By Sarah Readdean
Boston University News Service
With concerns circulating about low voter turnout in the Boston elections, community groups turned out to the polls for one last chance to influence voters and push for policies that have been talking points throughout the campaign season, including Boston Public Schools and housing.
Three members of the Ward 12 Democratic Committee waited outside Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Towers in Roxbury to encourage residents to vote for incumbent Julia Mejia for Boston City Council at large.
Mejia is running on a platform of accessibility, accountability, transparency and civic engagement against seven other candidates to keep her seat on the City Council.
Mejia told Boston University News Service over the phone that in her first term, which she won in 2019 by a single vote after a three-day recount, she has been working to “[give] people back the power.” She became the first Latina member of the Council after that first election in 2019.
“I have no problem calling things out,” Mejia said. “I have the biggest mouth.”
Andrea Walker, one of the Ward 12 Democratic Committee members, said Mejia has been active in the community.
“She’s the one who’s out here hands-on. She answers the phone calls. She’s in the community,” Walker said. “She’s really doing the work.”
Mia McIlvaine, who was also with Ward 12, said campaigning outside the polling station is important because it can direct the decision of undecided voters.
“If they see you out here in the morning [of the election],” McIlvaine said. “They know [the candidate] is doing a good job.”
Boston voters also faced three ballot initiatives. Although nonbinding, Question 3, which would switch the Boston School Committee from appointed members to elected members, proved a touchpoint with voters.
LaTanya Maxwell voted in favor of Question 3, saying residents should be able to have a say in who oversees the schools.
“At the end of the day it’s our kids, not the kids of the elected officials,” Maxwell said. “But at the same time I feel like the parents need to do more. It starts with the students, parents, then up the ladder.”
Maxwell also said she believes colleges should give back to the communities around them.
“Universities could do more to help the city, especially because Boston is such a big college and university town,” Maxwell said. “Why not do something for the residents?”
She suggested colleges offer ESL programs and computer classes, among other things, for people in the residential areas surrounding the schools. Because universities are tax-exempt, she said, they should be able to give support.
For Lucille Jones, the biggest issue in Roxbury regards housing, specifically gentrification, developers and affordable housing.
“Who gets to live here? Who gets to stay? Who has to leave?” Jones said, explaining that she voted for Michelle Wu for Boston Mayor because “she’s doing a lot.”
“[Wu] is more visible,” Jones said. “I don’t think I’ve seen Annissa [Essaibi George] in terms of visibility.”
Joao DePina was outside Roxbury’s John A. Shelburne Recreation Center as part of the D7 Alliance Boston. The nonpartisan group of D7 candidates formed a few weeks ago. DePina ran for the District 7 City Council seat but lost in the September primary.
The Alliance traveled to different polling stations to increase civic engagement and voter turnout.
“Black and Brown communities, they don’t like to vote no more,” DePina said. “A lot of the younger generation, they just don’t give a [explitive] about voting anymore.”
Marisa Luse, also with D7 Alliance, said District 7 has low voter turnout and that there is “a lack of trust in the system.” Luse also ran for the seat in September.
“They don’t trust that when [they] do show up that it’s going to matter,” Luse said. “Not participating is not helping us.”
Members of the Alliance discussed the importance of mental health support for the community.
“All the candidates have mentioned it,” former candidate Brandy Brooks said. “But I can’t say I’ve seen one candidate with one mental health platform.”
Brooks added that mental health is a challenge for those working on campaigns. “It’s a lot of toll on you,” she said of the time, stress, money and focus required.
DePina said mental health covers day-to-day mental health, drug use, PTSD, the homeless population, and more.
“The City of Boston needs to identify what mental health looks like and what a criminal looks like,” he said.
Polls close at 8 p.m. in Boston.