The Boston City Council appears poised to pass a home-rule petition on Wednesday that could avoid a special mayoral election this year should Mayor Martin J. Walsh leave his post before March 5 to take a new job in the Biden administration.
President Biden tapped Walsh to be his labor secretary last month and Walsh is expected to step down once the Senate confirms the nomination. A Senate committee has scheduled a hearing on the nomination for Thursday and the full Senate is expected to vote on the appointment in coming weeks.
On Monday, at least 11 councilors indicated they plan to support a measure that would override the requirement for a special election at Wednesday’s City Council meeting: Ricardo Arroyo, Kenzie Bok, Liz Breadon, Andrea Campbell, Lydia Edwards, Michael Flaherty, Ed Flynn, Kim Janey, Julia Mejia, Matt O’Malley, and Michelle Wu. The proposal needs a simple majority, meaning seven “yes” votes, to pass.
If the home-rule petition passes the council, the mayor would need to sign off before it would head to the State House, where it would need approval from lawmakers and the governor.
The mayor’s race was already expected to include both a preliminary contest to narrow the field of candidates and a general election in November. But if Walsh steps down in the next month, the city charter requirements mandate that the city also hold a special election, probably this summer, that would also include preliminary and general contests. That means the city is looking at potentially having four mayoral elections in one calendar year amid the still-rampaging COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition’s supporters argue that holding four city elections this year would pose public health risks, cause an unneeded fiscal burden, and foster voter confusion and low turnout.
Campbell, one of three councilors who are running for mayor, said in a statement that having a special election is a “risk we don’t need to take.”
“And politics aside, it’s in the best interest of all Bostonians that the next mayor of Boston is elected by a resounding majority of an enfranchised electorate, which is most likely in our regularly scheduled fall elections,” she said.
Janey, the council president who will become acting mayor once Walsh leaves, had similar sentiments.
“Holding multiple elections would jeopardize the health of the entire city, especially those already disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and it would disenfranchise Black, Latinx, and low-income communities,” said Janey in a statement.
Janey is among the city leaders said to be considering a run for a full mayoral term, although she has yet to make an announcement regarding her plans. Amid the discussion of the city charter proposal, questions arose regarding whether mayoral candidates or an acting mayor would have a conflict of interest in voting on the matter. The State Ethics Commission has told Janey, in writing, that the matter would not raise any issues for her under the conflict-of-interest law.
The mayoral race has three declared candidates — all city councilors — Campbell, Wu, and Annissa Essaibi George, who said she is going to abstain from the vote because “as a candidate, this decision directly impacts me and my campaign.”
“And while I believe ensuring safe and equitable access to the ballot box is critical, I also believe I need to hold myself to the highest possible ethical standard,” she said. “I trust my colleagues in government to do what is best for the people of Boston and guarantee that their voices are heard.”
Last week, city residents and advocates pushed for a measure nixing the need for a special election during a marathon 4 ½ -hour meeting. During a separate meeting Friday, multiple councilors said they thought they reached agreement on a proposal that would be welcomed with broad consensus on the body.
Some councilors had previously raised concerns about overriding the charter requirement for a special election.
Councilor Frank Baker said last month he was troubled that such a measure could benefit or hurt the chances of specific mayoral candidates. On Monday, Baker, via a text, said that he had yet to make up his mind regarding the proposal.
O’Malley was another councilor who had concerns about the proposal. But on Monday, he said he would vote “yes,” following changes to the measure that were proposed at Friday’s meeting, including a provision that would allow the elected mayor to take office days after this fall’s general election, instead of in January.
“I could support this, with the amendments,” O’Malley said. “It recognizes the threat of the pandemic and doesn’t deviate too much from the charter.”