By MIKE FREEDBERG
SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM
When we created at a hybrid system of at-large and nine district councilors in 1982, the focus shifted to neighborhoods and their specific concerns. Under Chapter 605 of the Acts of 1982, the job to tackle big, city-wide issues was retained by four at-large councilors while the hyper-local issues were tackled by the nine new district councilors. By making this charter change, Boston voters had long demanded that the city’s very different neighborhoods be heard, as they were; and that is why the make-up of the new, nine districts followed the lines of actual neighborhoods.
I refer to this history to argue that Gabriela Coletta should be next councilor for District 1 because neighborhood orientation and advocacy, is what she is about. And it has always been her core mission, ever since 2015, when she directed the field that drove Adrian Madaro’s successful run for State Representative from East Boston.
She then joined Madaro’s staff and, in 2017, moved to manage Lydia Edwards’s successful campaign to be District One Councilor. When Edwards took office, Coletta became her chief of staff.
As Edwards’s chief of staff for almost three- and-a-half years, Coletta handled the local, neighborhood issues. I observed her work over that entire time: her regular attendance at neighborhood meetings and her conscientious note-taking. If Lydia spoke mostly about the big budget issues and the challenges of housing policy, Coletta put the actual details of those big deals into practical form. And if Lydia found herself on one side of a divisive issue such as placement of a marijuana dispensary, Coletta was there to assuage the opposition, assuring that its concerns would not be neglected.
District 1 has always, since its first day, consisted solely of East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End. Each being an island of sorts (the North End delineated by street plans and cut off by the ugly Central Artery from the rest of downtown), the neighborhood destiny of District 1 has never been, nor can be, diluted.
But candidates to represent it can decide to emphasize issues of a general provenance. Coletta has avoided that course. Her decision entails some risk. Most people who live in a neighborhood don’t necessarily think about neighborhood orientation. Almost all the voters who think in terms of neighborhood issues are activists. And the other voters – the majority – don’t immediately recall how we divided the city council between nine discrete neighborhood-centered districts and four citywide generalists. They see a Council election, and they think the big, citywide issues. That’s because the news media more widely report the big citywide issues than particular neighborhood ones. Thus, a candidacy like Coletta’s requires enormous numbers of activists to spread her record of accomplishment by word of mouth. This is what the activists have done.
Coletta has the full support of Representative Madaro, now in his fourth term, and of Lydia Edwards, now the State Senator from East Boston and the North End and other parts of Boston. But more importantly, she has just about the full range of activists who have seen these two politicians elected over and over again.
Attending Coletta events during the second to last week of March, I took note of the diverse array of activists, some of whom have clashed over the nitty-gritty issues facing East Boston, Charlestown and the North End.
She has Heather O’Brien, a climate activist, and Fran Riley, an anti-development neighbor. “Gigi” has Mark Bisson, a sailing enthusiast, and Diane Modica, a zoning lawyer and former City Councilor. She has Liana Lamattina and her dad, Sal LaMattina, who preceded Lydia Edwards as District One Councilor. She has Charlie LoGrasso, a Republican from Eagle Hill, and Jay Ruggiero, a Democrat from Bayswater, and she has Lorraine Curry and Theresa Malionek, anti-development activists. In Charlestown, “Gigi” has Chris Remmes and Daniel Ryan, who both ran for the same State Representative seat. Also in her camp are Kim Mahoney and the Breens, Jim Walsh and Jack Kelly.
A lot of that support arises from their familiarity with Coletta: she is a known political presence and a familiar one. But much more of her support is based in people’s confidence that Coletta will “always be there for us,” as the saying goes.
That she is a neighborhood person from birth and always indicates that she won’t be seduced by the large and moneyed interests that are in the name of progress driving the Old Boston into extinction.
I think this perception of Coletta is accurate. It’s also precisely what a district councilor should be and must be. If our neighborhood-centric councilor won’t speak up for us – for our neighborhoods and their workability – who will?
I think “Gigi” Coletta gets this. And lives it.
Coletta will be a superb Councilor. I am proud to support her in this election.
—- Mike Freedberg
Mike Freedberg is editor and publisher of the blog, Here and Sphere. He is also a political consultant. He contributes original, participatory content regularly to EastBoston.com.