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Special Senate election attracts diverse field of seven

From left: Diana Hwang, Lydia Edwards, and Jay Livingstone are all running for state Senate in a special election.

Seven people are vying to fill the vacant state Senate seat long held by an East Boston resident in Tuesday’s special election, which has garnered little attention outside a district that also includes parts of Boston, Cambridge, Winthrop, and Revere.

But the candidates’ names and faces are plastered on billboards and lawn signs along thoroughfares throughout the district, which for decades has been represented by white men from East Boston. This year, there’s a diverse field of candidates: Two are women of color, two are residents of Revere – one the former mayor and the other a sitting city councilor – and another lives in Winthrop.


“Normally, you could count on the fact that the East Boston candidate is going to be the winner,” said John Nucci, an East Boston native and former city councilor who is now senior vice president of external affairs at Suffolk University. “But there is no incumbent or long-term East Boston resident in the race. This is something new in the history of electoral politics in East Boston.”

The seat is up for grabs because Anthony Petruccelli resigned earlier this year to take a job as a lobbyist, opening the door for this crowded field of contenders, who have been knocking on doors, meeting business owners, and attending forum after forum, hoping to drum up support in this week’s special election.

Running for office are:

Daniel Rizzo (left) and Joseph Boncore.

■  Lydia Edwards, an African-American human rights attorney.

■  Diana Hwang, founder of the Asian-American Women’s Political Initiative.

■  Jay Livingstone, a state representative from Beacon Hill.

■  Joseph Boncore, a member of the Winthrop Housing Authority.

■  Steven Morabito, an at-large Revere city councilor.

■  Daniel Rizzo, former mayor of Revere.

■  Paul Rogers, a tech company owner from East Boston.

“It has not gone unnoticed that a community like East Boston has two minority candidates in the race,” Nucci said. “It’s a positive sign.”


It is also a sign of the changing landscape in the economically and racially diverse district, which includes not only East Boston — long the part of the district that turns out the most voters — but also Beacon Hill, Chinatown, and the North End.

Steven Morabito.handout

East Boston, according to the city’s website, “has always been a neighborhood of immigrants.” In the mid to late 1800s, Irish and Jewish immigrants settled in the community, followed by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s. And today, more than half of the neighborhood’s residents are Latino immigrants from Central and South America.

“I think that my story is the story of this district,” Hwang, whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, told a crowd of about 100 gathered Tuesday night in the basement of the Salesian Boys & Girls Club of East Boston. “No matter where you come from in this district, whether from Italy 40 years ago or El Salvador 10 years ago, we all share similar hopes and aspirations.”

The forum was hosted by Excel Academy Charter Schools, Brooke Charter Schools, as well as El Planeta, Boston’s Latino daily newspaper, and the Independent Media Group, publisher of the East Boston Times-Free Press.

Six of the seven candidates — Morabito was absent — gathered for 90 minutes Tuesday to answer questions on charter schools, affordable housing for seniors, and providing services for undocumented immigrants. But the forum also provided the candidates with an opportunity to introduce themselves to voters like Joanne Pomodoro who are still on the fence about whom to support.


“I’m narrowed down to two now,” said Pomodoro, 63, of East Boston, after the forum, declining to say who made her short list.

The licensed social worker said she liked what the candidates had to say, especially about education and caring for seniors, but she wished they touched on other issues such as the transgender bill and pay equity for men and women.

Paul Rogers.Facebook

This campaign has been a sprint for the candidates since Petruccelli announced his plan to leave office in December. And as with most special elections, the advantage tends to go to candidates who already have an established campaign infrastructure — money in the bank, supporters, advisers, and so on.

“My experience as a legislator sets me apart from all the other candidates in this race,” Livingstone, who represents part of the district already as a state representative, said in an e-mail. “The broad base of support I’ve received throughout the district reflects how people and organizations appreciate my experience and effectiveness.”

Hwang, Rogers, and Edwards are first-time candidates.

“We had nothing when we started but a dream,” said Edwards, a key figure in getting the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights signed into law two years ago, in an interview. “We have grown to 60 volunteers [and] 11 union endorsements . . . all in 12 weeks.”

Whoever wins Tuesday’s primary wins the seat, for all practical purposes, since there are only Democrats on the ballot. There’s always a spot for write-in candidates, “but it is extremely rare that somebody who writes in might defeat somebody whose name is on the ballot,” said Brian McNiff, a spokesman for the secretary of state.


So the ground game will be key to getting people to vote when there are no other issues or elections on the ballot to draw people to the polls, candidates and analysts say.

Candidates have made thousands of phone calls and knocked on hundreds of doors, trying to get their message to voters.

“At this point, every single one of us is canvassing every single day,” Edwards said.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.