WINTHROP — Lydia Edwards has been working in state public policy and legal circles for a decade. She’s won election to Boston’s City Council three times. In her bid for Massachusetts Senate, she is backed by both the state’s US senators, its attorney general, Boston’s mayor, and nearly two dozen labor unions.
There’s also no guarantee that she’ll win. Buffeted by the holidays and an election-weary electorate, next week’s special Democratic Senate primary between Edwards, of East Boston, and Anthony D’Ambrosio, a 25-year-old Revere School Committee member, has become a contest steeped in uncertainty.
It has pitted parochial interests against each other, and to those paying attention, hinges less on how many voters turn out but where.
Few are expected to cast ballots in the 163,000-person district, which stretches from Beacon Hill and Cambridgeport into East Boston, Winthrop, and Revere. Its place on the calendar 11 days before Christmas — and just weeks after a Boston mayoral race that, too, saw low turnout — could further reduce the number of ballots cast, particularly in a district that’s sent only 13,000 to 16,000 voters to the polls in past special elections.
It has only intensified what’s an already sharp-elbowed campaign.
D’Ambrosio, a Yale- and University of Cambridge-educated financial analyst, has sought to portray himself as a young Beacon Hill outsider whose Italian family — many of them first- or second-generation immigrants, he says — has deep roots in the district.
D’Ambrosio’s father, Gerry, is a well-known lawyer in Revere’s political circles, previously sitting on the School Committee, whose firm currently provides outside counsel for the city. (Anthony D’Ambrosio, who attended Phillips Academy in Andover, first won his seat on the School Committee two years ago.)
Dan Rizzo, a former Revere mayor who twice has run for state Senate, including in 2016, cited his longstanding ties to the family in backing the younger D’Ambrosio, who also is endorsed by Brian Arrigo, the current mayor and Rizzo’s political nemesis.
D’Ambrosio’s ability to coalesce the city’s warring political factions has helped galvanize supporters, many of whom argue that only a senator who lives in Revere can understand the needs of the fast-growing city of 62,000. That wave of support is reflected across Revere, where 6-foot-long banners bearing D’Ambrosio’s name have sprouted along Broadway, one of its main throughways, and a billboard featuring him looms over Revere Beach Parkway.
“I feel Revere will not be represented, and the concerns that we face will not be addressed, with a Boston senator [as they would] with somebody who actually lives here and knows what’s going on,” said RoseLee Vincent, a former state representative for Revere. “It’s apples and oranges. And she’s an orange, and we’re an apple.”
Edwards, 40, rejects that narrative. “This isn’t any one city’s seat,” she said. “It’s four cities’ seat.”
An Air Force brat and Fordham University grad turned public interest attorney by trade, Edwards has pitched herself as the experienced candidate who has spent years representing low-paid workers, shaping legislation, and championing affordable housing in a city increasingly out of reach for low-income and middle class families.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, Mayor Michelle Wu, and Representative Ayanna Pressley lead a cadre of dozens of elected officials who have endorsed Edwards in her second bid for the seat. (She lost in a seven-way primary in 2016.)
If elected, she would be the first woman elected to a district long represented by white Italian men and become the only Black member in an overwhelmingly white Senate.
“She is probably overqualified to do this job,” said Juan Jaramillo, a Democratic state committee member from Revere and former aide to the district’s last senator, Joseph Boncore, who resigned to lead the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.
Parochialism has been part of the storyline in a district defined by its borders. For years, it was dubbed the “Eastie seat” before Boncore, a Winthrop Democrat, beat Edwards, Rizzo, and four others in the divided 2016 primary to become its first senator from outside East Boston in 23 years.
When Boncore left the seat in September — setting off the special election — Edwards and D’Ambrosio quickly sought to solidify their bases on the district’s bookends while making inroads in places like Winthrop. At the moment, no one is listed on the GOP ballot for the Dec. 14 primary, though Paul Caruccio, a Winthrop Republican, said Wednesday in a social media post that he is running a write-in campaign, with the goal of making the January general election ballot.
A 19,000-person peninsula, the town is considered a more conservative Democratic pocket of the state that, until last year, had been represented by the centrist speaker of the Massachusetts House.
Both Edwards and D’Ambrosio have emphasized the importance of fortifying a region surrounded by the ocean from climate change. They both say they support expanding ferry service, or easing the direct costs on Winthrop.
There are also few differences on other policies. Both back the so-called millionaires tax ballot question, which would subject personal income above $1 million to a surtax in order to raise billions, ostensibly for transportation and education. Edwards supports eliminating fares on the MBTA; D’Ambrosio says he’s for a “free or very cheap T.”
The small deviations have only underlined how differently they’ve pitched themselves to voters.
In a virtual forum hosted by the town’s Democratic committee on Monday, D’Ambrosio declared himself the “Winthrop candidate,” emphasizing that his mother grew up in town and he still has family there, ensuring he wouldn’t ignore it if elected.
“I know as sure as heck my grandma would be mad at me [if I did],” he joked.
In a forum in East Boston the week prior, Edwards, who earned her law degree from American University and has a master of laws degree in taxation from Boston University, began delving into the particulars of tax policy to raise money for education before stopping herself. “I don’t know if you guys like taxes that much,” she said with a laugh.
D’Ambrosio’s campaign in recent days has flooded Winthrop with mailers attacking Edwards’s record on housing, citing donations she’s received from developers and a story in local Revere paper about how five tenants were evicted from a Chelsea property “in the lead up to” her buying the property in 2015. (Edwards didn’t own the Marlborough Street property at the time, and she was not party to the eviction cases, according to housing court records reviewed by the Globe.)
Edwards dismissed the attacks as “silliness” at the forum in Winthrop. “It’s public,” she said of her record. “It’s clear.”
Where it’s all left voters remains to be seen, activists say.
“I’ve heard of people out measuring signs to make sure they’re correct,” said Stephen Stoddard, a Democratic state committee member who lives in Winthrop, where until recently, officials had enforced a rule that candidates’ lawn signs could not exceed 3 square feet.
“When it gets ticky-tacky like that,” he said, “that means, to me, it’s going to be competitive.”