All across Boston, the old stereotypes of identity politics have been slowly breaking down. Nowhere is that more evident than in the First Suffolk Senate District, which includes all of South Boston, most of Dorchester, much of Mattapan, and small parts of Hyde Park.
The recent departure of state Senator Jack Hart drew three impressive candidates into the Democratic primary campaign. The race, which will be decided Tuesday, defies the tired expectations of a conservative white candidate from South Boston matching up against a progressive minority candidate from Dorchester. In fact, all three candidates are working across traditional lines. They agree on most of the issues. And all are highly compatible with voters across the entire district.
Maureen Dahill, 43, is a fourth-generation daughter of South Boston who brings both technical skills as a small business owner and a desire to pick up the pace of decision-making on Beacon Hill. This political newcomer is fiercely independent. Like many longtime residents of South Boston, Dahill has friends and family members working in the unionized municipal workforce. Yet she is a strong supporter of both pension reform and charter schools.
Dahill’s real-life experiences, and passion for her community, make her a strong candidate for future leadership. But for now, the potential for rapid development in South Boston and underdevelopment in Dorchester, with large numbers of needy families in neighborhoods across the district, require the attention of a candidate with extensive experience in constituent services. There are two such candidates in this race.
State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester has been an effective lawmaker for eight years, with special expertise on job creation and community development. As a Haitian-American who married into a prominent Irish-American family, she moves easily across the district’s ethnic neighborhoods. More importantly, she has served as a bridge when necessary. Dorcena Forry, 39, stepped in when a new assignment plan for the Boston schools threatened to break down along racial lines. She played a similar role in brokering a fair agreement between temporary workers and business owners.
Dorcena Forry respects the role of unions but is willing to set limits for the public good. She believes, for example, that Boston teachers should work longer hours without excessive pay demands.
Some refer to the First Suffolk District as the “Southie seat’’ that passed from former state senate president William Bulger to Stephen Lynch, now a US representative, and then to Hart. State Representative Nick Collins is seen by some as part of that insular continuum. But that misses the essence of his candidacy.
Collins, 30, has his finger on the pulse of every major issue in the district — the abuse of prescription painkillers, the need for reentry jobs for prisoners, the continuing expansion of the South Boston waterfront, and the need to jump-start development in poorer neighborhoods, especially along the Fairmount commuter rail line. Collins’s aggressive approach to the latter and his reputation for tireless work have generated support from some minority leaders in Dorchester.
While enjoying strong union support, Collins is also willing to sacrifice that support in the interest of public education. He said he backs current efforts to lift the cap on charter schools. Dorcena Forry, meanwhile, is mulling the issue. For her part, Dorcena Forry led a recent successful effort in the House to increase the salaries of early childhood workers. The ability to attract more and better talent to that field has huge implications for the future of the district. A mother of four, Dorcena Forry can be trusted to keep education at the forefront of the Legislature’s agenda.
In a race like this one, in which all candidates have talent and commitment, voters can hardly make a bad choice. In such a situation, experience can be a decisive factor, and on that score Dorcena Forry, with more than twice the number of years in elected office than Collins, should be first in line for the Senate seat. She would be a formidable advocate for the entire district.