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Boston City Council Considers Proposal To Suspend Special Election

Boston City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston city councilors heard a range of arguments — mostly in favor — of a home rule petition filed by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo to suspend a special mayoral election this summer.

The Tuesday hearing was prompted by the pending resignation of Mayor Marty Walsh, who has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as Secretary of Labor. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Walsh's departure would shake up City Hall politics and prompt a compressed race to succeed him.

The issue is timing; if Walsh leaves his post before March 5, the city charter requires both a special election for mayor and a regularly scheduled November election. That could mean as many as four elections this year — a general and run-off election for both — and possibly four different mayors in a 12-month period.

Arroyo said having multiple elections for the office of mayor in the same year in the midst of a pandemic is a serious threat to the city's residents and communities.

"It will certainly contribute to the disenfranchisement of people of color, the disabled and low income communities," he said. "And [it] would be wasteful and a costly expenditure for our city when revenues are down, when so many critical services are in need of increased funding."

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City Council President Kim Janey, who would serve as interim mayor after Walsh's expected departure, backed Arroyo's petition.

"A special election is at best foolish and at worst dangerous," Janey said.

Janey, who could end up running for mayor herself, responded to questions about whether the state's conflict of interest laws required her to recuse herself from the hearing. The city council's attorney, in response to a question from Councilor Lydia Edwards, wrote that sate laws prohibit Janey and mayoral candidates Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu from weighing in on the petition, because it could benefit them. But citing an opinion from the State Ethics Commission which said that home rule petitions are exempt from the conflict of interest law, Janey said that her participation in the hearing was appropriate.

"For anyone concerned about conflict of interest, the ethics commission has the final say," Janey said.

A number of advocates representing Boston's Black, brown and Latino communities spoke out in favor of Arroyo's home rule petition.

"There are literally lives on the line," said Tanisha Sullivan, President of the Boston NAACP.

One of the few voices opposing the measure came from Sean Ryan of Roxbury, who said, while he didn't doubt the good intentions of Arroyo's petition, he worried about unintended consequences.

"Some would say that especially during a state of emergency it becomes necessary to protect the rule of law," Ryan said. "I don't like the precedent that it sets about changing election law, even to serve high goals like the goals of public health and the goals of social justice."

Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin has thrown his support behind the move to eliminate the special election.

Arroyo's home rule petition would need approval by the City Council, the state Legislature and Gov. Baker, who has indicated that he would sign the necessary legislation.

With reporting from WBUR reporter Ally Jarmanning

Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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