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Candidates compete in special election for Beacon Hill council seat

July 25 special election will replace Kenzie Bok on the council

The candidates for the City Council District 8 seat are Montez Haywood, left, and Sharon Durkan.Pat Greenhouse/ Matthew J. Lee

An experienced Boston political hand and a longtime prosecutor in the Suffolk County district attorney’s office are competing in a special election this summer for a Boston City Council district that stretches from Beacon Hill to Mission Hill.

Voters in City Council District 8 will choose July 25 between 32-year-old Sharon Durkan — a political fund-raiser who has worked for Michelle Wu, Senator Edward J. Markey, and Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, among others — and 43-year-old Montez Haywood, who has spent over 17 years in the district attorney’s office, where he’s focused on everything from domestic violence to asset forfeiture.

The special election will crown a replacement for Kenzie Bok, who left her seat on the council months ago for a new role heading the Boston Housing Authority; the victor will finish out the remainder of Bok’s term this year. Both candidates are also set to compete in the general election to earn a full two-year council term, which would start in January 2024.

The winner of the special election will join a council rocked by dysfunction and division, where interpersonal disputes have often gotten in the way of effective policy making. The 13-member body, down one councilor for the past several months, is bitterly split — often along racial lines — on issues that stretch beyond the political into the personal. Earlier this month, Council President Ed Flynn said two of his colleagues brought “negative attention to the institution” after Councilor Ricardo Arroyo admitted to an ethics violation and Councilor Kendra Lara was involved in a car accident while driving with a revoked license. And Wu said in a recent radio interview that the recent controversies hurt the council’s “credibility on every issue.”

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Both candidates to replace Bok said they are eager to serve on the council despite the negative attention it’s earned in recent months.

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The vicious redistricting debate that fractured the body over the last year was “hostile” and “flawed,” Haywood said. The councilors who voted last month to cut the police budget and veterans services in favor of other city expenses “should be ashamed,” he said.

Durkan, who has earned the endorsement of several councilors, said, “I could see myself collaborating with every single member of the City Council.”

“Honestly, constituents are not interested in any sort of infighting. They’re interested in [councilors] getting stuff done for them,” she added.

Durkan has significantly outraised Haywood: She had $66,000 on hand at the end of last month to his $8,000, according to campaign finance records. Durkan has also earned a slate of prominent endorsements, including from Wu, Markey, Bok, and a number of state lawmakers and city councilors.

Haywood said his focus has been doorknocking, not fund-raising. “I don’t have any endorsements beyond the people I’ll bring to the polls for me,” he said.

This is Durkan’s first run for public office. Haywood ran for the same Beacon Hill council seat in 2019, and finished last in the five-way preliminary race.

Both Democrats said they would aim to balance policy priorities such as housing with constituent services and quality of life issues, including trash pick-up and rats.

A native of Georgia, Durkan started her political career as a student at Smith College in Northampton, when she signed on as finance director for former state senator Eric Lesser. She started to work for then-City Councilor Wu in 2015, not long after graduating, and has been involved in Massachusetts politics ever since, recently serving as chair of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee.

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Earlier in her life, working in politics behind the scenes, she would not have imagined being the candidate herself, Durkan said. But in recent years that began to change, particularly as she led trainings through Emerge Massachusetts, which prepares Democratic women to seek public office.

“I always used to tell the women going through the trainings in the Emerge program, ‘If not you, then who?’” Durkan recalled in a recent interview. When she learned Bok would leave her council seat, she recalled, “There was this moment of, ‘If not you, then who?’”

Durkan has focused her campaign on housing, transportation, mental health care, and climate issues.

Haywood, who was born in Flint, Mich., and raised in Tennessee, came to Boston in 2001 for law school. He said his work as a councilor would draw on his public safety résumé, which has included leading the DA’s office’s asset forfeiture program and its parole and commutation divisions, as well as trying cases ranging from domestic violence to homicide.

Haywood said he sees political service as an opportunity to “do good things for my neighborhood,” building on volunteer work he has done through his church.

“We’re one of the richest cities in the country,” he said. “We should be able to do more.”

Haywood also identified housing, mental health care, and substance use treatment as policy priorities.

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The Democrats differ on at least some issues, including a city proposal to add a Berkeley Street bike lane that would link Tremont Street in the South End to Beacon Street in the Back Bay.

Haywood said he opposes the Berkeley Street bike lane proposal, adding, “I’m not against bike lanes, but I think we need to rethink them.” Durkan, meanwhile, has not taken a position on the plan, calling for more community engagement.

Haywood also favors a fully elected school committee, while Durkan said she supports a hybrid body. That issue divided City Hall earlier this year; after the council voted for a fully elected body, Wu vetoed the measure.


Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her @emmaplatoff.