A storied Boston political battleground at the heart of the city's Black community will be up for grabs next year for the first time in 14 years as Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz steps down from the 2nd Suffolk Senate seat to run for governor.
The 2nd Suffolk district stretches from Boston's South End through Dorchester and Hyde Park to Readville and west to encompass Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill and most of Roxbury, including Nubian Square, the center of the city's African American community.
"The district has a historical place and role in the legislature, from how it was created, why it was created," former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who served in the seat prior to Chang-Díaz, told GBH News.
Wilkerson said the district, as designed by lawmakers in 2000 and again in 2010, is intended to be represented by a person of color.
Wilkerson, a Black woman, said it wouldn't be a surprise to anyone to suggest that the thinking behind the 2nd Suffolk district "is to have a person of color representing that district because the majority of that district are people of color."
"Given the dearth of people of color in the Legislature at this time, I think it's important to have a person of color representing that district," said public relations executive and political power player Colette Phillips.
Phillips wouldn't rule out a white person with commitment and conviction to advocate for the district from seriously competing in the Senate race, but said that a person of color should hold the seat.
"Representation matters. You should have somebody in that seat that looks like the people who are in that district," she said.
The Massachusetts Senate has not included a Black member since former Dorchester Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry resigned in 2018 to take an executive job in the construction industry,
Rep. Nika Elugardo, a Black woman who currently represents Jamaica Plain in the House, told GBH News she is "thinking about" running to succeed Chang-Díaz.
"I haven't fully decided, but I am excited about the idea," Elugardo said in a phone interview.
Several sources suggest that another Boston House member, Rep. Liz Miranda of Roxbury, is interested in running for the seat. Miranda could not be reached for comment.
With a little under 500 days to go before Election Day 2022, the political ground may shift considerably and reshape the field of candidates before voters even begin to consider their options. Between now and next fall, Boston will have elected a new mayor from an historically diverse field of candidates, two of whom, acting Mayor Kim Janey and Rep. Jon Santiago, would be eligible to run for the Senate seat should they lose out on City Hall.
Jeffrey Sanchez, a former House Ways and Means chairman from Mission Hill and now a senior advisor at public affairs firm Rasky Partners, said the Democratic primary for Chang-Díaz's Senate seat will be partially about fighting for the support of progressives, but will also be focused on delivering results for some of the state's most disadvantaged communities.
"How are you going to deal with what's happening on the ground, in the community itself, because there's still a lot of need," Sanchez asked.
"It is a big district with a lot of people, with a lot of industry, with a lot of finance, with a lot of health care. And it's also a district that has defined issues," surrounding education, housing and health care access, Sanchez said.
Sanchez said candidates campaigning for the support of progressives need to keep in mind the everyday voters of the district who greatly outnumber online left-of-center activists.
"At the end of the day, there's a hell of a lot more that the only thing they're worried about is putting food on the table for their kids, taking care of a sick family member, or just living day by day and trying to make the best of what they have in front of them," Sanchez said.
Wilkerson was defeated by Chang-Díaz in the 2008 Democratic primary, then again in the general election after attempting a write-in campaign. Wilkerson was arrested on public corruption charges during the write-in campaign and later sentenced to 42 months in federal prison for accepting a bribe. Chang-Díaz, who is of Latino, Asian and European descent, has easily won each Democratic primary and general election since taking office in 2009.