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In Massachusetts, the left is fighting the left

A move to kick state Representative Mike Connolly out of the Boston chapter of Democratic Socialists of America is a choice between purity and power.

Globe staff/Patrick Rolands/Adobe

Barack Obama’s press secretary once dismissed liberal naysayers as “the professional left.”

State Senator Lydia Edwards is even more scathing. When talking about the move by some members of the Boston chapter of Democratic Socialists of America to oust state Representative Mike Connolly for sins that include endorsing her, Edwards said, “The ‘let them eat cake’ wing of the left is so out of touch with the lived struggle of so many people. They will hold their breath for purity and throw a temper tantrum, while they are stably housed, food secure, and healthy.” Edwards, the first woman and first person of color to represent her district, also calls DSA members “progressive white supremacists.” Asked why, Edwards said: “They are progressive. They also believe they know what is better for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) people. And whether they want to admit it, trusting your perspective of what is better for people of color than people of color telling you … is white supremacy.”


The spat between Connolly and the DSA — first reported by Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky — puts a local spin on a bigger, national political story: The ongoing battle between the left and center of the Democratic Party. In progressive states like Massachusetts, the left is also starting to fight the left. “That is part of the story and what that means for Democratic politics, if the incentive is not to get things done, is to prove their purity and moral superiority,” said Liam Kerr, founder of Priorities for Progress, which promotes more centrist Democratic policies to attract independent voters. You can see the left vs. left in-fighting when the ultraliberal Boston City Council votes to slash $30 million from the police budget and the liberal Mayor Michelle Wu makes headlines for standing up to “woke” politics by restoring the money. And you can see it when a lefty lawmaker from Cambridge like Connolly can get an A-plus rating from Progressive Massachusetts but can still flunk the DSA’s purity test.

According to the motion to expel Connolly that was obtained by Politico, besides supporting Edwards, Connolly’s ideological betrayals also include supporting Maura Healey for governor, voting for Ronald Mariano for House speaker, and backing Wu’s “milquetoast version of rent stabilization.” He also supported and promoted “the British royal family’s greenwashing junket to Somerville,” a reference to last December’s visit by Prince William and his wife to a climate-tech startup in Somerville.


Connolly tweeted that he plans to defend himself at a July 23 meeting that will take up the expulsion motion.

“I’m proud of my record in the state Legislature and all the work I’ve been able to do for our community, working together with a wide range of partners, from fellow DSA members and all of my friends on the Left, to legislative leaders, Senator Edwards, Mayor Wu, Speaker Mariano, Governor Healey and many others,” he said. In a statement, Boston DSA said it will be taking up the expulsion motion according to its bylaws and will have no comment until the vote is taken.

“Power and purity are forever at odds, and progressive candidates will always have to choose one,” Kerr said. Meanwhile, as Kerr points out, if Connolly’s choices aren’t pure enough for DSA and he is expelled, the group will be losing one of their two legislative office holders. That will decrease, not increase, their influence on Beacon Hill. “People have to choose what they want. A pragmatic progressive or someone beholden to the professional left. It’s a choice between getting stuff done and getting nothing done,” he said.


Edwards sees it that way, too. When it comes to policy, she said she believes in “people over purity.” She said the DSA supported and endorsed her when she first ran for Boston City Council. But by the time she ran for a state Senate seat, one member of the DSA wrote an opinion piece saying she didn’t deserve the socialist group’s support.

She said she believes she further crossed the DSA for, among other things, endorsing Kevin Hayden for Suffolk district attorney over Ricardo Arroyo and supporting police reform but also thanking police for the job they do. She’s also very outspoken when it comes to criticizing progressive stands such as defunding the police. That, Edwards said, is “overwhelmingly a white suburban mantra. Say that in Mattapan.” Another example of progressives being out of touch is the willingness of protesters to get arrested. “I can’t think of a greater way to say, ‘I am white, rich, and privileged. So privileged I can afford to have an arrest record,’” Edwards said.

Meanwhile, those DSA members seeking Connolly’s expulsion cite a poll of members that was taken last September showing that over 76 percent of respondents want “accountability” even if it results in some “public-facing noise and/or drama.”


Mission accomplished, comrades.

Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @joan_vennochi.