Don’t look now, but something unusual is happening in West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.
The area’s incumbent city councilor, Kendra Lara, faces not one but two serious, credible challengers as she seeks reelection to a second two-year term.
Competition! In Boston!
Lara certainly did her part to bring about this unusual situation — Massachusetts ordinarily has among the nation’s least competitive elections — with a record of questionable judgment calls that has sent many voters searching for an alternative. But the race is also a reflection on the sad state of the council, which over the last two years has backslidden into its old role as a civic embarrassment. Having briefly experienced a functional council in the decade prior, it turns out that many Bostonians want that version back.
Lara is not, by any stretch, the main cause of the council’s dysfunction. Still, she has shown enough poor judgment, both personal and political, that the district would be better off with a fresh start. She’s been in the news lately after she crashed a car in Jamaica Plain, where she was allegedly traveling twice the speed limit. Lara was driving despite the fact that her license had been revoked; she also failed to secure her child in a car seat, as required by law.
A single incident shouldn’t define anyone, and Lara has acknowledged she made a mistake and asked for forgiveness from voters. The problem is that this was really a series of poor decisions, not just one bad day. Though she had taken some steps to restore her license that had been suspended a decade ago for failure to pay a ticket in Connecticut, Lara didn’t follow through when bureaucratic issues arose at the RMV. And while she has explained her decision to drive as a matter of necessity, because she needed to bring her special-needs child to school, she also “regularly” drove to City Hall, and in 2022 Lara herself tweeted “I drove to Vermont for the day” at one point over the winter (she told Globe columnist Joan Vennochi that the tweet doesn’t mean she was the driver).
Both of the candidates seeking to replace Lara, William King and Ben Weber, are promising and could step into the role of district councilor, which involves both constituent service and policymaking. But Weber offers a more complete package for voters, and the Globe is happy to endorse his candidacy in the preliminary election on Sept. 12.
A workers’ rights lawyer in Jamaica Plain, Weber, 49, is a newcomer to electoral politics. He says he got into the race in May out of frustration with what he views as Lara’s inadequate presence in the community, and dissatisfaction with the city’s handling of the Mission Hill School, which his children attended before it closed.
“I’m running because I want a City Council that we can be proud of and is getting things done,” Weber told the Globe editorial board in an interview. “I work in JP. I don’t see our current councilor around. I’m at [Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council] meetings; she’s not there.”
“Education is the most important issue for our city, and we need to have the schools work for all the students in the city,” he said. “We have a City Council that’s been focused on things that aren’t helpful to people who live in the city.”
And while King, an IT director for a nonprofit, appears to be banking on strong support in West Roxbury to make it into the final election, Weber makes it clear he’s aiming for a broad base of support, and wants to represent the entirety of a diverse district that spans progressive JP and more conservative-leaning parts of West Roxbury.
“I’m progressive but I think I can build bridges,” he says, citing his work as a lawyer that requires him to negotiate settlements and hear out others’ points of view.
For instance, Weber himself sued the Boston Police Department over its promotion policies. But, “at the same time, I recognize that we need a well-functioning police department in Boston to live here, and so when I talk to police officers, even though I’m in favor of police reforms, I think they understand they are talking to someone who will listen to their concerns and not demonize them.”
The reality is that there is little that separates the candidates on the issues over which the City Council has any control — though the few differences that do exist offer telling insights into which constituencies have connected to the candidates. Lara and Weber, for instance, support the use of civilian flaggers at construction sites, a common-sense step opposed by the police unions. King has sided with the unions.
That said, King is certainly not a bad choice. He has rounded up many endorsements from unions and other elected officials, and like Weber, he would undoubtedly be a good steward of the seat and play a constructive role rebuilding the council’s reputation.
It’s notable that King and Weber both started gathering signatures in the race before Lara’s car accident. That particular incident, while it’s clearly getting the most attention, is not the only problem with Lara’s tenure — and indeed, for a lot of voters, it was merely icing on the cake. For instance, she apologized in 2022 after sending a tweet that the Anti-Defamation League said contained antisemitic tropes. She continued to support city councilor and Suffolk DA candidate Ricardo Arroyo even after old sexual abuse allegations against him surfaced during last year’s campaign. It’s a shame, because Lara is also clearly an eloquent and passionate advocate for the things she believes in.
Weber is a much lower-key personality than Lara. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing — and at this particular moment, when Bostonians are tiring of the City Council’s drama over the last two years, it might be a quality that’s just what the district and the city need.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.