed an habitual electoral winning streak. It takes time for new connections of this profoundly long-term kind tr,o become a bond, and of course the large exodus from Boston of the vast majority of old-connected Irish and Italian-descended voters factors large in the change that Bernstein writes about. The voter list in District One, for example, is barely 20 percent comprised of Irish and Italian-descended people.

Still, many of these voters embraced Lydia Edwards’s candidacy on September 26, just as Councillor at Large Ayanna Pressley has won the votes of West Roxbury and State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry won many voters, in her 2013 campaign, who were not of color. District One has hardly any Black voters and not very many voters who are Latino nor Asian. Skin color clearly played very little part in her September 26 vote, a mere 77 short of the total amassed by the “traditional” candidate, Stephen Passacantilli.

The voters whose votes put Edwards within striking distance of a victory — she already won Charlestown, as “traditional” a neighborhood as any in Boston, and won it by carrying the “traditional” precincts; the new-Charlestown Precinct One, she lost — chose her f or her mastery of the issues, her embrace of several neighborhood wants, and her dogged hard work. She won votes from very conservative voters and from female civic activists, of which Charlestown has many more than a few. As she says, “it’s the coalition you build.”

Easier said than done — but one means of doing it is to be open to every sort of voter and to work hard and personally so those many sorts of voters see that (1) you are open t.o them and (2) willing to work hard to persuade them. This is what Dorcena Forry aimed to do, and did, and it is what Ayanna Pressley has worked for many years to do, and has done. Andrea Campbell’s and Chyna Tyler’s rises were somewhat different. Both ran, and won, in Districts where voters of color are a clear majority. Yet both won the majority of votes cast by Caucasian voters in their districts by being the better candidate, by effort committed and by mastery of the issues their voters care about.

If Lydia Edwards wins the final on November 7th — as right now she looks poised to do — it will not be because of her skin but because of her effort, mastery, and willingness to connect with all kinds of voters. Admittedly, the diminished numbers of long-connected Irish and Italian descended voters has given her that chance; but Stephen Passacantilli — whose family has been well respected in the District for 100 years —  did not fail to win a convincing primary vote because “traditional” voters have lost numbers. Edwards won plenty of such voters in what so far has been a much more broadly based, smarter primary campaign.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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