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Top elections official backs plan to skip special election for Boston mayor

Economic development chief John Barros and Police Commissioner William Gross join list of potential mayoral contenders

Secretary of State William F. Galvin supports the move.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin supports the move.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Secretary of State William Galvin said Monday that he backs an effort to nix the requirement for a special city election if Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh leaves office early, pointing to the confusion and challenges voters would face with multiple elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walsh has been tapped for a cabinet post in the Biden administration, and if he leaves before March 5 — a likely scenario — the city charter requires a special election 120 to 140 days later. That would mean a special election in the early summer, followed by the already scheduled election in the fall.

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Both of those elections would require preliminaries, which are meant to narrow down a field of candidates to two finalists.

The City Council would have to decide whether to do away with the special election, and the issue would then be sent to the state Legislature for final approval.

Galvin, the state’s top elections official, said a crowded field in the mayoral race will be a distraction for voters.

“It’s not about the candidates, it’s about the voters, giving the voters the maximum amount of time to make choices,” he said.

In a city that has seen only two mayors in the last 28 years, the possibility of multiple elections means that Boston could potentially see four different mayors in the span of a year. Critics say that would lead to a political circus that would create undue hardships at a time when the city should be looking to pass a responsible budget in a challenging financial year, and to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Already, a growing list of potential candidates have confirmed their interest in running for mayor, and some have begun jockeying to raise campaign cash and solicit political endorsements.

John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development, told the Globe Monday that he is giving the prospect “serious consideration.” And Police Commissioner William Gross confirmed to reporters that he is weighing a run.

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Galvin, whose blessing of the move to skip the special election could help grease its passage through the state Legislature, pointed out that his office recently worked with officials in Lawrence to pass a state law nixing a special election in that city. On Monday, he and his staff met by phone with a group that included Boston City Council members as they consider their own plan.

Galvin said he would only support the change if the city agrees to conditions including the use of mail-in voting. He also recommended that the city amend its schedule for the elections in the fall, to give voters more time after the preliminary election to weigh the merits of each finalist before choosing their mayor in the general election.

“It’s an important choice for the city. It’s framing the future, so we want to be as inclusive as possible,” Galvin said. “At the same time, we want it to be fair, to be clean, and to deal with all the issues we need to.”

City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who plans to present a home rule petition to the council on Wednesday, said the city and voters shouldn’t be burdened by another, costly election and the possibility of mayors playing musical chairs at a critical time.

Arroyo said the financial cost and emotional toll of two elections, costing more than $1.5 million, shouldn’t be pinned to an arbitrary March 5 cutoff date.

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“The reality is we’re looking at four elections in one year, and the possibility of four mayors. Why would we do that? That doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Arroyo said he has not seen any significant opposition to the effort.

Councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell had announced their candidacies before Walsh’s appointment, and have been lining up political support and building their campaign coffers.

Wu announced on Saturday that she won the endorsement of US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a fellow progressive and a friend with whom she has campaigned in prior cycles. On Monday, Wu also announced the endorsement of Sunrise Movement Boston, the local chapter of a national grassroots group advocating to stop climate change.

Meanwhile, Campbell, a city councilor from Mattapan, announced on Monday her own endorsements, including from state Representative Liz Malia, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, and the city’s former chief resilience officer, Atyia Martin.

Other candidates who said they are weighing a run include Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, and state Representative Jon Santiago, a Boston Medical Center emergency room doctor. City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George is said to be seriously considering a run, and so is state Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the budget chairman in the state House of Representatives.

A person close to state Senator Nick Collins said the South Boston Democrat also hasn’t ruled out a campaign. And City Councilor Kim Janey, who will become acting mayor when Walsh leaves, is mulling a run.

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On Monday, after news reports surfaced reporting that he is also considering a run, Gross told reporters that he is discussing the possibility with his family members and will decide at another time, saying it was too soon to make a commitment. He said he received “several calls” from people urging him to consider the prospect, which he called “an honor.”

“I have not made that decision yet, but out of respect I sure am considering every thought, every prayer that comes my way, that people want me to be a mayoral candidate,” he said. “Deep consideration.”

Stephanie Ebbert and Meghan Irons of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.