The odd timing — one day after Memorial Day — of the May 28 Democratic primary to fill the state representative vacancy in the 8th Suffolk district practically assures a marginal turnout. But voters in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and parts of Cambridge can choose between two substantive candidates: attorney Jay Livingstone and Joshua Dawson, a former legislative aide who also served as the executive director of state Treasurer Steve Grossman’s campaign committee.
The candidates have similar positions on many major issues. Each has committed time to local civic organizations and worked diligently on behalf of the Democratic Party. But their political styles are a study in contrasts. Dawson, 30, is a strategic thinker who speaks broadly of the need to create an environment that encourages young innovators to stay in the city and raise their families. The Ohio native speaks of arriving in Boston in 2005 with just a few dollars in his pocket. By force of personality, he worked his way quickly into the political establishment on Beacon Hill. Livingstone, 39, is analytical and process-oriented, serving as clerk of the zoning committee for Beacon Hill Civic Association. The North Attleborough native vows to make sure residents’ concerns are fully met before green-lighting development projects.
With his superior political acumen and policy expertise, Dawson would be the stronger voice for the district. While both candidates list public transportation improvements as critical to the district, Dawson is far more passionate about the need to expand Red Line capacity as a key to the success of the region’s innovation economy. On development, Dawson is more open-minded regarding policies that will attract new residents and businesses. He opposes, for example, a bill to ban all structures that add new shadows on Copley Square, the Esplanade, and other downtown green spaces. It’s a blunt measure that undermines the city’s planning authority and hampers transit-oriented growth. Livingstone supports the shadow ban.
Both candidates express strong support for public education. But neither is in favor of lifting the cap on public charter schools, which are among the highest-performing schools in Boston. Each has a lot to learn about education reform, which was so ably championed by former state representative Martha Walz, who vacated the seat to head the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
Walz and other liberal leaders have endorsed Livingstone. Dawson enjoys union support from teachers and the building trades. Both appear sufficiently independent to weigh issues on their merits. The difference is in their approach to the job. Livingstone is deliberative to a fault, declining to offer positions on many major issues until he weighs more evidence. Dawson has a clearer agenda for the district, and shows the energy to pursue it aggressively.