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Charlestown, a neighborhood in flux, becomes political battleground

Margaret Farmer (right) has lived in East Boston for roughly 15 years.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

They come from East Boston’s waterfront and airport communities, and the North End’s Hanover Street. Lydia Edwards co-founded a soup kitchen and worked on housing issues in East Boston, while Margaret Farmer headed the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association. Generations in the North End know the family name of Stephen Passacantilli.

And, come January, they all want to represent Charlestown as well.

The neighborhood — prepping for significant transformation with the opening of a casino in nearby Everett, the replacement of the North Washington Street Bridge, and the revitalization of a public housing project into a mammoth One Charlestown development — does not have a representative in the race for the District One seat on the City Council, which Councilor Sal LaMattina is vacating after more than a decade.


With less than two weeks to go before the Sept. 26 preliminary election, Charlestown is on track to become Ground Zero for candidates who come from separate corners of the district, according to political observers. The top two vote recipients move on to the general election on Nov. 7.

“In these kinds of races, it’s not so much about the ideology involved, it’s about having the neighborhood involved,” said Lawrence DiCara, a partner at Nixon Peabody and a former city council president.

“Charlestown will be the battleground,” he said. “. . . Nobody lives there, and because nobody lives there nobody can stand up and say ‘I’m your guy, I’m your lady’.”

In the 2013 municipal election, which included a hotly contested mayoral race, Charlestown turned out 34 percent of the district’s 16,321 votes, compared with 48 percent from East Boston, and 18 percent from the North End, according to a Globe analysis.

State Representative Daniel J. Ryan, was the first official from Charlestown to be elected to state or city government, in 2014, in nearly 40 years — and he remains the only one who represents the neighborhood at those levels (Attorney General Maura Healey is from the neighborhood but holds statewide office). Some locals expressed dismay when no one from the neighborhood decided to run for the council seat.


They say so much is at stake in the community, including possible mitigation arrangements from the casino development, and a say in the restoration of the old Bunker Hill Housing Development.

“When it’s your neighbor, someone who walks the same streets as you, and drives the same roads as you, they’re just going to understand the impact better,” said Ryan, who ran for the council seat against LaMattina when it was open in 2005, but lost the North End vote.

Ryan said LaMattina represented the neighborhood well, and they have since worked together, but, “our democracy is still built on geography. It’s built on where you live, what schools you go to, what roads you drive on, what parks you use, and that’s why it’s so important to have local representation.”

Jack Kelly, a policy adviser for outgoing Councilor Bill Linehan and a Charlestown resident who was seen as a possible neighborhood frontrunner when the council seat opened up (he decided against running) said in an interview that the neighborhood has become “very important ... from a real estate perspective.” But, he said, voters will be looking for someone who “will stand up for the community.”

“I’m not interested in what the value is from a real estate perspective, I’m interested in who’s going to fight for the values of the people who live there,” said Kelly, who said he has not endorsed a candidate.


The opportunity has two candidates from East Boston and one from the North End seeking to connect with voters, saying Charlestown’s concerns spread across the district.

“Big things are happening at District One, at a level we have not seen,” Lydia Edwards says.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

On Sunday, they plan to meet at a barbecue meet-and-great at a local condominium complex.

“Big things are happening at District One, at a level we have not seen,” said Edwards, who is on leave from her job as deputy director of the Boston Office of Housing Stability.

Edwards, an attorney who has worked on behalf of immigrants and for workers’ rights, and who lost the race for a vacant state Senate seat last year, said Charlestown deserves to be “at the table” during discussions over traffic improvements such as the construction of the new bridge.

“Too many people feel these are things happening to them, to their community, and they’re an afterthought,” she said.

Farmer, who has lived in East Boston for roughly 15 years, said she has seen the transformation that development of luxury housing has had on her neighborhood, and said Charlestown voters have expressed similar concerns, including about traffic.

“No one is talking about how developments such as the casino and the housing project will affect Charlestown,” said Farmer, director of development at the North Suffolk Mental Health Association.

Passacantilli, a lifelong North End resident, said he opened a campaign office in each of the district’s three neighborhoods.


“I wanted people in Charlestown to know they mattered in the race, just like the people of East Boston” and the North End, said Passacantilli, who is on leave from his job as operations specialist in the Boston Office of Economic Development.

Passacantilli and Edwards, who both work for Mayor Martin J. Walsh and have racked up notable political endorsements, have spent tens of thousands of dollars on their campaigns, far outpacing Farmer, who has raised only a few thousand.

Farmer acknowledged she is facing “machine candidates,” but said said she sees an opening in Charlestown. “There’s no one here with the home court advantage, so it does allow for opportunity,” she said.

“I wanted people in Charlestown to know they mattered in the race, just like the people of East Boston” and the North End, Stephen Passacantilli says.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.