The Boston City Council approved a home rule petition Wednesday that would avoid a special election should Mayor Martin J. Walsh leave his City Hall post to join the Biden administration before March 5.
The matter now heads to Walsh, who is expected to step down in coming weeks to become the nation’s next labor secretary. Should he sign the petition, it would head to the State House for approval from lawmakers and the governor.
The measure passed 12-0-1 at Wednesday’s council meeting, which was conducted virtually. Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, one of a trio of councilors who are running for mayor, abstained from the vote. She previously said she would abstain because the measure directly affects her campaign, adding that she wanted to hold herself to the “highest possible ethical standard.”
A mayoral spokesman said Wednesday that Walsh looks forward to reviewing the final language of the proposal passed by the council.
Walsh is expected to step down if the US Senate confirms his nomination as labor secretary, though the date of the vote has yet to be determined. But if he steps down before March 5, the city charter requires a special mayoral election, even though a regular election is already planned for this fall. That would create the possibility of holding four mayoral elections this year — preliminary and general special contests over the summer, in addition to regularly scheduled preliminary and general mayoral elections later in the year.
But advocates, city residents, and lawmakers have said that having extra mayoral elections in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic would be ill-advised. Specifically, critics said a special mayoral election would pose needless public health risks, place an unnecessary financial burden on the city, and foster voter confusion and low turnout.
“I filed this with the understanding that COVID-19 is the largest crisis facing Boston in our lifetimes,” said Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who sponsored the proposal, on Wednesday.
Councilor Kenzie Bok, who proposed amendments to the measure at a Friday working session that multiple councilors said helped build support for the proposal on the council, said Wednesday she was “very grateful that folks were able to come to consensus.”
“Strong, strong consensus support from this body is going to be really important for passage at the State House,” Bok said. “So again, glad we’ve gotten there.”
Walsh was tapped by Biden for the Cabinet position last month, and Wednesday’s council vote came on the eve of a Senate hearing to consider his nomination.
Once Walsh leaves, City Council President Kim Janey will become acting mayor. Janey is said to be considering a run for a full term but has not announced her plans.