fb-pixel Skip to main content

Major changes are coming for Boston City Hall: Meet the City Council candidates

Boston City Hall on Sept. 10.
Boston City Hall on Sept. 10.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston voters in Tuesday’s preliminary election will choose from an unusually diverse slate of candidates for City Council, which is about to see its biggest turnover in years.

Four city councilors are leaving their posts to run for mayor, and District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley is not seeking reelection.

The influx of new councilors comes as the city confronts a number of urgent problems: an affordable housing crisis, worsening economic inequality, struggling schools, climate change, and a seemingly endless pandemic.

Of the 48 candidates vying for a council seat, more than a dozen are women, and at least nine identify as Black immigrants. They include former teachers, foster parents, an ironworker, and a lawyer.

Advertisement



In Tuesday’s preliminary, 17 candidates are vying for four at-large council seats. The top eight vote-getters will secure a spot on the November ballot.

Voters in Districts 4, 6, 7, and 9 will settle spirited contests for the chance to run in the November final; the other districts won’t be on the ballot because they are either uncontested or two-candidate races.

A crowded mayoral race has consumed the city’s political attention this summer, eclipsing the council races almost completely.

If you’re just tuning in, here’s a quick rundown of who’s running for the at-large seats:

Incumbent City Councilor Michael Flaherty was born and raised in South Boston. He served on the council from 2000 to 2008 and spent five years as council president. In 2009, he unsuccessfully challenged then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino, before returning to the council in 2013. Flaherty chairs the Community Preservation and the COVID-19 Recovery Committees. He wants to increase affordable housing opportunities and use his past experience as assistant Suffolk district attorney to confront gun violence and unlawful gun ownership, according to his campaign website. Flaherty has been endorsed by labor unions representing Boston police, firefighters, teachers, local government, and MBTA employees, among others.

Advertisement



Community organizer and Dorchester High School graduate Julia Mejia was the first Latina and Afro-Latina elected to the City Council when she won the 2019 election by a single vote. The progressive incumbent from Dorchester has advocated for expanded language access of “vital” city documents and a local eviction moratorium; she has also cosponsored legislation to make the Boston School Committee fully elected. Mejia, the chair of the Committee on Civil Rights and the Committee of Small Business and Workforce Development, has been endorsed by Boston Teachers Union, Massachusetts Nurses Association, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, and environmental organizations Sunrise Boston and Massachusetts Sierra Club.

Said Abdikarim, the founder of a venture capital firm that aims to invest in minority women entrepreneurs, is a first-time candidate who came to the United States from Somalia as a refugee 27 years ago, and now helps immigrants resettle in Boston, according to his website. Abdikarim “wants to use his background living in low-income communities, as a Black immigrant, working in technology, investments, and business to fight for a level playing field,” according to his campaign. A graduate of The Ohio State University and former Harvard instructor, Abdikarim has used his academic background and experiences as a BPS student to teach minority and immigrant youth technical skills.

Kelly Bates, a lawyer, civic leader, and member of the Ward 18 Democratic Committee, has worked as a diversity consultant, organizing efforts to boost underrepresented communities’ political participation. In 2012, she served on a committee that advised the city on changes to the school assignment system. In 2013, Emerson College appointed Bates, of Hyde Park, as the founding executive director of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research. Former board member of Emerge Massachusetts, which trains and supports women running for political office, Bates has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and Mass NOW PAC, which supports progressive feminist candidates.

Advertisement



In 2004, James “Reggie” Colimon, working in then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, pioneered a free clinic that offers pro bono immigration advice to Boston’s low-income immigrants. Colimon, who emigrated from Haiti as a teenager, served for three years as the liaison to the City Council for former mayor Martin J. Walsh and, according to his website, helped create a Global Affairs team in the Office of Economic Development, bringing new economic and partnership opportunities to Boston. Colimon is endorsed by Massachusetts Voters for Animals.

Roxbury youth football coach and entrepreneur, Domingos DaRosa moved to Boston from Cape Verde as an infant and later graduated from Madison Park High School. He began his community involvement as a volunteer for the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative during his childhood and has worked with local groups such as Violence in Boston Inc. and 10,000 Fearless Peacemakers. DaRosa, who lost a bid for council in 2017, started a property maintenance company during the 2015 blizzards. He has spoken out regarding the homeless encampments and drug use that surrounds his team’s field near the so-called Methodone Mile.

Advertisement



Althea Garrison, of Dorchester, was a perennial city candidate for decades until January 2019, when a vacancy led to her appointment on the council; she lost a bid for reelection that November. Garrison brought a conservative voice to the traditionally left-leaning council. As a one-term state representative in the 1990s, she served on the Housing Committee and the Election Law Committee, and sponsored legislation that inaugurated mail-in voter registration, according to her profile on the city website.

Alexander Gray, of Jamaica Plain, served as a policy adviser for then-Mayor Martin J. Walsh and former governor Deval Patrick where he says he gained experience in the management of transportation policy, public safety, and economic development, and helped create the city’s first tuition-free community college program in 2016. His equitable pandemic recovery plan focuses on small businesses in the Main Street Districts, and he vows to promote living wages to fuel the city’s future. Gray, who would presumably be the first blind city councilor, is endorsed by local labor unions, Massachusetts Voters for Animals, and more.

David Halbert, who lost a council bid two years ago, has worked for two former city councilors and former governor Patrick; he’s also served as a communications staffer for the Middlesex sheriff’s office. He fought for development policies that would bolster affordable housing and offer more opportunities for minority contracts. Halbert has been endorsed by numerous community leaders, city councilors, state representatives, labor unions, and progressive groups. Halbert, who has pledged not to fund fossil fuels projects, has also been endorsed by environmental groups the Massachusetts Sierra Club and Sunrise Boston.

Advertisement



You can’t miss the bright purple signs stuck to fences along the streets of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, and Hyde Park emblazoned with Ruthzee Louijeune’s name. According to her website, Louijeune, a lawyer, has worked to expand civic participation and affordable housing. While attending Boston Latin School, she interned for Marie St. Fleur, the first Haitian to hold public office in Massachusetts. A Haitian American from Hyde Park, Louijeune has garnered the support of numerous progressive groups, environmental organizations, and labor unions. In June, she was leading her competitors in campaign fund-raising and received a high-profile endorsement from Massachusetts US Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Carla Monteiro says on her website she overcame many obstacles created by the city’s inequities while growing up here as a first-generation Cape Verdean immigrant. Motivated by memories of her family’s eviction and experiences growing up in an urban heat island, Monteiro supports a Boston Green New Deal and aims to establish rent control, renew Boston’s condo conversion law, and increase the city’s inclusionary development policy, according to her website. Monteiro, a Boston Public Schools graduate, social worker, and community advocate, has been endorsed by the National Association for Social Workers Massachusetts Chapter, and Sunrise Boston.

Two years ago, Erin Murphy lost her bid for at-large councilor by less than 6,000 votes. Education is a key issue for Murphy, a single mother of four and former Boston Public Schools teacher. Murphy has been recognized for her addiction recovery advocacy work. For three years, she ran the Boston Marathon for Gavin Foundation, a nonprofit which provides substance abuse education, prevention, and treatment programs. Murphy has a number of endorsements from labor and public safety unions, including the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association.

Informed by her “blue-collar” upbringing and experiences as an ironworker, union representative, small business owner, and single mother, Bridget Nee-Walsh’s campaign focuses on workforce training, job creation, and public education. Walsh was the first female board member of Iron Workers Local 7 and believes bringing vocational education back to high schools is an essential component of economic empowerment, according to her website. Walsh, of South Boston, has garnered endorsements from numerous labor unions and the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association.

Pastor Roy Owens of Roxbury is running in both the at-large and District 7 City Council races. A former social worker and BPS teacher, Owens has run unsuccessfully on the municipal, state, and congressional levels. On his website, the perennial candidate says he seeks to bring a voice of faith to City Hall and criticizes his opponents’ support of marijuana legalization, liquor store licensing for Blue Hill Avenue, and abortion clinics — all of which are aiding in the destruction of communities of color, according to his website.

Donnie Palmer, who lives in Dorchester, is a strong supporter of law enforcement and an outspoken opponent of masks and vaccines. According to his website, Palmer is a first-generation Honduran American, veteran, former heavyweight boxer, special education teacher, and single dad. He envisions a Boston with more affordable housing and where children go to school in their neighborhood, with highly-skilled teachers who look like them, according to his website, which also says he wants “to keep critical race theory out of our schools.”

Jonathan Spillane, a lawyer and Boston Latin School graduate, spent several years working in the private sector, handling real estate financing and sales, before moving to City Hall, where he worked on affordable housing development at the Department of Neighborhood Development. According to his website, Spillane was raised by civil servants in Hyde Park, and he is one of the youngest contestants in the race. His platform includes bolstering Boston’s tourism industry through arts and culture. Spillane, of Beacon Hill, has received endorsements from local labor unions, as well as City Councilor Priscilla Kenzie Bok and the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee.

Nick Vance, a Bedford METCO program alum who was raised in Mattapan and Dorchester, was a teen director for the Roxbury Boys and Girls Club and is completing a law and policy doctorate at Northeastern University. He was appointed to the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee. Throughout the pandemic, Vance helped increase vaccination rates in communities of color, according to his website. His website also says he supports increased funding for pre-K and child-care services. Former state representative Royal Bolling Jr., community activist Thelma Burns, and former police commissioner William Gross have endorsed Vance.

Tiana Woodard of the Globe staff contributed to this story.


Julia Carlin can be reached at julia.carlin@globe.com.