Lydia Edwards has led the fight to pass important legislation at the State House — and she’s not even a member yet. It’s rare to find a first-time candidate for office so qualified, and voters in the First Suffolk and Middlesex state Senate district should send a promising new voice into the Legislature by picking her in the special senate Democratic primary April 12.
Edwards, a 35-year-old legal services attorney, successfully pushed for passage of a bill on Beacon Hill offering basic labor protections to nannies, housekeepers, and other in-home caretakers. The law went into effect a year ago, making Massachusetts only the fourth state in the nation to pass such sweeping legislation. Edwards was instrumental in securing support for the bill in the State House, repeatedly meeting with Republican lawmakers and interest group leaders who might have been inclined to reject such labor protections.
The district includes Revere, Winthrop, and parts of Cambridge and Boston, including East Boston and Beacon Hill. The incumbent, East Boston Democrat Anthony Petruccelli, resigned in January to take a lobbying job, setting off a seven-way scramble to replace him. There are no Republican or independent candidates, so the Democratic primary will effectively pick the new senator.
Edwards stands out for her grass-roots work as an attorney helping labor trafficking victims and others on the margins of society, including illegal immigrants, low-wage workers, and survivors of sexual assault. She is also fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, in a district with a large immigrant population that sometimes struggles for recognition in the political system.
A vote for Edwards, who's African-American, would also be a vote for diversity. Not quite one in 10 legislators on Beacon Hill is black, Latino, or Asian, whereas these minorities collectively account for a quarter of the state's population, according to a recent Globe report that exposed how intractable the lack of diversity at the State House has become.
Diana Hwang, the only other woman or person of color running in the race, is impressive in her own right. Hwang, a first-generation Taiwanese-American, founded a nonprofit to support and advance young Asian-American women in state politics, and her passion for her community make her a good candidate for future leadership.
But, in this race, it's Edwards who leads the pack. Her legislative priorities include advocating for a living wage and creating affordable housing in the district that she hopes to represent. As an East Boston landlord and resident, she supports policies that stabilize local communities and would serve as a check to gentrification pressures — such as the just-cause eviction ordinance being debated in Boston and tools that encourage landlords to sell properties to existing tenants.
Special elections often suffer from low turnout, but the winners often stay in office for decades. Both Democrats and unenrolled voters can participate in next week's primary. Edwards, a true champion for the disenfranchised, is the best choice and has the Globe's enthusiastic endorsement.