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One red hot mayoral race is enough

If Marty Walsh goes to Washington before March 5, Boston should cancel the special election.

Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston delivers remarks after President-elect Joe Biden announced him as his labor secretary nominee, Jan. 8, in Wilmington, Del. Walsh's departure from the mayor's office could potentially trigger four elections in the next 10 months.Chip Somodevilla/Getty

In a city where politics is a favorite pastime — right up there with the Red Sox and the Celtics — is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

Well, yes.

If the nomination of Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston as the Biden administration’s labor secretary touches off four elections in the city over the next 10 months, that would indeed be too much of an ordinarily good thing.

A special election for mayor, followed only a few months later by the regularly scheduled mayoral election, would mean too much expense, too much risk during a pandemic, and the very real risk of voter fatigue, which historically has suppressed the participation of Black and Latinx voters.


The bright red line here is March 5. If Walsh resigns on that date or after to go to Washington, City Council President Kim Janey takes over as acting mayor through the end of Walsh’s term and voters will get to choose their next mayor as scheduled during a preliminary election in September and a final on Nov. 2. If Walsh departs earlier, the city charter would trigger a special preliminary election within 120 to 140 days. If more than two candidates throw their hats in the ring, that would trigger yet another election between the two top-vote getters in the preliminary — hence four elections in the space of 10 months.

City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, mindful of all of the consequences of this over-abundance of democracy, has filed a home rule petition in the council to remove the requirement for a special election this year.

“It seems wildly unfair and frankly racist to put people through this — to put people through four different elections in the middle of a pandemic,” Arroyo said in an interview. “It’s well documented that special elections and preliminary elections are particularly disenfranchising to Black and brown voters.”


Arroyo said his proposal has already won the backing of the local NAACP.

Also on board with the concept is the secretary of the Commonwealth’s election law division.

“We are in agreement that there should be only one election cycle [in Boston] in 2021,” Secretary of State Bill Galvin said in an interview Monday.

He’d like to see a few language tweaks to the proposal, adding, “There are some rather arcane features of the city charter that simply shouldn’t apply this year.”

He cited the issue of signature collection, which could be made somewhat easier in the middle of a pandemic, as it was last year for ballot initiatives and legislative races.

A similar home rule petition allowing the city of Lawrence to forego a special election to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Mayor Daniel Rivera to run MassDevelopment cleared the Legislature during the final days of the last session and was signed by the governor late last week.

Elections are, of course, costly — more so this year, with the need for additional COVID-19 protections. But each city election cycle (preliminary and final combined) is budgeted at about $1.5 million. That’s in an ordinary year. Surely Boston has better uses for that extra $1.5 million-plus.

The real nightmare, of course, would be not merely election confusion but also the prospect of the outgoing mayor filing the city budget (which Walsh is expected to do), an acting mayor attempting to shepherd it through the council during its negotiating process, a possible third mayor being in charge when it passes, and even a fourth to see it through till the end of the year.


“Try hiring good personnel during that time,” Arroyo said.

But this is Boston, after all, where raw politics is always just below the surface and the obvious question is which candidate would benefit?

“You know, I don’t care,” said Arroyo, who confirmed he is not running for mayor. “What isn’t theoretical is the real harm this [a special election] can do. What’s a good reason to put the city through this level of instability for 10 months?”

That is at the heart of the issue. This should be an easy call for councilors — even those who are in the race for mayor — and an even easier one for lawmakers on Beacon Hill, who will also have to approve the change.

Who doesn’t love a red hot race for mayor? Having only one this year will be just fine.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.