By John Lynds
At Kelley Square Pub in East Boston on election night last Tuesday, Lydia Edwards stood on a chair in the middle of the dinning room and declared her historic win as the first woman of color to be elected to the District 1 City Council seat a ‘mandate’.
Edwards edged out challenger Stephen Passacantilli of the North End 52.73 percent to 47.14 percent. When all the votes were counted in the District, Edwards ended the night with 6,897 votes to Passacantilli’s 6,167.
You can’t take anything away from Edwards’s big win last week. She out campaigned, out maneuvered and out messaged Passacantilli.
It was a stark difference from her first shot at politics when she ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate during a special election in 2016. While Edwards had a good showing, and won Eastie she came in fourth in a field of seven candidates. This time around she learned from the strengths and weaknesses of that first race and emerged as a more polished candidate that knew how to build momentum throughout the campaign. She made all the right moves. She held big endorsements to the end of the race so they were fresh in the memory of voters. Her campaign literature was sharp and on point and her ability to dissect a questions at forums and debates and give passionate and, at times, personal answers that seemed to come from the heart was unmatched.
In Eastie she wooed the ever changing demographic in the neighborhood, topped the ticket with 3,416 votes and won 10 out of the neighborhood’s 14 precincts. Millennial and young professionals, who have taken over a majority of the Eastie’s neighborhood groups, and are becoming a political force in Eastie, turned out in big numbers last week.
In Jeffries Point, which includes Precincts 1 through 3, Edwards won by 70 percent of the vote. In Maverick, Paris Flats and Eagle Hill, which includes Precincts 5 through 10 her winning percentage dipped to just over 64 percent. In the four Precincts up Orient Heights Edwards dipped even further and she only captured 43 percent of the vote. In the end, Edwards ended up with 59 percent of the vote in Eastie. One can attribute her big wins in Precincts 1 through 10 to the changing demographic of the neighborhood as more liberal progressives move into the neighborhood. That coupled with the Passacantilli campaign focusing heavily on the old guard vote in Orient Heights that just didn’t turn out in big numbers, handed an Eastie win to Edwards last week.
Over in Charlestown things got a little closer and Passacantilli narrowed the gap. Edwards received 2,552 votes to Passacantilli’s 2,179 votes–a 373 vote swing.
So while many will argue the election came down to Charlestown, it was really in Passacantilli home turf that the election was decided.
In the North End 2,795 votes were cast with Passacantilli receiving 1,866 votes to Edwards’s 929 votes. Passacantilli was only able to capture 64.6 percent of the vote, but dipped from the 70 percent he got in the Preliminary. Passacantilli needed to go over 80 percent of the vote in his home neighborhood to win. While some will scoff at the idea of a candidate winning by that much of a margin in the North End it is not unheard of. Former Senator Anthony Petruccelli received over 80 percent of the vote during his first run for Senate against Dan Rizzo. If Passacantilli could have accomplished what Petruccelli had done the race may have ended very differently. Edwards did a good job of convincing just enough of the North End that her message was a winner and while only 36 percent agreed it was enough to put her on top election night.
In the final analysis Edwards worked hard and was rewarded by 52 percent of the voters, but she must now make the tough transition from campaigning to governance.
“I can’t believe this, look at what we did,” Edwards told her crowd of supporters at Kelley’s last Tuesday night. “Together we proudly made history tonight. I’m so proud of all of you. I thank you all so much. This is what a grassroots campaign looks like. This is the most beautiful room in Boston tonight. I see so many people whose hands I shook and doors I knocked on. I see so many colors and so many religions in this room. It took all of us to show what a people’s campaign looks like. My heart is so filled is so filled with joy because we won going high, being positive and being inclusive.”
If Edwards is going to be a successful Councilor, she must reach out to the over 6,000 voters that went with the other side. The inclusiveness she speaks of will have to start with those residents of District 1, the ones that aren’t so sure of her platform or apprehensive of some of her progressive ideas and policies.
If she can convince those voters they are in good hands and their voices will also be heard she will have a true mandate next time around.