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Voter Guide: Everything To Know About Boston's Preliminary Mayoral Race

A voter picks up an “I Voted” sticker at Ward 1 in East Boston High School on Election Day of the Massachusetts state primary in 2020. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A voter picks up an “I Voted” sticker at Ward 1 in East Boston High School on Election Day of the Massachusetts state primary in 2020. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston's mayoral election features the city's most diverse field in history — making it almost certain that voters will elect a person of color to run the city for the first time.

A preliminary race on Tuesday, Sept. 14, will winnow the field of seven candidates down to two contenders. The next mayor will be decided in a general election race on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

In another first for a mayoral election, residents of the city of Boston will be eligible to cast their ballots by mail for any reason after the state extended its vote-by-mail law through Dec. 15. In the past, voters could only vote by mail under special circumstances.

Here's what you need to know about the candidates and how to vote:

First, below are the people running for mayor of Boston, listed in the order in which they declared their candidacies:

There were initially six major contenders, but state Rep. Jon Santiago dropped out of the race in mid-July. Here are details on the ballot order for the candidates.

Top Candidates On The Issues

Catch up on where the Boston mayoral candidates stand on major issues facing the city. Read our complete coverage of the race here.

You can also hear from the candidates directly on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. WBUR, The Boston Globe, UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies and WCVB will host a special live debate between the mayoral candidates. Register for the free event here if you'd like to receive a reminder email and link to the livestream in your inbox.

Housing

It likely comes as little surprise that housing sits near the top of priorities for Boston voters. Earlier this year, a poll revealed the city's housing future was second in importance only to the pandemic. It also showed that 76% of Boston voters supported some form of rent control.

Only one candidate — Michelle Wu — wants to bring a broad form of rent control back to Boston. As WBUR's Simón Rios reports, the others "either oppose rent control or only want restrictions on rents for seniors and disabled people."

John Barros

  • Plans to advocate for a Just Cause Eviction law, which would require large landlords to notify the city of evictions in order to generate data and inform tenants of their rights.
  • Wants to increase density in areas close to public transit, and create more supportive housing for seniors, people with disabilities and homelessness city residents.
  • Supports taxing absentee owners with blighted or abandoned properties. He says he would lead a “robust study” before implementing this.

Andrea Campbell

  • Wants to use legislative tools to generate and preserve affordable housing “that is truly affordable for those who live here.”
  • Plans to use city-owned vacant lots for affordable housing and ownership opportunities.
  • Wants to prioritize more transit-oriented development in Boston.
  • Wants a revolving loan fund to finance new affordable housing.

Annissa Essaibi George

  • Plans to reconvene the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Task Force to revisit contributions made by nonprofits to generate funds
  • for affordable housing.
  • Wants the city to make greater investments in its first time homebuyers program.
  • Pledges to continue the pace of housing production set by the Walsh administration.

Kim Janey

  • Promotes more mixed-use development in the city, with greater homeownership opportunities and sustainable buildings.
  • Wants to ensure that contractors and developers are “inclusive and diverse, employing Boston residents, people of color and women.”
  • Supports a vacancy tax on buyers who don’t intend to live in their properties, “to offset the impacts of not having that unit occupied” by building more affordable housing.

Michelle Wu

  • Wants Boston to implement a new form of rent control, the only mayoral candidate with this position.
  • Proposes planning and zoning changes for greater affordability.
  • Plans to use Boston’s AAA bond rating to authorize bonds to assist residents with mortgage guarantees, housing vouchers and more affordable units.
  • Will advocate for a real estate transfer tax on some buyers, as well as a tax on foreign investors.

For more on the candidates and housing, click here.

Policing

As WBUR's Ally Jarmanning reports, the Boston police department is dealing with a slew of embarrassing problems and widespread criticism. And while some Bostonians questions how much impact the next mayor will have on policing in the city, whoever is elected will be allowed to choose the next commissioner and set the department's budget.

John Barros

  • Wants to disclose all sexual assault investigations into Boston officers.
  • Says he will strengthen use-of-force policies.
  • Wants to create working groups with Boston neighborhoods to help prevent violence.

Andrea Campbell

  • Says she will reallocate at least 10% of the Boston police budget, or $50 million to other programs.
  • Plans to remove police from schools and shift to a restorative justice model.
  • Wants to expand the use of police body cameras.

Annissa Essaibi George

  • Says she will divert calls about parking from the police department to the
  • transportation department.
  • Wants to release body camera footage within 24 hours of an incident.
  • Says police officers will undergo annual performance reviews.

Kim Janey

  • As acting mayor, proposed a budget that would cut overtime by a third.
  • Wants to expand the police force by 30 officers.
  • Says she will strengthen existing domestic violence policy.

Michelle Wu

  • Plans to divert 911 calls for homelessness, substance use or mental health crises to an outreach team.
  • Says she will eliminate binding arbitration for some offenses.
  • Wants to establish and enforce a discipline matrix to reduce bias in decisions.

For more on the candidates and policing, click here.

Racial Wealth Gap

All the major Boston mayoral candidates say they have ambitious plans to take on one of the most stubborn issues facing the city: The glaring racial wealth gap. WBUR's Anthony Brooks breaks down the various proposals the candidates have put forth to address racial wealth inequality.

John Barros

  • Wants to create more pathways to higher education and high-paying jobs.
  • Says he will test a minimum guaranteed income program.
  • Wants to boost participation of BIPOC investors and contractors in large development projects.
  • Wants to expand the Tuition-Free Community College plan.

Andrea Campbell

  • Supports ownership of businesses and property, particularly in communities of color.
  • Wants to increase access to banking in underserved communities, including Roxbury, Dorchester and East Boston.
  • Wants to expand the Boston Saves program to help more students pay for higher education and job training.
  • Says she will create “opportunity accounts” that seed savings for every child at birth.

Annissa Essaibi George

  • Says she will establish a Justice Task Force to address racial discrimination and other issues.
  • Wants to ensure fair access to housing, credit and financial services.
  • Wants to explore direct cash payments from the city for struggling residents.
  • Supports home ownership and access to capital in underserved communities.

Kim Janey

  • Invested $2.4 million in Boston Home Center’s first-time homebuyer program.
  • Supports small businesses owned by women and people of color through temporary lease subsidies.
  • Plans to provide vocational training.
  • Wants to bolster requirements for employing residents and people of color in construction projects.

Michelle Wu

  • Says she will attract and invest in Black businesses.
  • Wants to implement Boston's Green New Deal, in part to close racial wealth gap.
  • Would require equitable city contracting.
  • Wants to promote home ownership and housing justice.

For more on the candidates and addressing the racial wealth gap, click here.

Free Transit

All of the major candidates have expressed support for a robust and functional public transit system in the city. But, as WBUR's Bruce Gellerman reports, there are some differences in their views on what should be done to improve the T or riders' experiences, including whether or not the T should be free for everyone or along certain routes.

John Barros

  • Says certain bus lines should be free for low-income passengers.
  • Wants to add bus lanes and expand the public transit network.

Andrea Campbell

  • Says passenger fares are overwhelmingly paid by low-income passengers and people of color, reinforcing racial inequities in income and asset building.
  • Supports creating neighborhoods where residents live within 15 minutes of day-to-day needs, including groceries, libraries and parks.

Annissa Essaibi George

  • Wants to invest in public transit.
  • Supports new programs to reduce the cost of transportation and improve transit options for disadvantaged groups.
  • Wants to connect essential workers, students and seniors to existing programs offering free or discounted transit fares.

Kim Janey

  • Calls support for mass transit an economic justice, social justice and racial justice issue.
  • Promises a free bus along 28 bus route from Mattapan to Roxbury.

Michelle Wu

  • Supports free mass transit, starting with buses. Considers it a social justice, economic justice and racial justice issue.
  • Advocates dedicated bus lanes and infrastructure to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

For more on the candidates and free transit, click here.

Boston Schools

All candidates told WBUR's Carrie Jung that they believe admission to the city's prestigious exam schools should involve some type of exam. However, three of the major contenders — Andrea Campbell, Kim Janey and Michelle Wu — each said they also support exam school admissions policies that consider "socioeconomic factors in addition to grades and test scores."

Upgrading district buildings was also a high priority for the candidates. Wu, Janey, Barros and Essaibi George support using existing school funding and one-time federal COVID relief funding to finance that. Campbell supports the idea of borrowing money to speed up the process. Wu and Barros also hope to use some of that one-time federal COVID relief funding to expand access to pre-kindergarten to all of Boston's 3- and 4-year-old children.

Four of the five leading candidates for mayor have also signaled openness to restoring elections for some or most committee seats. Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu say they would pursue that idea, while Kim Janey and John Barros say they’d consider it. Only Annissa Essaibi George told WBUR she was opposed to adding any elected seats to the body.

In any event, a mayor alone couldn’t implement structural changes to the body: it would also need majority support from voters, the city council, and both houses of the state legislature, as well as approval from the governor.

John Barros

  • Believes exam school entrance should require an exam.
  • Wants to use one-time federal pandemic relief funds to help make pre-kindergarten free for all 3 and 4-year-olds in Boston.
  • Wants to use additional city funds to meet family needs, like mental health services and food access.
  • Wants to ensure art is offered in each school building and each school has outdoor play spaces.

Andrea Campbell

  • Supports the new exam school admissions policy that considers socioeconomic factors in addition to grades and test scores.
  • Believes exam school entrance should require an exam.
  • Wants to borrow money to improve school facilities.
  • Wants to use one-time federal pandemic relief funding to create a “student acceleration account” with $3,000 per child that parents and caregivers can use toward academic and social-emotional support.

Annissa Essaibi George

  • Believes exam school entrance should require an exam.
  • Believes the recent exam school admissions policy change was rushed and didn’t fully understand the impact on all district students.
  • Wants to use one-time federal pandemic relief funding to decrease disparities in classroom resources, increase district mental health resources and invest in teacher professional development.

Kim Janey

  • Supports the new exam school admissions policy that considers socioeconomic factors in addition to grades and test scores.
  • Believes exam school entrance should require an exam.
  • Wants to increase BPS’s capital budget by 29%.
  • Will prioritize learning loss, digital equity and school building upgrades when spending one-time federal pandemic relief funding.

Michelle Wu

  • Supports the new exam school admissions policy that considers socioeconomic factors in addition to grades and test scores.
  • Believes exam school entrance should require an exam.
  • Will prioritize facility upgrades like windows and ventilation systems when spending one-time federal pandemic relief funds. She also wants to use the funds to increase district mental health supports and offer more compensatory services for students with disabilities.
  • Wants to expand universal pre-kindergarten.

For more on the candidates and schools, click here.

Climate Change

As WBUR's Jenny Kornreich reports, all the major candidates support measures to deal with climate change.

John Barros

  • Plans to dedicate 20% of Boston’s capital budget to climate resilience projects.
  • Supports citywide carbon neutrality by 2050.

Andrea Campbell

  • Wants every resident to live within walking distance of a park or green space.
  • Calls for city operations to be carbon neutral and run on 100% renewable energy by 2035.

Annissa Essaibi George

  • Pledges to make structural updates to Boston Public Schools, which make up the majority of city-owned buildings.
  • Pushed for renewable energy job training at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School.

Kim Janey

  • Appointed Boston’s current chief of environment, energy and open space.
  • Plans to allocate $4 million to the Green Jobs program.

Michelle Wu

  • Proposed the first city-level Green New Deal in the U.S.
  • Promises carbon neutrality by 2040, 100% renewable energy by 2030 and a net-zero municipal footprint by 2024.

For more on the candidates and climate change, click here.

'Mass and Cass'

As State House News Service reported, the candidates met in late May for a forum hosted by Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins. The debate centered on issues ranging from how the city should tackle helping residents struggling with homelessness, mental health problems and substance abuse disorders. Much of the conversation focused on issues near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.


Key Election Dates

  • Voter registration deadline for most municipal preliminary elections: Wednesday, Aug. 25, at 8 p.m.
  • Deadline to submit application for a mail-in ballot: Wednesday, Sept. 8 at 5 p.m. 
  • Boston's preliminary municipal election: Tuesday, Sept. 14. (Polls close at 8 p.m.; that is also when all mail-in ballots must be received by the city elections department.)
  • The city's early voting dates: Saturday, Sept. 4 through Friday, Sept. 10 (except for Labor Day)
  • Boston's general municipal election: Tuesday, Nov. 2

Register To Vote

For all municipal elections, voters must be registered at least 20 days before the election. So, Boston voters — like most other voters with preliminary town or city elections this year — have until Wednesday, Aug. 25, at 8 p.m. to register to vote.

Here's how to check your voter registration status and get more details on the rules around registering to vote.

How To Vote By Mail

Universal voting by mail is a new feature of this year's Boston mayoral race.

For many Massachusetts voters, their first exposure to voting by mail may have been last year's presidential contest amid the ongoing COVID pandemic. The rules and processes around vote by mail remain essentially the same as last year.

Voters seeking to send ballots by mail will need to:

  • Fill out an application or request in writing, with a signature, a vote-by-mail ballot from their location election office.
  • Receive the official ballot in the mail. Sign and seal it.
  • Return the ballot either by mail or by hand-delivering it into their local election office or a designated drop box.

Boston voters do not need to include postage on their mail-in ballots for the November election, despite the fact that the official instructions included with the ballots say otherwise. The city did not update the instructions until after ballots were sent out, though the ballot envelopes clearly note postage isn't necessary.

Among the important details voters looking to do everything by mail should be mindful of is the amount of time it could take the U.S. Postal Service to deliver each piece of mail. Voters should give themselves about three weeks total to complete the process. Remember, all vote-by-mail ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, and voters cannot bring mail-in ballots to the polls that day.

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For more details on voting by mail in Boston's preliminary municipal election, see our complete guide here.

Voting At The Polls

Early voting in the city begins on Saturday, Sept. 4. It runs through Friday, Sept. 10. Polls, however, will not be open on Labor Day.

Boston election officials released details on the city's website that shows the city's early voting locations, organized by date. Voters with mail-in ballots are allowed to submit their ballots at open early voting sites. Remember: This differs from Election Day, when you should not bring your vote-by-mail ballot to the polls.

On Sept. 14, polls in Boston will open at 7 a.m. All polls will close at 8 p.m. across the city. To find your polling location, go here.

There are some circumstances, as outlined by the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office, in which poll workers may be allowed to request identification for a voter at the polls. You will still be allowed to vote without an ID, but your ballot may be challenged.

Boston City Council Races

There are several competitive Boston City Council races this year, including a crowded 17-person field of hopefuls vying for one of the city's four at-large positions. All four councilor at-large seats are up for grabs. Districts 4, 6, 7 and 9 each feature races with three or more candidates.

There will not be preliminary city councilor contests for Districts 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8.

Other Municipal Elections To Watch

There are many other towns and cities in Massachusetts holding preliminary races, too. Most are being held on Sept. 14, though Lawrence, Fall River and Holyoke will hold theirs on Sept. 21. Northampton will hold its election on Sept. 28. Here's a list of some of the major contests happening around the state:

  • In Somerville, there is a four-way race for the mayoral seat held by Joseph Curtatone, who is stepping down after 17 years on the job.
  • In Salem, two candidates will challenge four-term incumbent Mayor Kim Driscoll.
  • In Northampton, six candidates are vying for outgoing Mayor David Narkewicz's seat.
  • In Fall River, three other candidates will challenge incumbent Paul Coogan, who was elected in 2019 after defeating embattled former Mayor Jasiel Correia, who was facing federal extortion charges.
  • In Framingham, incumbent Mayor Yvonne Spicer faces two challengers as she runs for a second term.
  • Five candidates will compete for Lawrence's mayoral office, including interim Mayor Kendrys Vasquez, who took the reins after former Mayor Daniel Rivera vacated the office to take a state job in January.
  • In Lynn, three candidates are running for the office held by Mayor Thomas McGee, who is not seeking reelection after four years in office.
  • In Medford, incumbent Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn faces two newcomers after her first term.
  • Three candidates will vie for Newton's mayoral office, including incumbent Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who has been in office since 2018.
  • In Holyoke, three candidates are running for the seat currently held by Acting Mayor Terence Murphy, who replaced former Mayor Alex Morse when he left in March to serve as town manager of Provincetown.

With reporting from WBUR's Laney Ruckstuhl

This article was originally published on August 17, 2021.

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Lisa Creamer Twitter Managing Editor, Digital
Lisa Creamer is WBUR's digital managing editor.

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