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City council race for Eastie, North End, Charlestown comes to a head Tuesday

Tania Del Rio (left) and Gabriella "Gigi" Coletta are running for the District 1 City Council seat.Jim Davis

The special election contest that concludes Tuesday between Gabriela “Gigi” Coletta and Tania Del Rio, who are competing to replace Lydia Edwards on the Boston City Council, has in many ways flown under the radar.

In what typically is considered the offseason for city political campaigns, Tuesday will mark the fifth time voters from a good-sized chunk of the council district head to the polls since September. The vote follows two mayoral contests and two state Senate Election Days. (Edwards is leaving the council seat, which represents East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End, for the state Senate, a post for which she ran unopposed in January after winning a primary the previous month.)


The council race features two candidates who largely agree on many of the major challenges facing the district. Both cite the city’s ongoing housing crisis and climate change as major and knotty problems that affect the everyday lives of Bostonians.

And there have been few campaign fireworks in what has largely been a civil affair between the two candidates. The brief moments the race has garnered significant media attention, it was for old, problematic social media posts that prompted apologies from both contenders.

Gabriela "Gigi" Coletta met union members who came out to hold signs for her at the intersection of Bennington Street and Saratoga Street this week.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Coletta, 29, a lifelong East Boston resident, worked for a time as Edwards’s former chief of staff — the two met door-knocking for Barack Obama in New Hampshire in 2012 — and most recently worked as the external relations manager for the New England Aquarium.

Born in Mexico, Del Rio, 36, also lives in East Boston, where she settled with her family in 2017 after moving to the area to attend graduate school in 2014. Del Rio was most recently the executive director of the YWCA Cambridge and previously served as director for the Boston mayor’s office of women’s advancement.

But voter fatigue is a concern after the litany of recent election days. Coletta said a priority of her campaign is simply letting people know that an election is happening Tuesday.


One day last week, her campaign tried to increase awareness with a rush-hour sign standout at the intersection of Saratoga and Bennington streets, which she wants to make more pedestrian friendly. Coletta made small talk with three dozen sign-wielding supporters, many of whom came from labor unions that had endorsed her.

For Coletta, the top challenge facing the district is displacement due to gentrification. On a personal level, Coletta said, home ownership “feels pretty far away from me.” Boston has seen an unprecedented building boom in recent years but, she said, “the affordability never trickled down.”

“We’re feeling a lot of pressure,” said Coletta.

Tania Del Rio, right, spoke to Zoila Chavez de Ticas at the Lyman Elderly Housing Apartments during lunch on Friday.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Likewise, Del Rio has said that housing affordability is a huge challenge for the district. Speaking to a group of seniors at the Lyman School Apartments in East Boston Friday, she recounted how her young family was only able to buy an apartment through a city-run affordable home ownership program.

A group of residents, all women, asked about what they called a “concrete jungle” of new development in the neighborhood and wanted to know why so much of it was too expensive for people who have lived in East Boston for decades.

“I learned that of the city’s affordable housing portfolio, 97 percent of it is public housing or rentals, whereas only 3 percent are the kinds of income-restricted ownership opportunities that we benefited from,” Del Rio said, “Which are the opportunities that actually that allow you to invest in a community for the long term and build your wealth.”


Del Rio advocated for more organized and purposeful city planning, supporting Mayor Michelle Wu’s efforts to separate planning functions from the Boston Planning & Development Agency. She said the city should raise the percentage of affordable units it requires in new large-scale development, from 13 percent to 20, like in Cambridge, or 25 percent.

Here is a look at where the two candidates on other top issues facing the city:

Waterfront development

In a district with significant stretches of shoreline, Coletta said she supports Wu’s plan to focus a harbor development plan on East Boston, adding that the city should look to the Dutch cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam for ideas on how to deal with sea level rise.

Del Rio noted that the city relies on developer money to fund climate resilience projects and advocated for those funds to come from the city budget or other government sources. She called for a carbon emissions budget for municipal buildings and vehicles, so the city can be more responsible for its emissions.


Coletta said that despite some complaints about the performance of a new independent police watchdog in Boston, she has confidence in the leadership of the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency. Del Rio said it may be premature to judge the office’s performance, since Boston had three mayors in its first year of operations. She said she looked forward to the office being able to do its job without constant turnover in the mayor’s office.


Outdoor dining

The furor over outdoor dining in the North End, Coletta said, has “pitted residents against business owners.”

“Nobody wanted that,” she said. “At the end of the day everyone has to be a good neighbor.”

It’s an issue that apparently prompted a North End restaurateur to launch an 11th-hour “sticker campaign” for the city council post vacated by Edwards. Jorge Mendoza told the Boston Herald he’s doing just that.

Del Rio said she was attuned to the quality-of-life concerns North End residents had over the outdoor dining program and said the city should have restaurateurs in the neighborhood go through the same outdoor dining permitting process used in the rest of the city.

Boston’s 311 system

Coletta said she wants to reform the city’s 311 system to make it more transparent, to increase clarity on how a complaint is or is not resolved.

Residents have told Del Rio they find municipal services confusing and difficult to navigate, she said. She called for the city’s 311 app to add non-English languages, which are not currently available.

“I’ve heard quality-of-life issues from all corners of the district and I want to be the one to take care of them,” Del Rio said. “I want to be making those calls myself.”


Both candidates said they support an elected School Committee.

A product of Boston Public Schools, Coletta said the district lacks leadership stability at the moment. Too many school facilities are crumbling and the district is facing a teacher and paraprofessional shortage, she said. Students’ mental health should be a top priority, she said.


Del Rio, a mother of two children, 2 and 6, noted that school buses can be unreliable, and that can upend a working parent’s day. The schools should streamline the process for students with learning difficulties, she said, so parents don’t have to fight for the services their children need.

Back on the campaign trail, Coletta knocked on doors after the standout on the East Boston intersection. She strode around a neighborhood tightly packed with residential homes. For residents who weren’t home, she scribbled a note on campaign literature and wedged it in their doors.

Her pitch to one voter who answered his door: She grew up in East Boston’s Eagle Hill and she has worked in City Hall. She noted how she helped get a parking street sign moved so that one local road could have an additional parking spot. The voter, a man in his 20s, wanted to know what the city is doing to electrify its vehicle fleet and asked for the name of Coletta’s opponent. Coletta offered a diplomatic response, telling him she had nothing bad to say about Del Rio.

“The defining difference in this race is my experience,” she said.

At another point during her door knocking, a woman driving an SUV stopped and yelled out to Coletta. The driver knows her mother, who has worked at East Boston High School for more than 20 years, she said. She pledged to vote for Coletta.

At the end of her talk with Lyman School Apartments residents, Del Rio noticed a woman who had not spoken during the lunch. Zoila Chavez de Ticas, who was born in El Salvador, lit up when Del Rio started speaking with her in Spanish.

“By the Almighty, you are going to win,” Chavez de Ticas told Del Rio, who smiled excitedly. Despite having a large Latino population, Del Rio said, District 1 has not had a Latino representative on the council.

At the end of their conversation, Chavez de Ticas gave Del Rio a warm hug. They exchanged promises to ask God for blessings, and Chavez de Ticas headed to the elevator.

Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.