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Boston candidates enter six-week sprint for 5th Suffolk seat

2/19/2014, 11:13 a.m.
Veteran political activist Karen Charles has lived most of her life in the 5th Suffolk District. She and the other candidates running for the seat have six weeks to corral voters.

With just six weeks to corral voters in a notoriously low-turnout district, the four Democratic candidates likely to run in the special election for the 5th Suffolk District have their work cut out for them.

They have until next Monday (Feb. 24) to turn in signatures for the seat. The primary, which will likely determine the victor in the solidly Democratic district, is set for April 1. And on the day of the general election, April 29, signatures for a spot on the ballot in the November election are due.

Those who have pulled nomination papers for the special election include attorney Evandro Cavalho, state official Karen Charles, sales professional Jennifer Johnson and school teacher Barry Lawton.

They will be contending for a pool of votes many expect will be significantly slimmer than the 2,023 that turned out in the 2010 election that former state Rep. Carlos Henriquez won with 719 votes, squeezing out Lawton by just 43 votes.

Because the April 1 primary will be a special election, turnout could easily be half of that seen in 2010.

With so few votes and so little time, the three declared candidates reached by the Banner last weekend were going door-to-door, active voter lists in hand, snow be damned.

“It’s a sprint,” Johnson says of the six-week push to the primary.

“The timeframe is so short, you have to have laser-focus communicating what you want to accomplish and how you want to get it accomplished,” Charles says.

“The person who wins will be the one who knocks on the most doors,” says Cavalho.

Lawton did not respond to requests for an interview.

The candidates will have to get their message across to a heterogeneous community of blacks, Cape Verdeans, Latinos and whites.

In addition to running strong grassroots campaigns, the candidates will have to have a command of the issues community residents are concerned about to inspire residents to vote, according to Paulo De Barros, chairman of the board of Cape Verdean Community Unido.

“If the candidates run exciting campaigns and address the issues people care about, it might bring people to the polls,” he said,

De Barros listed jobs, youth jobs, education and violence prevention as key issues of concern to voters in the 5th Suffolk District.

While those issues fall under the purview of city government, state officials control funding and create the laws the govern employment, education and criminal justice. A strong voice in the State House can make a big difference in the district.

Evandro Cavalho

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Attorney Evandro Cavalho, a former assistant district attorney, says he wants to expand opportunities for teens in his district. Cavalho, who came to Dorchester from Cape Verde at the age of 15, graduated from Madison Park High School at the top of his class.

Born in the city of Praia on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde, Carvalho moved to Dorchester at the age of 15 to live with his mother after his father died in Cape Verde.

“I knew no English,” he says. “My mother worked three jobs just to make sure we had our basic needs met.”

Three years after arriving, Carvalho finished at the top of his class at Madison Park High School, went on to graduate from UMass Amherst and Howard University School of Law.