On Tuesday, voters in several Boston neighborhoods get their first chance to weigh in on the highly dysfunctional body that the City Council has become over the past two years. In preliminary elections, several incumbent councilors face serious challengers, and one open seat in Dorchester has attracted a large and diverse field of candidates. Municipal elections — particularly prelims — often suffer from low turnout. But this year, they’re an important opportunity to pull the council off its downward trajectory.
In the Dorchester race, District 3, the Globe has endorsed Ann Walsh of Lower Mills. Walsh, 51, an education nonprofit leader, who was an aide to former at large city councilor John Connolly, knows the role of a councilor and would be ready from day one to handle her constituents’ needs in City Hall. A mother of children who attended Boston Public Schools, she also promises to use her platform to shine a light on the district’s needs. Although she praises Mayor Michelle Wu’s climate and transit initiatives, it’s clear she wouldn’t be a rubber stamp for the administration — she breaks with Wu on some housing policies, for instance — and the voters can trust she would be an independent voice.
The outgoing councilor in District 3, Frank Baker, was at the center of many of the council’s most embarrassing moments over the past two years — such as raising the issue of one of his colleague’s religion. His departure will probably lower the temperature on the body. But it would be wrong to pin all the council’s dysfunction on him.
In two other races, the Globe endorses challengers who are seeking to unseat tainted incumbents. In District 5 — Roslindale, Hyde Park, and parts of Mattapan — Enrique Pepén of Roslindale deserves a shot. In neighboring District 6 — Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, and a portion of Mission Hill — Ben Weber of Jamaica Plain is the best choice.
The incumbents in those seats are both leading progressives on the council. But these races aren’t really about ideology (the challengers endorsed by the Globe generally hew to progressive positions, too). Ricardo Arroyo, the District 5 councilor, has been in the middle of several ethics controversies. He paid a fine of $3,000 after the state’s ethics commission faulted him for representing his brother in a lawsuit involving the city. He’s been accused of bullying by a city employee (an allegation he denies). And he figured prominently in the scandal around former US attorney Rachael Rollins; text messages unearthed in federal inquiries into Rollins show Arroyo asking if she would announce an investigation into Arroyo’s political opponent.
Kendra Lara, the incumbent in District 6, doesn’t have ethics baggage quite so heavy as Arroyo’s — but there are serious concerns about her judgment, including her decision to drive without a driver’s license before crashing a car in Jamaica Plain earlier this summer. She is also named in the bullying complaint.
Weber, a workers’ rights lawyer, and Pepén, a former City Hall official, offer a fresh start for their districts. Both are newcomers to electoral politics. Although Pepén is only 26, he’s unusually well qualified to step into the constituent-services side of the district councilor’s job, having served until recently as Wu’s director of neighborhood services (he was good enough at the job that Wu has endorsed Pepén’s candidacy, despite her past political support for Arroyo). Weber’s record of high-level legal work — for example, he was part of a team that successfully sued the Boston police over a promotion exam in what the judge called a “lengthy, complex, and extensive” case — suggests he could master the nitty-gritty details of policymaking in City Hall.
Meanwhile, voters in District 7 also have a choice to make: incumbent Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson is running against Jerome King, Padma Scott, Althea Garrison, and Roy Owens Sr. The Globe has not made an endorsement in the preliminary stage of that race, and none of Fernandes Anderson’s opponents appear to be running full-fledged campaigns.
In all cases, the election will not be decided Tuesday. But this vote will determine the choices in the fall: the top two finishers in each preliminary will advance to a final election on Nov. 7 (several other cities, including Springfield, are also holding preliminary elections either on Tuesday or in coming weeks). Only certain neighborhoods get to vote Tuesday. But when November rolls around, all Boston voters have a chance to be heard: the four at-large City Council races will also be on the ballot. For Bostonians who’ve grimaced at the headlines coming out of the City Council over the past year, the process to change it starts Tuesday.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.