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Undecided voters in the Boston mayoral election could determine who goes on to November

Some fence-sitting voters are struggling to make up their minds, and they’re running out of time

Andrew Adams, 47, took time out from his breakfast at the Silver Slipper Restaurant in Nubian Square to discuss why he'll support Andrea Campbell Tuesday.
Andrew Adams, 47, took time out from his breakfast at the Silver Slipper Restaurant in Nubian Square to discuss why he'll support Andrea Campbell Tuesday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

On the eve of final voting, June Thorpe of Mattapan has narrowed her list for Boston mayor to two.

“It’s going to be someone Black. I know that,’' said Thorpe, a Black woman, nodding to the historic racial and ethnic diversity in the mayoral contest. So far, she favors Acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councilor Andrea Campbell. She’ll make up her mind Tuesday, she said.

Thorpe is the kind of voter who makes predicting Tuesday’s outcome difficult. They are the undecideds, voters still on the fence, still whittling down their choices, still trying to figure out whom to support. Only two of the mayoral candidates can advance to the Nov. 2 general election.

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Recent polls show City Councilor Michelle Wu with a sizable lead over the field of major contenders. Janey, Campbell, and City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George are in a tight race for second, while John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development, trails them.

But the polls also have shown Janey slipping in the race, sowing doubt about whether a Black candidate might advance to the finals. While many people interviewed Monday said they want the best person for the job regardless of race, Thorpe held on to hope that person is a Black woman.

“I am hoping that because they are Black, they will do more for Black people,’' Thorpe said of her top choices.

As the final day for voting dawns, there are many unknown factors that could throw a wrinkle in the race. “History tells us that some of the people who say they are undecided actually never vote,’' said Larry DiCara, a former city councilor, former mayoral contender, and local political historian.

Also less certain, he added, is whether the two city councilors who have won citywide races — Wu and Essaibi George — will maintain an edge against a viable pool of contenders. “I topped the [council] ticket in ‘79 and I came in fourth in ‘83,’' DiCara said of his unsuccessful mayoral bid. “You can never translate topping the ticket and being elected mayor.”

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A recent Suffolk University-Boston Globe poll showed that the pool of undecided voters shrank from 22 percent in June to 8 percent this month. Though smaller in scale, those voters could still be potent.

“The undecideds will have an impact in the race for second place,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll with the Globe in June and September.

The most recent poll was tightly screened and only included registered voters who are likely to vote in the preliminary election and those who could provide the date of the preliminary election. A wider screen would have shown more undecided voters, he added.

Still, it is tough to gauge which candidate might benefit from voters who are still making up their minds on the eve of final voting. The undecided voters polled tend to be older and more racially and politically diverse, Paleologos said.

Susan Vittorini, of Hyde Park, spoke to customers at Richy’s ahead of a historic preliminary election. Vittorini said she’s “excited and nervous” for tomorrow and was pulling for Michelle Wu.
Susan Vittorini, of Hyde Park, spoke to customers at Richy’s ahead of a historic preliminary election. Vittorini said she’s “excited and nervous” for tomorrow and was pulling for Michelle Wu. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Jennifer Zabelksy, 40, who teaches music in Haverhill and lives in Brighton, said she was undecided before listening on the radio to one of the mayoral debates last week. She decided to vote for Wu, she said, after being impressed with her plan on climate change. “We can’t always rely on everybody to recycle or carpool or take the T or whatever it is,” said Zabelsky, who said she plans to cast her ballot Tuesday.

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Roughly 100,000 to 110,000 people are expected to vote in Boston’s mayoral race, according to the secretary of state’s office. That’s fewer than the number of people who voted in the 2013 preliminary election, which eventually ushered Martin J. Walsh into office, and much more than those who participated in the 2017 election that set the match between Walsh and Tito Jackson, a former city councilor.

As of Monday morning, at least 22,000 of the 52,000 early ballots sent out were returned, the secretary of state’s office said.

Still some people interviewed Monday seemed unaware that a preliminary election was happening Tuesday, and others said flatly they were not going to participate.

At Richy’s, a Hyde Park luncheonette, general store, and staple among mayoral candidates, the mood Monday swung from apathy to excitement.

Herode Fils, a 27-year-old Hyde Park resident and Richy’s customer, struggled to explain why he does not plan to vote Tuesday. He cited work and the voting hours. “I can’t get up that early,’' he said.

Angel Gutierrez, who recently moved to West Roxbury, seemed surprised to learn there was an election in September and seemed to think that Walsh, who left to become US labor secretary, was still in the running.

“I keeping seeing these signs all over the place, and I’m like ‘Where’s Marty?’ ‘’ he said, saying that he might consider voting Tuesday, citing a host of inequalities in the city that needs addressing.

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Herode Fils, 27, of Hyde Park posed for a portrait at Richy’s ahead of a historic preliminary election. Fils isn’t sure if he’ll be able to find the time to vote tomorrow.
Herode Fils, 27, of Hyde Park posed for a portrait at Richy’s ahead of a historic preliminary election. Fils isn’t sure if he’ll be able to find the time to vote tomorrow. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Behind the counter, Susan Vittorini, whose son is Wu’s chief of staff, said she’s excited to vote for the councilor. “Of course, I’m voting for Michelle,’' she said, as she completed an order.

Lee McMillian of Roslindale is still wrestling with whether to support Janey or Campbell. He said he likes Janey but doesn’t think she’ll advance to the finals. “I really don’t know who I will vote for,’' he said.

In Roxbury at the Silver Slipper Restaurant — another staple among politicians — Andrew Adams said he’s backing Campbell, recalling their encounters over the years at a downtown cafe. “She’s got my vote,’' he said.

The diner’s supervisor, Darline Cobbler, noted that Janey stops in often, usually for the egg and cheese sandwich, though on Friday someone from her security detail picked up the order, Cobbler said. “We haven’t seen anyone else,’' she said of the other candidates. “[Janey] supports us and we support people who support us.”

Elsewhere in the city, people are either making up their minds last minute or staying out of the election altogether.

Former city councilor Salvatore LaMattina said he won’t be voting Tuesday, though he said he will vote in November. “I have a personal relationship with all four [female] ... city councilors, and I said from the very beginning that I want to see a city councilor become mayor. So we will see who the last [woman] standing is,’' said LaMattina, who lives in East Boston.

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John Tobin, a former city councilor and vice president of city and community engagement at Northeastern University, has made his pick, though he is keeping his choice private. But he said he understands why some people are conflicted about whom to support.

“You have five people you could see as the mayor of Boston,’' he said. “That’s why people have a tough time making up their minds.”

Emma Platoff of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.