Two Strong Charlestown Candidates Drop Out of City Council Race

By Seth Daniel

More than a few people believed that the time for a Charlestown city councilor might come in this year’s race when Councilor Sal LaMattina announced he wasn’t running for re-election last month, but this week two strong candidates vying to be that Charlestown candidate, and go up against candidates from Eastie and the North End, dropped out in what inside observers see as a City Hall power play.

Most surprisingly was the news on Monday night that political-veteran Jack Kelly was choosing to no longer run. Kelly works for District 2 City Councilor Bill Linehan of Southie and knows the landscape of City Hall like the back of his hand.

Having run a good, hard citywide campaign in the last City Election, many believe Kelly had the name recognition and political acumen to find success not only in Charlestown, but also in Eastie and the North End.

After all, Kelly scored nearly 6,000 votes in the district when he ran citywide, showing that his appeal could have stretched beyond the Town – which in and of itself is hosting a growing demographic of voters while other neighborhoods are seeing a declining demographic of regular voters.

But on Monday Kelly said he was out.

“In the end, I just don’t want the job; it isn’t in my heart,” he said. “I think I’d like to do things outside of government and I think I can be more effective doing that. For any Charlestown person to win this seat, you have to have enthusiastic support from the community behind you as a single candidate. If you don’t have that, it’s very tough to win this district seat.”

His unexpected news followed the announcement by Jimmy Lister, who is a Charlestown resident and involved with the Charlestown Chamber, that he would not run either. Having cited a need to tend to his young family, he said the timing just wasn’t right.

“Sometimes it’s all about timing with these things and right now is just not the right time for my family and I,” he said. “I do hope that the next city councilor elected can carry on the legacy that Sal (LaMattina) created and continue to represent Charlestown, especially with the changes that are coming to the neighborhood in the near future.

“I just want to thank all of the people that came up to me over the past couple of weeks to offer their support and encouragement,” he continued. “I am not closing the door on the idea of running for political office. However, at this time my family is my priority. Charlestown has been such a great place to live and the neighborhood has welcomed me with open arms since moving here from Medford a number of years ago. I look forward to raising a family here and hope that the next District 1 Councilor will be a strong voice for Charlestown at City Hall.”

Lister is a native of Medford, and it was mistakenly reported a few weeks ago he was a life-long resident of Charlestown. While he is originally from Medford, his wife and her family are life-long Charlestown residents.

The news for Kelly and Lister came just as nomination papers became available this week at City Hall. In order to get their name on the ballot, a candidate must collect a prescribed number of nomination signatures from registered voters. Once those are collected, they are turned in to City Hall and certified. After that is concluded, one gets their name on the ballot.

The remainder of the docket for District 1 shows a heavy presence in Eastie and the North End.

In Eastie, LaMattina’s Chief of Staff Michael Sinatra and Mayor Martin Walsh’s head of the Office of Housing Stability, Lydia Edwards, are off and running. In the North End Stephen Passacantilli, a former Walsh advisor, is also running.

Eastie resident, and former Patriot Bridge reporter, Jordan Frias did take out nomination papers, but said this week he doesn’t plan to follow up on running for the seat.

The situation for Charlestown may not be over, as there are three weeks left to pull papers, but most around the neighborhood have conceded that there won’t be a Charlestown candidate – and that concession comes with a good deal of disappointment.

“This is a real lost opportunity for Charlestown to have another seat at the table,” said State Rep. Dan Ryan, the only elected official from Charlestown. “I talked to several potential candidates from our neighborhood and would have supported any one of them. They each seemed to have a path to victory if things aligned right. A candidate from this side of the tunnels really needs a perfect storm to pull off a victory. Two major pieces of that are neighborhood unity and the other is the neutrality of bigger fish from other ponds. It didn’t look like those two pieces were coming together for Charlestown.”

Ryan said a lot of things were happening behind the scenes, and the candidates from Charlestown saw that strings and levers were being pulled in the wrong direction from City Hall.

“Jack seemed to be the last one from Charlestown to make his decision,” said Ryan. “I talked to him numerous times. He was an extremely viable candidate…but to what end. He foresaw a long battle that he didn’t think our neighborhood would recover from. I think Jack made his decision for all the right reasons. The fact that the number one question he’s been asked is ‘What did you get for dropping out?’ goes a long way in showing how people think about these things and why the average person is fed up with the whole system in general and urban politics in particular. He probably doesn’t know it yet, but this may have been Jack’s finest moment as a public servant and son of Charlestown.”

That begs the great question about whether or not Mayor Martin Walsh will support a candidate in District 1, and that seems to be all about what the exodus of the Charlestown candidates and interested parties is all about. At least two members of Walsh’s City Hall staff are in the running, and he has his own mayoral race to ramp up and get moving.

Last week, he was seen prominently in Eastie with Edwards at a Soup Kitchen event, serving the poor and hungry side by side with the candidate. Edwards is a transplant to the city, but has attacked progressive issues like income inequality wholeheartedly and made a strong showing in the state senator race last year in East Boston. She and the mayor are on the same team, and talk the same language when it comes to the City’s legislative priorities.

But those on the inside said it’s pretty well established that Walsh has his unofficial support behind Passacantilli – who works for the Mayor’s Office in the North End, was one of his first supporters four years ago and has a political family pedigree that could make a Kennedy jealous. Like Kelly, he knows the landscape of City Hall and he knows the landscape of the district – particularly in the North End and East Boston. Walsh’s known, but unofficial, support of the North End candidate so early in the contest has taken some by surprise, and it has rubbed some in the Town the wrong way. Many have said it will be interesting to see how the mayor is received at his big fundraiser kick-off planned for his campaign in Charlestown on May 11.

As one observer noted about the May 11 fundraiser, there may be a lot of Townies busy washing their hair that night.

Nevertheless, candidates for District 1 continue to gather signatures, and the race is wide open still.

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