By Hannah Green
BU News Service
BOSTON – The Boston City Council voted Wednesday to forgo a mayoral special election that councilors said posed a risk to public health and government stability.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was recently tapped to serve as the Biden administration’s secretary of labor, with City Council President Kim Janey stepping in to serve as acting mayor until the general election this fall. If Walsh is confirmed in the Senate before March 5, this could change.
Per the city charter, a special election must be held when a mayor leaves office less than 16 months after a general election. In this situation, Boston would need to hold four elections by the end of 2021. This would include two primaries, one special election and a general election.
After Walsh’s cabinet nomination was announced in early January, Councilor Ricardo Arroyo proposed a home rule petition to skip this year’s special election.
“I filed this with the understanding that COVID-19 is the largest crisis facing Boston in our lifetimes,” Arroyo said in Wednesday’s meeting. “It would be irresponsible for us to allow for the possibility of four in-person elections for the same office in a five month span.”
Arroyo noted that a special election could mean the city of Boston would see four different mayors in one calendar year.
The council held a four hour hearing on Jan. 26 to gather public comments on the petition.
Councilor Lydia Edwards said an overwhelming majority of speakers supported the petition. She said the public voiced concerns about public safety and the disenfranchisement of voters unable or unwilling to visit the polls multiple times during a pandemic.
“I can honestly say 99.99% of the people who testified wanted to dispense with the special election,” Edwards said.
Councilors held a working session last Friday to finalize the petition’s language. Edwards said the final language clarified that, “a mayor shall be elected at-large at the next regular municipal election.”
With Walsh’s cabinet confirmation hearing scheduled for today, the council is moving quickly to pass this legislation.
The council approved the home rule petition Wednesday in a vote of 12-0-1. Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who will run for mayor alongside councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell in 2021, voted present.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Councilor Arroyo acknowledged concerns that council members would vote on this petition to benefit their mayoral campaigns.
The legislation will now need to be approved by Walsh, the state legislature, and Gov. Charlie Baker. Supporters of the home rule petition are hopeful for a quick approval process after a similar proposal from the town of Lawrence was signed into law earlier this year.