Incumbent Boston City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Kendra Lara were weakened by scandals that led to their stunning defeats in Tuesday’s preliminary election. But look closely at the election results and you can see the outlines of the shadow campaign that is currently playing out between Boston’s old and new power brokers.
Arroyo’s failure to win one of two spots for the District 5 final election was a big win for Mayor Michelle Wu, who backed Enrique Pepén, a former City Hall worker who placed first in that race. As the first woman and person of color to win election to the mayor’s office, Wu is the face of the city’s new, progressive politics.
But knocking Arroyo and Lara off the council was also something of a victory for New Balance chairman Jim Davis and the city’s more conservative political forces. As first reported by the Dorchester Reporter, Davis donated $150,000 to a super PAC called Forward Boston that supported challengers to the incumbents. In the race against Arroyo, Jose Ruiz, a former Boston police officer, finished second to Pepén to make the final. (Ruiz was also backed by former Boston mayor Marty Walsh.) In the race against Lara, lawyer Ben Weber and IT director William King, both of whom got backing from Forward Boston, finished first and second. (Weber’s campaign manager also worked for Wu’s mayoral campaign.)
Ruiz, Weber, and King all said they wanted nothing to do with Forward Boston. Yet when asked about Tuesday’s results, PR executive George Regan, who has a long friendship and business relationship with Davis, happily basked in their success. “It’s a good first step forward. We have a way to go,” he said.
Regan said the effort to defeat Arroyo and Lara was strictly about reshaping the council, which he described as “a clown show and dangerous.” But is a reconfigured council the ultimate end game? Remember, in the 2021 mayoral contest, Davis backed Wu’s opponent, Annissa Essaibi George. Then in July, Regan was the force behind the botched launch of a “Save Our City” campaign. According to the invitation to that event, which was sponsored by Regan, that campaign was aimed at rescuing Boston from “ultra-progressive policies” that “dominate the current City Council and current administration of Boston City Hall.” A week before Tuesday’s elections, rumors about Wu supposedly wanting to leave the mayor’s office for a job at Harvard started making the rounds. A suspicious person might think they were planted to undermine Wu and her pick for Arroyo’s seat. Asked about any role he may have played in the speculation, Regan said: “I’ve heard the same rumors (about Wu).”
During an appearance on GBH’s Boston Public Radio, Wu flatly denied she has any exit plans, saying, “This has been fascinating. There is absolutely no chance I would abandon this role for any other job at any organization, any other level of government.” That sounds definitive and will hopefully stop the rumor mill, which seems designed to weaken Wu and the progressive politics that won her the mayor’s office.
Arroyo and Lara represent the far left end of those progressive politics, but that’s not what ultimately did them in. Lara was dogged by controversy after she got into a car crash and it turned out she had no driver’s license and was driving a car that was unregistered at that time. Arroyo faced headlines about sexual assault allegations from his high school days — which he denied — along with an ethics violation. His name also surfaced in an ethics report showing that Rachael Rollins, who resigned as US attorney for Massachusetts, tried to sway a race for district attorney in Arroyo’s favor.
Personal scandal aside, will their successors represent a version of their progressive politics or something more centrist? In Tuesday’s election, old and new Boston joined forces to oust Arroyo and Lara. Now, the political dynamic shifts. It’s Pepén versus the more conservative Ruiz and Weber versus the somewhat more conservative King.
Pepén seems in a strong position to prevail in November. According to unofficial election results released by the city, he received 40 percent of the vote, 745 votes more than Ruiz. It’s a significant victory, given that at 26 Pepén is a political newcomer and Ruiz is well known in the community through coaching, youth volunteer activities, and his work as a Boston police officer. The votes of Arroyo’s progressive supporters would seem destined for Pepén, yet Wu’s abandonment of the incumbent might thwart that natural migration.
According to unofficial election results, some 567 votes separate Weber and King. Where will Lara’s votes go? And what role, if any, will Wu and Forward Boston play?
It’s not quite a battle for the soul of the city. But how it ends up in November will say something about new power versus old.