By Matt Miller
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not represent the official position of Boston DSA, its working groups, National DSA, or the National Political Committee.
Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards is running for Joseph Boncore’s vacated State Senate seat in a December 14th special election. The First Suffolk and Middlesex District covers parts of Cambridge, Boston, Revere, and Winthrop. Many Boston DSA members will be eligible to vote in this election and they will need to decide who to vote for. Boncore himself won his own race in a 2016 special election that Edwards also ran in. These frequent special elections are a key part of the system that keeps recalcitrant, conservative Democrats in control of all the levers of power, blocking change.
I did not, however, write this to convince you of the need for systemic change in Massachusetts. I want to address the question of what socialists who live in the district should do on December 14th. Currently, only Lydia Edwards and Revere School committee member Anthony D’Ambrosio are in the race. State Rep. Adrian Madaro had been rumored to be running but recently announced he’s not running.
Here’s my recommendation: Forget about the race. Check in on December 13th, see if anything has changed, and if Edwards is the best on policy, then vote for her. But don’t donate. Don’t volunteer. Feel free to sit this one out.
You’re going to hear a lot about how she’s progressive, her leadership on City Council, her organizing work pre-2017. A quick history is in order:
- In 2018, Councilor Edwards took a more conservative position than Mayor Marty Walsh when it came to regulating short term rentals like AirBNB. Mayor Walsh wanted to limit owner occupied listings to only 120 days per year, to ensure landlords weren’t taking units out of the housing market long term. Councilor Edwards was publicly opposed to that provision, and the council successfully removed the cap. Owner occupants can essentially take a full unit off the market for 365 days a year, contributing to the scarcity of housing units that drives up rent in Boston.
- In the summer of 2020, a few months after the murder of George Floyd, the city council had a chance to weigh in. Tens of thousands of people were in the streets in Boston, demanding that elected officials reduce the police budget, but Mayor Marty Walsh sought to pass a budget with no cuts to the police. Other councilors led the fight for police budget cuts, using the only mechanism they had: voting down the proposed budget, and forcing the mayor to the negotiation table. The mayor threatened the council that a vote against his budget would mean many city workers would be furloughed, trying to pin the blame for his intransigence on them. That was enough of an excuse for Councilor Edwards to vote Yes on the budget (joined by “progressive” councilor Elizabeth Breadon who represents Allston/Brighton). Had Edwards and Breadon flipped their votes, the budget would have been rejected 7-6, forcing the mayor back to the table. The mayor’s threat about what would happen to city workers? It could have been solved through a continuing budget, or 1/12th budget to fund the city while a final deal could be worked out. The threat to city workers was a bluff.
- Shortly after that vote, Edwards penned a pro-cop editorial (“Progressives, Too, Can Back the Blue”) in a local paper, raising questions about how much Edwards actually wanted to trim the police budget.
- At the end of 2020, the MA Democratic party had an election to choose whether disgraced chair Gus Bickford would be re-elected. Bickford and the state party had been implicated in the attempts to undermine Alex Morse, a progressive congressional challenger to Congressman Richard Neal. Lydia Edwards cast a vote to re-elect Bickford. Again, Edwards might have the best policies of the candidates currently in the race. We’d all benefit by having a slightly better State Senator. Important policy is decided on Beacon Hill. But the narrative you’re bound to hear from Councilor Edwards in this race is that the “stakes are high” or that it’s an important election or that she needs you to donate or to show up and doorknock for her.In the 2021 Somerville elections, Edwards made a donation to DSA member JT Scott’s opponent, Steph Aman. Aman had taken outrageous positions on development that shocked progressives, saying he was excited about the massive development happening in Union Square because “We can transform our community into Kendall 2.0 – This would be a great opportunity to cash in on our city, getting the trickle-down effects of that wealth”
Again, Edwards might have the best policies of the candidates currently in the race. We’d all benefit by having a slightly better State Senator. Important policy is decided on Beacon Hill. But the narrative you’re bound to hear from Councilor Edwards in this race is that the “stakes are high” or that it’s an important election or that she needs you to donate or to show up and doorknock for her.
While she was casting her vote in favor of Marty’s police budget, Councilor Edwards said: “To those of you who are disappointed or wanted me to vote no…, I would say you should be more disappointed because you placed your beliefs and hopes for systemic reform in a flawed, oppressive process. You thought we could undo the master’s house with the master’s tools. We cannot.”
It is breath-taking to watch an elected official use a famous quote by Audre Lorde to shift blame onto activists. Punting tough decisions to the voters does not fix the underlying need for political courage. It does not remove the need for courage to take on the police. Important policies that would benefit working class people fail year after year in this state, and there is no shortage of excuses. Elected officials always seem to have some process reason, some provision of a city charter or the state constitution or public opinion that means that today isn’t the time for action. It’s always easier to wait.
In 2017, I argued strongly in favor of our chapter endorsing Lydia Edwards. Progressive non-profits in the city were going in hard on this race. Edwards had a background in social justice & labor organizing. Her opponent was clearly more conservative. Our chapter was deeply divided on the issue, but my side won out, and we endorsed her. I looked past the fact that she isn’t a socialist. I looked past the fact she wouldn’t reject contributions from real estate developers. I wanted us to engage in politics in Boston and I had a sense that we’d be able to build a relationship with her and work with her.
I was wrong. We will not win socialism by electing progressives who aren’t accountable to our organization. Our chapter has continued to refine our approach, focusing more and more on DSA members, open socialists, who aren’t afraid to stand up to the Democratic party in the state of Massachusetts. We have begun that process in earnest, and we have had success with an electoral model with a higher bar, and that is where we should focus our limited energy and resources. Let’s elect more socialists and not worry about these other races.
Matt Miller is a member of Boston DSA, DSA’s National Political Committee, and the outgoing co-chair of Boston’s electoral working group.