Freedberg: Meeting up with the District 1 candidates

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Two candidates vie to be District One’s next city councilor.

by MIKE FREEDBERG

SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM

A long-time East Boston activist doesn’t like that there’s only two women seeking to be District One’s new City Councilors; “Where are the men?” she asks.

That’s an interesting question, I suppose, but it isn’t a political question. Politically. two women, and only two, are in the game: Gabriella Coletta and Tania Del Rio. Both live in East Boston, the neighborhood where more than half of the district’s voters live.

Although at least two “Townies” gave it very serious consideration, Charlestown— about 30 percent of the vote — will field no candidate. The North End, which comprises 12 percent of the district’s vote, is also opting out. Stephen Passacantilli who ran in 2017, came close to doing so.

This “special election” takes place on May 3rd and happens because the current councilor, Lydia Edwards, was elected to the State Senate in yet another special election held on January 11th. Thus, the wheels have turned, and in less than two months either Coletta or Del Rio will be sworn in to office.

So, who will it be? All signs point to Gabriella, better known as “Gigi.” She was Edwards’s campaign manager in 2017, when Edwards won the seat, left open by the retirement of Sal Lamattina. Coletta then became Edwards’s chief of staff and continued as such until the middle of 2021 when she took a job as External Relations Manager at the New England Aquarium. Clearly, then, Coletta knows the job and seems the obvious choice to be elected to it. She also has Edwards’s very public endorsement – no minor matter, considering the vast support that Edwards accrued in her own recent campaign.

Gigi with Dan Ryan in Charlestown
Gabriela Coletta with state Representative Dan Ryan in Charlestown. Photo by Mike Freedberg

Yet the name on the May 3rd ballot will be Coletta’s, not Edwards’s, and it is her strengths which the voters will be asked to weigh. Nor is Del Rio an after-thought. She served in Boston City government as director of Mayor Walsh’s Office of Women’s Advancement and is a well-known and very visible activist in East Boston – which is how I first met her.

Del Rio was the first candidate to announce and the first to hire a campaign staff. That matters. In these sorts of elections. The earlier you’re in, the better. Nor is Del Rio unimpressive personally. She exudes a happy enthusiasm which you have to like. She’s also an immigrant (from Mexico), which connects her to a large portion of East Boston’s voters in a neighborhood that has always been an immigrant haven and remains so.

As for Gigi, who announced a bit later, who in the district does not know her? Before she teamed up with Edwards, she was field director for Adrian Madaro’s successful 2015 run for State Representative; and Madaro, now in his fourth term, has also endorsed her. In addition, Coletta is East Boston-born and raised, the daughter of Ed and Nina Coletta, both well-known and respected homeowners in the “Eagle Hill’ section, where Madaro and Coletta both live (and where my own family is from).

Gigi is also a graduate of Boston Latin Academy and while not a Latin School grad she is has strong relations with Madaro and other Latin grads who first coalesced around Madaro’s candidacy a while back. Madaro’s connection reaches back, and as a growing political force in Boston politics, business, and the professions (Madaro is an attorney) his network (some of which Gigi shares) will benefit Coletta.

I recently interviewed Gigi and asked her a question she had not expected: had she in this campaign encountered any issue that she had not anticipated? No, she answered; she hears the same issues that had commanded her time as Edwards’s chief of staff: housing and displacement, climate and sea rise, transportation and the Blue Line and relations with Massport. And to be sure, these are the issues that trouble most of East Boston and some of Charlestown, the district’s second largest neighborhood.

I asked Del Rio the same question, and she did cite an issue unexpected. People, she said, want to see a diversity of restaurants come to the District as well as more laundromats! She’s not wrong. I hear these two complaints more often than one would think. Policy wonks might sniff at such mundane matters but a district councilor is tasked to the mundane. Good for Del Rio for caring about it.

I also questioned Gigi about specific voter families in Charlestown, she rattled off a number of them claiming their support based on long-term relationships. (Charlestown’s State Representative, Dan Ryan, has endorsed Gigi, as has Elaine Donovan, who almost ran for the seat herself.) I have to admit that I was impressed with her knowing a wide variety of actual people in a neighborhood that she does not live in; but how surprising is it, when you think about it, because as Edwards’s chief of staff she often accompanied Edwards on visits to each community group? I have seen it personally on multiple occasions.

Tania Del Rio
Photo courtesy: Del Rio Campaign, 2022

If Del Rio is a happy warrior, Gigi is a passionate one. During our interview, she answered my questions intensely. That’s how she has always been in the seven years I have known her and observed her. I don’t think that anyone who’s seen Gigi has any doubt that she has wanted this office with all her heart and all of her preparation. It matters. Voters want to know that you really, really want to be in office and can work as hard at it as it takes.

There’s seven weeks to go, but Gigi started out much better known than Del Rio, and I have seen nothing to change my view that the acquaintance gap has not been closed. Del Rio is a superb human being, embraces the progressive agenda that has had much success in recent Boston elections, and against almost anyone other than Coletta she’d be tough to beat. But Coletta is in the race; and all signs point to her winning both the money fight and the voter support—and thus the 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.

This article was originally posted on March 10, 2022

East Boston