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Political Newcomer Gives Longest-Serving City Councilor Competition For District 4 Seat05:08
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Andrea Campbell, center, spoke with seniors at a cookout in Boston's Harambee Park Wednesday. She's attempting to unseat Councilor Charles Yancey. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Andrea Campbell, center, spoke with seniors at a cookout in Boston's Harambee Park Wednesday. She's attempting to unseat Councilor Charles Yancey. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 5 years old.

The Boston City Council's longest-serving member is facing what could be his toughest race to secure his seat, in an election in which five of the council's incumbents are running unopposed.

Charles Yancey, 66, is facing off against a well-funded political newcomer, Andrea Campbell, who says the 4th district, which covers parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Roslindale and Jamaica Plain, is ready for a change.

Yancey is now serving in his 32nd year as a city councilor. First elected in 1983, he's completing his 16th term. Over that period, he has found himself at odds with three different mayors at times.

"When I proposed that we build a police station in District 4, [then Mayor] Ray Flynn said 'no,' and had I been the go-along to get-along type of elected official, or politician, I would have accepted that," Yancey said. "But if I would have accepted that, we would not have had a police station on the corner of Morton and Blue today."

Yancey successfully championed other projects in his district, including a new library and two new community centers. He’s introduced and won passage of legislation on a number of fronts, from public safety of children to protections for police officers.

But his years of experience did not secure him the most votes in the city's preliminary election. He qualified for the final election on Nov. 3, but finished behind Campbell, a challenger half his age.

Councilor Charles Yancey is seen with small business owner Tia Jackson at a ribbon-cutting in July. He faces a tough challenge to retain his seat in November. (Jesse Costa/WBUR/File)
Councilor Charles Yancey is seen with small business owner Tia Jackson at a ribbon-cutting in July. He faces a tough challenge to retain his seat in November. (Jesse Costa/WBUR/File)

"I think there is tremendous power when you can speak from actual experience, so when you're sitting in rooms and talking about what it actually means to be poor; when you're sitting in rooms and talking about what it means to need affordable housing; when you're sitting in rooms and talking about what it means to visit a prison or a loved on in a prison regularly," Campbell said.

The 33-year-old grew up in Roxbury, but now lives in Mattapan. She's never run for public office before. The former member of Gov. Deval Patrick's legal staff has been appealing to voters by sharing her personal experiences.

"Losing my mom, my biologic mom, in a car accident when I was 8-months-old. And she died in a car accident going to visit my father, who was in prison. Not meeting my father until I was 8," she said. "So speaking about experiences about living with a grandmother, who did the best she could, but struggled with alcoholism. Or speaking about experiences of what it meant to bounce around from a couple of different foster care homes."

"I think there is tremendous power when you can speak from actual experience, so when you're sitting in rooms and talking about what it actually means to be poor."

Andrea Campbell

Campbell, whose twin brother died while he was being held by the Department of Corrections said she wants to become a voice for people going through struggles like the ones she's experienced.

Even though she's new to politics, voters in the district know Campbell's name and face.

"Her grassroots campaign has really impressed me," said Ellen Dunne, a retired Boston Public School teacher. "I've had phone calls, I've had visitors coming to the door, [asking] 'are there any questions, are there any concerns that you have?' Numerous times, not just on Election Day."

Dunne has been displaying a Campbell sign in front of her Dorchester home.

"I had decided that I thought we needed new blood," she said.

Right across the street from Dunne lives Crystal Haynes, who taught at the same school as Dunne and has a lawn sign for Yancey.

"I think that Yancey's years of service and all of his accomplishments prove that he really is the best candidate," she said. "When he said that we should have nothing to do with any businesses who have any investments in South Africa, they were yelling at him: 'How dare you bring global issues here into the city of Boston. Just deal with issues in the city of Boston.' But then, when it became a global front and everywhere in the nation said, 'divest!' Then it was OK? That's part of why I support him.

Campbell has raised about $150,000 for her campaign — that's about three times as much as Yancey. He has noted that some of Campbell's support has come from people with whom he's clashed at City Hall, people from outside the district.

"We're seeing a major uptick in those contributions from the district residents, District 4 residents, now that people know me," Campbell said. "But I'm very proud for anyone who would go into their pocket and give money to this campaign."

"I think that Yancey's years of service and all of his accomplishments prove that he really is the best candidate."

Crystal Haynes

After all of his years in office, Yancey said he still has some remaining things to accomplish: creating a police civilian review board, equipping police officers with body cameras and getting a new high school built at the old Boston state hospital site in Mattapan.

"We're going to get that high school built. We're going to have a system of accountability for the Boston Police Department, but most of all, we're going to continue to have strong advocacy for the people who live in Dorchester, Mattapan, Roslindale and Jamaica Plain — and even outside of my district.

"Because I think it is important that when you cast a vote in the City Council, you realize, that you're casting a vote not just for your district, but for the entire city — and that's my commitment."

After that, if he wins one more term, Yancey said he'll think about doing something else.

This article was originally published on September 23, 2015.

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