Charles C. Yancey, Boston’s longest-serving city councilor and a pillar in the minority community, is locked in a tough political battle, trying to stave off his first real election challenger in years, a woman who has the backing of a committee led by Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s chief policy adviser.
The rival, Andrea Joy Campbell, has been building support from key political players in the city and gaining on Yancey’s turf. She has raised more than $108,000 — compared with $25,000 for Yancey in this campaign — a figure previously unheard of from a challenger in the district. (Yancey has raised $123,000 over a five-year period.)
And as Campbell recounts her triumphs over her family’s grief and losses, her story is resonating among residents who share similar struggles.
“People are very excited about my candidacy,’’ she said. “They are moved by my story.”
Yancey, a 66-year-old Dorchester resident and rights activist, said he has more work to do, even after 32 years in office.
“My opponent is going to have to raise a lot more money to catch up with me in terms of my years of service and commitment to this community,’’ Yancey said. “Money is important, but it’s not everything, and this district is not for sale.”
Political observers say Campbell represents the new Boston, noting her Ivy League and professional credentials and fund-raising power. But Yancey’s roots in the district run deep, they say, and it will be difficult to beat him, especially in this sleepy election year.
“He has extraordinary staying power and has worked his district really hard,’’ said Peter N. Ubertaccio, a Stonehill College political scientist.
“I know [Campbell] has some union support and raised a lot of money, but that really doesn’t play that much of a role in Councilor Yancey’s district race,’’ said Michael J. McCormack, a former five-term Boston city councilor.
District 4 — which includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale — is one of just two council races being contested in the Sept. 8 preliminaries. The other is District 7, where Roxbury Councilor Tito Jackson is fending off several long-shot challengers.
Yancey is also being challenged by Terrance Williams, a community activist who lost to Yancey in the last election. A third challenger, Jovan Lacet, recently dropped out of the race and threw his support to Yancey.
Campbell, meanwhile, has snagged multiple endorsements. Most recently, the Boston Ward 17 Democratic Committee voted 7-4 to back her over Yancey. The chairwoman of the committee is Joyce Linehan, a confidante of the mayor and his chief of policy — though both deny having any sway over the vote. Linehan does not live in the district and did not vote.
Yancey has been a thorn in the side of the Walsh administration. He called 30 audit hearings last year, vexing Walsh officials, whom Yancey accused of boycotting his hearings this year. Yancey has also complained that Walsh officials have yet to complete his longstanding request for city workforce-diversity data.
Raised in Roxbury, Yancey was a student activist at Tufts University. He became a community activist before he ran for office, winning his first council election in 1983. He has championed the creation of a new Mattapan police station and branch library, as well as community centers in Dorchester and Mattapan. His latest cause is putting body cameras on police officers.
Yancey shows up at crime scenes and ribbon cuttings, building trust among constituents who vote him back in office. When he ran for mayor in 2013, he received more votes for councilor than he did for mayor.
Yancey said Campbell moved only recently to Mattapan and called her activism in the community scant.
“She’s received some endorsements and she deserves credit,’’ Yancey said. “At some point she is going to have to talk about what she has done and what she will do.”
Campbell said she is focused on running a positive, grassroots campaign that is attracting volunteers and followers. She said her older brother, Alvin, suggested she run. She had left her job as a deputy counsel in Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, searching for her next move. Alvin was newly released from prison.
Campbell often tells her personal story on the campaign trail, riveting listeners.
Born in Roxbury, she was one of three children. Their mother died when she was 8 months old. Her father could not raise them, because he was incarcerated. They were sent to live with their grandmother, but she was gripped with alcoholism. They had stints in foster homes until her father was released. By then, she was 8. He died when she was 19.
She worked for a nonprofit after graduation, championing education causes, then went to work for Patrick. She worked on legal and policy issues, including education and immigration matters affecting children.
Three years ago, her twin, Andre, died as a pre-trial detainee because of what Campbell called inadequate medical care. After his death, she says she prayed for guidance, to find meaning to her life.
Since launching her campaign, Campbell said she’s heard from a host of people, thankful for a fresh face and a serious candidacy. They have pitched her campaign signs in their yard, called her, told their friends about her.
To critics who say she is new to Mattapan and lacks an activist résumé, Campbell said her work experiences make her more than capable.
Campbell said that when her father died, the relatives who took care of her lived in Mattapan, and it was her home base throughout and after college. She moved back for good about three years ago, she said.
With 25 days before the preliminary election, Campbell said she’s not worried about Yancey.
“I don’t see this as an uphill battle,’’ she said.
Clarification: A previous version of this story implied that Charles Yancey had raised $123,000 for just this campaign.