Marty Walsh’s departure for City Hall left big shoes to fill in his former state House district, and the hotly contested race to succeed him in the 13th Suffolk is a sign of Dorchester’s political health. Each of the five candidates in the March 4 Democratic primary is qualified and committed. Among them, however, veteran neighborhood activist John O’Toole is the most capable of replicating Walsh’s ability to represent all parts of the district, with a deeply rooted feeling for the needs of the whole community.
A former plumber turned real estate agent and community activist, the 50-year-old O’Toole was instrumental in creating the Neponset River bike path, and has fought for greater access for Dorchester residents to neighborhood schools. His work in creating the Cape Verdean Adult Day Center on Hancock Street, as well as the substantial support for his candidacy among the growing Vietnamese community, shows that he can build bridges across this diverse district. His vision extends beyond constituent service; on the campaign trail he has called for a public safety plan that covers the extension of MBTA night service.
Democratic primary voters have other promising choices. The 33-year-old scion of a Boston political family, Dan Hunt in particular enjoys sizable support in the district, and is a former project analyst for the Massachusetts School Building Authority, one of the most successful government agencies. Boston Public Health Commission lawyer P.J. McCann, 31, is similarly qualified, while attorney Liam Curran, 33, and education activist Gene Gorman, 43, each have a clear sense of the needs of the district. (There are no Republican candidates.) But O’Toole’s passion for the neighborhood shines the brightest, and his deep community roots set him apart from his rivals.