Lydia wins! Mike Freedberg on how Edwards won big

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by Mike Freedberg

SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM

On Tuesday, 13,564 voters in Boston, Revere, Winthrop and a small part of Cambridge bothered to cast a ballot to elect a new State Senator for their District, the First Suffolk and Middlesex.

Lydia Edwards, a Boston City Councilor, soundly defeated her rival, Anthony D’Ambrosio, a member of Revere’s School Committee.

Edwards received 8,151 votes to D’Ambrosio’s 5,419 votes. D’Ambrosio won his home city 3,121 to 933; but Edwards won the other three communities by margins just as big, if not bigger than D’Ambrosio’s lopsided Revere win. She won Cambridge 1289 to 63. She bested D’Ambrosio in Winthrop, a must win town for him, by 1189 to 873. Boston’s portion of the district gave her 4740 votes to D’Ambrosio’s 1356 votes.

This result was in no way guaranteed. In 2016, when in yet another special election, Winthrop’s Joe Boncore won the seat, Winthrop cast about 4500 votes – a full 48 percent of the town’s voters, in a five-candidate race with a turnout almost as small as this race’s total.

Lydia Edwards East Boston High School Precincts
Lydia Edwards and her mom, Bridgett at East Boston High School Election Day morning, December 12, 2021

Revere had its chance to do the same; and that this time the race was head-to-head doesn’t negate that chance. If even 40 percent of Revere’s voters – about 8800 – turned out, much less 48 percent, with D’Ambrosio winning a percentage similar to what he won on Tuesday, he’d be a State Senator today.

So the question must be asked: Why did not the politicians of Revere, who talked a good game of “bring the Senate seat back to Revere,” focus all in on getting their voters to the polls? How to do this is hardly a secret.

I am tempted to speculate. That the office holders of Revere saw the huge power play of endorsements amassed by Lydia and decided that perhaps it might be best to trim sail a bit. Saying so, I may well be wrong; still, in my view the officials of Revere, a working class city, were the only elected officials in a position to advance a candidate who grounded his campaign in voters who don’t earn big pay or belong to the “progressive” new economy; voters who don’t have time to engage in politics, after a hard day’s work, the way the well-paid do and who have seen their traditional connection to politics – job patronage — eliminated, leaving only ideology owning the field. Perhaps the politicians of Revere did in fact try their hardest. It didn’t work.

D’Ambrosio must bear some of the blame for his loss. A month ago, he seemed in control of the action. Then came a huge mistake: dropping out of the Harborview neighborhood candidate’s forum and then attacking its organizer by name. This changed the entire dynamic of the campaign. It angered Lydia’s team, and as the saying goes, “a guy may not work for you, but make him mad and he’ll work like crazy against you.”

That is exactly what happened.

D’Ambrosio also changed his campaign theme from “mastery of policy” to an attack upon the powerful, the elected officials. And true enough, Lydia had almost too many big-name endorsements, leaving herself open to such an attack. Yet D’Ambrosio had the powerful, the electeds of Revere backing HIM. So which is it? Either you’re an insurgent or you aren’t.

By my critique of the D’Ambrosio message I in no way mean to downplay what Lydia achieved. Starting from a strong but not impregnable base as a City Councilor representing two of this District’s neighborhoods – East Boston n ad the North End – she worked tirelessly, door knocking (and targeting her doors shrewdly) Winthrop became the top priority, as it had to be. She raised well over $200,000. She held significant meet and greets – and at them she featured support her “progressive’ reputation might have not expected; City Councilor Mike Flaherty, Governor Baker’s closest supporter on the Council; Pat Capogreco, a stalwart support of Steven Passacantilli in 2017, the man over whom she won her first electoral victory and Steve’s brother Paul.

If these endorsements were tactical – and many more such were to follow – her endorsements by just about every important “progressive” in Boston as well as both of our US Senators served to make that large constituency aware of the election and its significance. It took a long while for the torrent of “progressive” endorsements to weigh on the race, but well in advance of crunch time the point was made, and almost every “progressive’ activist signed up.

The final two weekends, Lydia had 100 door knockers on the streets, many of them Teamsters or SEIU members.

Lydia also managed to win to her side just about every important Governor Baker activist in the district. And here I think we see the secret of her unusual success in elections in a Council district and now State Senate district – both of them once upon a time set aside to Italian-American politicians and still almost certain to elect such, were Lydia not on the ballot. She is seen, by moderate voters, as a principled person, an apostle of what we used to call “good government,’ and someone who has made it a trademark to listen to all opinions.

Governor Baker has famously said “if there’s more than one opinion in a room, you might learn something.” It’s how he does it.

Lydia too. And the voters seem to like that. Thank goodness.

—- Mike Freedberg

December 15, 2021

Mike Freedberg is a journalist and consultant with many years of experience writing for Boston media and participating in political campaigns. He publishes the blog Here and Sphere.