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What to watch for in Tuesday’s Boston City Council’s preliminary elections

A hop scotch to the voting booth for Dana Gonsal on Election Day in the preliminary municipal election for the City of Boston at the Mattahunt Elementary School.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

As a chaotic two-year Boston City Council term comes to a close, voters got their first formal opportunity this week to weigh in. Residents headed to the polls Tuesday in the first round of voting this fall for Boston City Council, with two dramatic reelection contests drawing unusual attention to the off-year municipal race.

Three incumbent city councilors on Tuesday’s ballot are fighting to keep their seats, while a pack of political newcomers vies for advantage in one open seat. The preliminary election this week will whittle the field down to two candidates in Districts 3, 5, 6, and 7, setting the field for November’s general election and offering an early indication as to how the body’s ideological bent may change next year. (In other districts, as well as the at-large race, there were not enough candidates to trigger a preliminary election; voters will go to the polls Nov. 7.)

Polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday and closed at 8 p.m. You can look on the city’s website to learn which council district you live in. Catch up with the Globe’s full coverage, including guides to District 3, District 5, District 6, and District 7.


Here’s what we’re watching:

Will the council’s most vulnerable incumbents survive?

The biggest question Tuesday will answer: How will incumbent councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Kendra Lara fare, as they seek reelection while battling personal scandals? The two councilors, who are among the body’s most outspoken progressive voices, are both asking voters to focus on their policy records, not their personal baggage, as they fend off multiple opponents. They also carry the significant advantages of incumbency, including name recognition.

Lara has entered a not guilty plea to criminal charges in connection with a June 30 car crash, when authorities say she drove an unregistered, unlicensed vehicle into a home on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. Lara had not had a valid driver’s license in a decade and her son was in the car without a carseat at the time of the crash.


Lara faces two challengers: Benjamin Weber, a progressive labor attorney from Jamaica Plain, and William King, an IT director from West Roxbury who is seen as the race’s more moderate contender.

Arroyo, for his part, in June admitted to an ethics violation and paid a $3,000 penalty for representing his brother in a sexual harassment lawsuit. His name also appeared in bombshell government reports showing that former US attorney Rachael Rollins used her position to try to influence his election for district attorney. And last year, during that race, years-old sexual assault allegations surfaced against Arroyo. (Arroyo has denied the allegations and was never charged.)

Arroyo faces three opponents: former Boston police officer Jose Ruiz, former City Hall official Enrique Pepén, and Jean-Claude Sanon, who runs a company that offers translation services.

Pepén placed his vote at St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church in Roslindale on Tuesday morning. He wore his “good luck tie” — the same tie he wore the day he became class president.

“It felt great,” Pepén said. “It was cool to see my name on the ballot.”

Watch not only whether the incumbents survive, but how much support they collect. The top two vote-getters in each contest advance to the general election in November, meaning the incumbents can move forward even if they win less than half of the district’s votes. Winning a general election would be a tall order if more than half the district voted for someone else in the first round.


Whither the Wu endorsement?

Roslindale’s best-known resident, Mayor Michelle Wu, is backing Pepén, a former City Hall aide, in her district — a snub to Arroyo, who has been her political ally in the past. Tuesday’s election will be a test of Wu’s political sway in the district, and an early indication of whether council candidates aligned with the mayor will win their races this fall, setting her up with more allies on the legislative body.

Wu cast her ballot outside Phineas Bates Elementary School early Thursday. Joined by the District 5 candidate, Wu said she was proud to vote Pepén during this “important time for city government.”

“There’s lots of work to be done,” Wu said. “I chose Enrique because I have seen his dedication and effectiveness up close.”

Complicating matters further is a rival mayoral endorsement in the district. Former Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has backed Ruiz, who served on Walsh’s security detail while he was in office.

Who makes it out of crowded races in Districts 3 and 7?

In Roxbury-based District 7, incumbent Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson is seen as the frontrunner, likely to proceed to November’s general election stage. She faces four opponents, including two perennial candidates and one vocal anti-vaccine mandate protester.


In Dorchester-based District 3, voters selected from among a crowded field of seven candidates. John FitzGerald, an official at the Boston Planning & Development Agency, has collected a number of high-profile endorsements, including from Walsh, and many political insiders expect him to advance to the next round in November. The other six candidates include teacher Joel Richards, a public school teacher, and Ann Walsh, the co-founder of an education nonprofit, and more. Read the Globe’s full guide to District 3 here.

Will money talk?

In the final few days of the race, a new super PAC called “Forward Boston” has sprung up to support several council candidates. The six-figure effort is largely funded by New Balance Chairman Jim Davis, a longtime Republican donor who supported Wu’s rival in the 2021 mayor race.

Forward Boston is spending handily to support both of Lara’s opponents, King and Weber. It is also backing two other candidates seen as the more moderate options in their respective contests: FitzGerald in District 3 and Ruiz in District 5. Tuesday’s vote tallies will show how much influence that last-minute injection of campaign cash has on the election.

How many people will even show up?

Boston has a poor record on voter turnout, even in historic and high-profile races. Typically, municipal elections inspire minimal turnout, particularly in off-years without a mayoral contest. But this year, a dramatic council term and a slew of headlines could spur more residents to make their voices heard.


At the West Roxbury Branch of the Boston Public Library, in District 6, 138 ballots had been cast by 9:45 a.m., according to election officials onsite.

Earlier that morning, around 9:15 a.m., Shirley Warden, an election official at Mattahunt Elementary, estimated she had collected about 65 votes — seven in-person and the rest via mail.

She said that, while the morning crowd was small, she expected it to pick up in the afternoon.

”We see a lot of elderly people in the morning, mostly a retired crowd,” she said. “At 4 p.m. it’s another story.”

At Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury, Warden Joan Perkins said the day had “been pretty slow,” but she also anticipated the crowds would thicken around mealtimes, when schools let out, and when nurses end their shifts.

A little before 11 a.m., more than 450 ballots had been cast in the three precincts represented — 6, 7, and 8 of Ward 20. But Perkins said early voting figures were higher than expected.

In Precinct 6 alone, she said, workers counted around 300 early ballots Tuesday morning, although they are yet to be tabulated.

Julia Leja took a photo of Mayor Michelle Wu and her son Blaise Pewarkski with Enrique Pepen, candidate for Boston City Council District 5, on Election Day at the Phineas Bates Elementary School in Roslindale.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

How are voters feeling early Thursday?

Roslindale residents Mary Ludwig and Nick Carr cast their votes for Pepén at Phineas Bates Elementary School shortly after Wu did.

Ludwig said she and Carr had complained to Arroyo about speeding on Glendaur street, but nothing had been done to fix the problem.

”[Arroyo] has done nothing for constituents,” Carr said. “Enrique seems like the right change.”

But others, like Julie Seeger of Roslindale, who voted at St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church cited the veteran councilor’s experience as proof of his ability to make change.

“He’s the most progressive candidate with the most comprehensive knowledge,” Seeger said.

She added that she did not believe the sexual assault allegations levied against Arroyo.

“Kevin Hayden raked through his high school past and found a high school romance that went bitter,” she said. “It’s a trumped-up, irrelevant charge.”

But for 57-year-old Hyde Park resident Paula, who declined to give her last name, the sexual assault allegations against Arroyo — and how he handled them during the last election cycle, when he took on Kevin Hayden for District Attorney with what she called “dirty politics” — were a deal-breaker.

She voted for Pepén but said, “to be honest, it wasn’t any of his proposals.”

“I don’t like Arroyo,” Paula said. “We all make mistakes, especially as kids, but we need to own it... ‘Oh, I don’t remember,’ that’s kind of lame.”

Later, in District 6, 45-year-old Jennie Lapollo said casting her vote for Weber was a “really easy” choice. Her children and Weber’s are the same age and run in the same circles, she said.

“He’s a really good person, a good father,” Lapollo said, walking out of Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury. “He’s been good to his community, so you know he’ll be good for Boston.”

Lapollo said she hoped Weber’s experience as an attorney will help smooth communication within City Hill.

“I don’t like City Council right now. It’s embarrassing. It seems like they can’t really communicate well, so I don’t really know how much they’re getting done,” Lapollo said. “I think he can sort of get the conversation going where it needs to go in the City Hall.”

William King, on the ballot for District 6, stood outside Holy Name late Tuesday morning, sharing handshakes and smiles with voters as they stepped inside.

“We’ll see what happens at the end of the night, but we’re feeling good,” King said. “The energy’s good. [Of] everyone we’re interacting with, I would say, a good amount are showing support towards me. I’m just appreciative of it all.”

King said he planned to stay at the church until polls closed.

West Roxbury resident Jon Applegate, 67, was among those who greeted King, waving to the candidate after casting his ballot.

Applegate, who described himself as “definitely more conservative than your average person in this precinct,” said Weber “seems like a nice enough guy,” but King’s politics were a better match for his own.

He said he likely would not have voted for Councilor Lara, even before she was charged with crashing into a Jamaica Plain home, but the charges and media firestorm that followed only solidified his opinion.

Emily, a West Roxbury resident who declined to give her last name, dropped her ballot in the drop box outside the West Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library around 12:30 p.m. She pushed a stroller with a young child.

Emily said Tuesday’s was “not the most crucial election,” since the candidates have relatively similar platforms. She declined to say who she voted for, but said she was “very 50/50″ between King and Weber.

“The recent stories with Kendra Lara had me looking at the other two,” she said. Then she pointed to her stroller. “Kids in car seats is important to me.”

Emma Platoff can be reached at Follow her @emmaplatoff. Vivi Smilgius can be reached at Follow her @viviraye. Daniel Kool can be reached at Follow him @dekool01.