fb-pixel Skip to main content
Yvonne Abraham

Special election could add diversity to state Senate

Lydia Edwards.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

This is the happy day I’ve been waiting for, that a lot of people dreaming of more diversity on Beacon Hill have been waiting for.

Among the seven hopefuls competing in Tuesday’s special election for the First Suffolk and Middlesex state Senate seat are not one, but two super impressive women of color.

For years, we’ve been lamenting the fact that too few women run for office. Now, a couple of months after four women were elected to the Boston City Council, we might be looking at a different trend entirely.

But this is also the not-so-happy day we’ve gotten way too accustomed to. Both of these women are considered long shots, especially in a truncated special election where name recognition can be king.


Still, long odds have never much deterred these two.

Lydia Edwards deeply understands the struggles of poor and immigrant workers — people who, as she describes them, “look at me and tell me, ‘I’ve done everything right, I’ve worked one or two jobs, and I can’t make it.’ ” As a public interest attorney, she represents nannies, cleaners, and trafficking victims. She pushed successfully for legislators to pass a domestic workers bill of rights, one of the first of its kind in the nation.

She’s the 35-year-old daughter of a single mother, a veteran who worked low-wage jobs to make her rent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Edwards and her twin sister were the only black students in their grade. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, she has two law degrees.

Diana Hwang, 33, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, grew up in Houston and went to school at Dartmouth College. For years, the former legislative aide has been working to give young Asian women a path to power in this state, running an internship program to put low-income, immigrant, Asian-Americans on Beacon Hill, widening their worlds — and those of the lawmakers they work for.


“You’ll never be one of them,” she recalled her father saying when she got her first job in the State House. She wants to make sure nobody else believes that.

Both have had some success navigating the maze of Beacon Hill power; both are progressives, committed to being a voice for voters across this wildly diverse district, which includes Revere, Winthrop, parts of Cambridge, and parts of Boston, including East Boston and Beacon Hill.

Diana Hwang.

Both have assets that newbies sometimes lack: key endorsements — Edwards from 11 unions and several elected officials; Hwang from Senators Linda Dorcena-Forry and Sonia Chang-Diaz and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley — and money. Hwang especially has used her strong network to out-raise the entire field so far this year, allowing her to pay for a terrific TV ad that will raise her profile.

But a foreshortened race is a curse for candidates like these. There is so little time to campaign that those with an established base, and name, have outsized influence. In this field, there are three candidates with a serious base: Jay Livingstone, a state rep from Beacon Hill; Joseph Boncore, an elected member of the Winthrop Housing Authority; and Dan Rizzo, who narrowly lost reelection in November as mayor of Revere, which makes up the biggest single chunk of the district — and may give him an insurmountable advantage come Tuesday.


We have to hope the power of political inertia — the pull of the familiar — doesn’t hold again here. If it does, Beacon Hill will continue to be embarrassingly unreflective of the state it is supposed to represent.

“When I see how diverse this district is, it’s important that we have someone who represents all voters,” Hwang said.

So, we’ve made some progress. We have more women and minority candidates in the pipeline. But the pipeline is still way too narrow.

Not that I’m giving up on a breakthrough. If turnout beats expectations, especially in poorer and minority communities, the first-timers have better shots — and we have a chance at a Legislature that is slightly less distorted.

Edwards knows the odds, but also, she says, the intensity of her backers.

“Statistics have never served me well,” she said. “My mom is a single mom with two black girls. Statistically speaking, I shouldn’t be here at all. It just motivates me to keep moving.”

Win or lose, we desperately need candidates who see things like that.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com.