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2 Democrats vie for state representative post

Hopefuls seek seat Walz once held

Josh Dawson (left) and Jay Livingstone.

Josh Dawson (left) and Jay Livingstone.

In the Back Bay and Beacon Hill, the heart of historic Boston, and in Cambridgeport across the river, a special election Tuesday will likely determine the area’s new state representative.

But with Boston still reeling from the Marathon bombings and the scheduling of the primary election one day after the holiday weekend, the contest for the Eighth Suffolk state Representative district is likely to draw relatively few voters.

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“I bet it’s not going to be a terrific turnout,” said Howard Kassler, the chairman of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay. “I think people know about it. Do they feel strongly enough to come out and vote on this? I don’t know.”

He called the race a choice between “two young, pleasant, progressive Democrats.”

The candidates are Josh Dawson, a 30-year-old Ohio native and former Massachusetts political aide, and Jay Livingstone, a 39-year-old employment discrimination attorney, born in Norwood and raised in North Attleborough.

The seat became vacant when state Representative Martha “Marty” Walz, who had a high-profile role on education reform legislation, stepped down in February to become president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

No Republican candidate is on the ballot, but Victor Navarro of Cambridge told the Globe he is mounting a write-in campaign to become the GOP nominee.

Like other politicians running in the Boston area, Dawson and Livingstone temporarily suspended their campaigns after the double-bombings that killed three people and injured at least 260 people rocked the center of their district.

But both say their door-to-door, voter-to-voter campaign efforts have been back in full swing since they resumed political activity about a week after the bombings.

In phone interviews, both Democratic candidates admitted significant similarities between them, but emphasized what each saw as his individual strengths.

Dawson, who moved to Boston after college, worked as a legislative aide to state Senator Thomas P. Kennedy and then as the executive director of Treasurer Steve Grossman’s political committee.

“The main difference between the two of us is the experience,” Dawson said. “I am the only candidate in the race who has worked in the Legislature.”

Livingstone, a member of the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s board of directors, said development issues are “something I have a lot of experience with and my opponent does not.”

He asserted he had a better grasp of “allowing developments to go forward, but making sure they do so in a way that doesn’t hurt the quality of life.”

One point on which the candidates disagree is a bill backed by Walz that aims to regulate the construction of buildings that would cast shadows on certain metro area public parks, including the Charles River Esplanade and Copley Square Park.

Dawson opposes the bill, saying it is not for the state to tell a local municipality how to regulate on that issue and that it “undermines a neighborhood’s voice in development projects.”

Livingstone supports it. “To suggest that the state has no role to play in preserving these jewels of the state,” he said, “doesn’t make sense to me.”

But perhaps the most significant difference between the two candidates, both of whom are Boston residents, is who has lined up behind them.

Among other endorsements, Livingstone, who has framed himself as the more progressive candidate, has the backing of Walz and her predecessor, Paul C. Demakis.

“Jay will be a strong, effective state representative who can appropriately blend the two sides of the work: being a statewide policy advocate and representing the district,” Walz told the Globe.

Dawson has more union support and, among other elected officials, the endorsement of Boston City Councilor Michael P. Ross and Grossman, Dawson’s former boss.

“I’ve had occasion to see thousands of activists come and go and I consider Josh to be one of the best and brightest of his generation,” Grossman told the Globe.

Given the high likelihood of a low turnout, both candidates said in the final days of the race they were focusing on the pavement-pounding essentials of local race: voter contact.

“Today was amazing!” Livingstone tweeted Saturday. “We knocked on 1000+ voters’ doors, with a great team out in force despite the cold & rain.”

“If knocking on doors and talking to voters is the way you win elections, there’s no way I’m going to lose,” Dawson said.

The Eighth Suffolk Representative District stretches along both sides of the Charles River and includes most of Beacon Hill, the Back Bay, the West End, Cambridgeport, and the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The general election for the seat is June 25 and probably will bring a higher turnout because US Senate candidates Gabriel E. Gomez, a Republican, and Edward J. Markey, a Democrat, are on the ballot.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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