Boston voters narrowed the field of candidates for City Council Tuesday, kicking off a contentious battle for a number of vacancies on the 13-member body, and opening a potential pathway into city politics for a slate of newcomers.
The results reflect a city that is growing more ethnically and racially diverse, and more politically progressive and liberal, in what could become a significant transformation of the council. Yet they also show the enduring influence of candidates from the historically moderate and conservative strongholds of South Boston and Dorchester over Boston’s political establishment.
In the at-large race, where the top eight finishers will face off on Nov. 2 to fill four seats representing the whole city, two of the three top vote-getters were women of color with immigrant roots, Julia Mejia of Dorchester, the first Latina elected to the council in 2019, and first-time candidate Ruthzee Louijeune, a Haitian American lawyer from Mattapan and Hyde Park who served as senior counsel to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign, finished third.
“I showed up in every single neighborhood to get my name on the ballot and I think people felt that and saw that. They see my passion and experience,” Louijeune said. “I’m building a large table and everyone is invited.”
The top vote-getter in the at-large contest was Michael Flaherty, a longtime incumbent and former mayoral candidate from South Boston who is white, and who has strong support among public safety unions.
Erin Murphy, a former teacher from Dorchester who has aligned with some of the city’s more moderate leaders, including Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, and who saw similar support from public safety unions, also placed high in the rankings, above Carla Monteiro, a social worker and community advocate, and David Halbert, a onetime staffer for two city councilors and former governor Deval Patrick, who is running for a second time on a progressive platform. Bridget Nee-Walsh, an ironworker and small business owner, earned a spot on the November ballot as well.
“I’m not a polished politician, I’m everybody else in the room,” Nee-Walsh said. “And [Tuesday night], everybody else in the room spoke loud and clear.”
Former councilor and perennial candidate Althea Garrisonalso made it into the final. Garrison, who said she expected a victory, credited her success to her decision to campaign door-to-door instead of seeking funds and endorsements. If elected, she said she hopes to “bring more balance” to a left-leaning council.
“I didn’t seek union endorsements because the only vote that counts is the people’s vote,” Garrison said.
Four council districts also held preliminary elections on Tuesday.
Newcomer Brian Worrell, a small business owner and real estate broker, led the nine-way race for the District 4 council seat vacated by Andrea Campbell, with 25.4 percent. Evandro Carvalho, a former state representative and current executive director of the city’s Human Rights Commission, finished close behind, with 18.7 percent. District 4 includes parts of Dorchester, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain.
Worrell and Carvalho are both Black, as is Halbert, which means at least one Black man will be elected to serve on the council for the first time since former District 7 councilor Tito Jackson stepped down in 2017 to run for mayor.
In the three-way race for the District 6 seat — representing parts of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, where incumbent Matt O’Malley is retiring — Kendra Hicks, a progressive organizer from Jamaica Plain, received half of the votes cast. Mary Tamer, a former Boston School Committee member, earned 43.4 percent.
Hicks said she hopes to find common ground with constituents who might not align with her left-leaning views.
“Every neighborhood in Boston has people that have different political views, so my hope is that I can anchor up some shared values and create a vision together,” she said.
In District 7, which includes parts of Roxbury, the South End, and Fenway, Tania Fernandes Anderson, executive director of Bowdoin Geneva Main Streets, and Roy Owens Sr., a pastor and perennial candidate, appear to have beaten six other candidates for spots in the final, according to the city’s unofficial tally. The District 7 seat is currently held by Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who also ran for mayor.
If elected, Anderson would become the first Muslim member of the council.
In the three-way race for the District 9 seat, representing much of Allston-Brighton, the city’s unofficial numbers show incumbent Liz Breadon, a community activist and the first openly gay woman to serve in City Hall, and Brighton resident Michael Bianchi securing spots on the November ballot.
Though the city elections department’s unofficial results list Owens and Bianchi as top finishers in their respective districts, the Associated Press has deemed the District 7 and District 9 races too close to call.
Owens garnered considerable support this election cycle. The pastor‘s “very present and consistent base” played a key role in his success, if confirmed by election officials.
“Because there were so many people in the D7 field, the other candidates must have split their bases, and Roy Owens was able to cover his,” said Gina Christoa political consultant for Boston-based firm Rivera Consulting.
Districts 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 did not hold preliminary elections; they were either uncontested or two-way races.
A notable number of the City Council finalists are immigrants or children of immigrants.
Mejia emigrated from the Dominican Republic at age 5. Louijeune’s parents emigrated from Haiti during the 1980s. Monteiro is the daughter of Cape Verdean immigrants.
Monteiro fought back tears Wednesday morning during her interview with the Globe. She said she’s still processing the win against other candidates with more resources and money.
“In my community, we never were taught about the impact of policy or civic engagement,” she said. “We need a voice on the City Council for the people who have been left behind.”
Carvalho was born in Cape Verde; Worrell is the son of West Indian and Caribbean immigrants. Hicks is the daughter of a Black Dominican mother, and Anderson emigrated from Cape Verde at age 10.
Tamer, whose grandparents were from Lebanon and Syria, identifies as Arab American.
Christo said voters should expect a lively contest in the final stretch.
“It will be a fierce fight, for sure,” she said.
Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon. Julia Carlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617.