In the final weekend before Tuesday’s general election, the slate of fresh faces hoping to earn seats on the Boston City Council made final rounds on the campaign trail, hoping to sway voters in a contest that will install at least four newcomers to the legislative body and determine whether a recent addition will be granted a full term as a district councilor.
The upcoming vote follows a dramatic preliminary election in September when voters in two districts ousted Ricardo Arroyo and Kendra Lara, marking the first time in at least four decades that incumbent councilors were knocked out of contention during the first round of voting.
The pair, two of the most influential and outspoken progressive voices on the City Council, failed to convince voters to keep them in office after they faced months of scrutiny from personal and political scandals.
Lara lost support after a June 30 car crash, when authorities say she slammed an unregistered vehicle into the side of a Jamaica Plain home while driving without a license. Over the past year, Arroyo had been featured in negative headlines ranging from years-old sexual assault allegations (which he denied, and for which he was never charged) to ethics violations.
The campaign for their seats and those being vacated by District 3 Councilor Frank Baker and Michael Flaherty, a veteran at-large councilor, has cut a path along familiar fault lines in the city’s political scene. The balloting will ask voters to decide whether to elect a new crop of progressive candidates or align with more moderate contenders who have ties to Boston’s traditional power brokers.
Mayor Michelle Wu’s high-profile presence on the campaign trail Saturday, knocking on doors and speaking at gatherings organized by her picks for City Council, made clear that she sees the upcoming vote as a referendum of her progressive politics.
“There are some really big choices ahead of us.” Wu told a group of volunteers and candidates who gathered Saturday morning in Hyde Park. “Are we moving forward as a city? Are we continuing the progress to bring everyone into the conversation? Or are we getting dragged back a little bit into the, ‘Us vs. them’ and, ‘We need to protect our pie,’ when in fact we should be growing opportunity for everyone.”
Enrique José Pepén, a former Wu aide and candidate for city councilor in District 5, was there along with the mayor and sounded a similar note.
“I’m proud to be running here to push it forward to ensure that we are not going backwards in time,” he told the crowd in Hyde Park. “That’s what’s happening nationwide, but Boston is a city upon a hill that other cities look upon for guidance. I’m ready to be that leader here in District 5.”
A short time later, Wu and Pepén knocked on doors together, asking for votes. Wu endorsed Pepén, in August, making a break from her onetime ally, Arroyo.
Wu lives in District 5, which includes Hyde Park, Roslindale, and parts of Mattapan.
“Please help us spread the word. It’s going to be low turnout so it makes a big difference for candidates, especially our team,” Wu told a pair of voters she met with Pepén in Hyde Park.
One of them, Anthony Britt, 35, said he had participated in early voting and cast his ballot for Pepén.
“Thank you! Thank you!,” Pepén told him. “I appreciate that. Thank you so much!”
In an interview, Britt said he believes Pepén would be a “voice for progress” on the council and an effective advocate for constituents and their concerns about neighborhood issues like traffic and speeding vehicles.
Britt’s partner, Dan Scarver, 35, said he hopes Pepén will deliver “better active representation” for the district.
Pepén’s opponent is Jose Ruiz, a retired 29-year veteran of the Boston Police Department who has been endorsed by former mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Later Saturday, Wu visited West Roxbury, where she is supporting the candidacy of Benjamin Weber, a labor attorney running to represent District 6 on the council.
“Everything matters,” in the final days before an election, Wu told the gathering for supporters of Weber and Henry Santana, a former mayoral aide who is running for an at-large seat on the council. The group planned to spend part of the afternoon knocking on doors on behalf of the two candidates.
“Every conversation on the doors, especially in this moment and especially in this district, goes a long, long way,” Wu said.
Weber is facing IT director William King in a district that includes Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury.
Weber said he’s trying to speak to as many voters as possible before voting ends Tuesday. He said his experiences as a labor lawyer and parent of children enrolled in Boston Public Schools make him a good choice to represent District 6 on the council.
“I have been fighting for people’s rights and I have been a professional advocate for my clients for 18 years. I can go to bat for them in City Hall,” Weber said.
At the Boston Teachers Union in Dorchester, volunteers gathered to canvass on behalf of Santana and Joel Richards, who is running for the council seat being vacated by Baker.
In a phone interview, Richards, a former Boston Public Schools elementary school teacher, said housing and constructing a new school in Dorchester are among his policy priorities. He also said he wants more city residents to have access to assistance from social workers. The city’s teachers union successfully pushed the district to assign social workers to every school and that program should be expanded, Richards said.
“I want to take that fight to the City Council, where we’re hiring hundreds of social workers a year to help our most vulnerable Bostonians to not fall through the cracks and end up homeless, end up on the streets, end up chemically addicted,” he said.
His opponent is John FitzGerald, a deputy director at the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, introduced Santana to union members who volunteered to knock on doors on behalf of him and Richards.
“Not only does he really know Boston Public Schools from the perspective of a student, he also knows Boston Public Schools from the perspective of someone who has worked with youth even after graduating,” she said. “We’re really excited to support his campaign.”
Santana said he is a city kid who grew up in public housing and was educated in the public school system.
“As a young candidate in this race, I’m really trying to be representative of the next generation that’s coming,” he said. “I really care about making sure that the next generation is set up for success, that we’re taking care of them.”
In District 8, which includes Beacon Hill, the Bay Bay, Fenway, and Mission Hill, City Councilor Sharon Durkan is facing off with prosecutor Montez Haywood for the second time this year. In July, Durkan, a political consultant to Wu, dominated a July special election, winning 70 percent of the vote.
That race was to replace Kenzie Bok, who resigned from the council to lead the Boston Housing Authority. In the current contest, both candidates are stressing quality-of-life issues and constituent services.
On Sunday, Durkan, 32, was making calls with volunteers from her campaign headquarters around the block from Fenway Park, joined by former councilor Joshua Zakim. Durkan, of Beacon Hill, said her pitch centers around telling voters that she’s already been working on getting streets and sidewalks fixed.
“I tell them, ‘I am your city councilor,” Durkan said. She said she led a “brick audit” on Charles Street, to note what needed to be fixed, then got the city to carry it out. Next are Fenway-area crosswalks, she said.
Haywood, 44, of the West End, was walking those brick-lined streets in Beacon Hill on Sunday afternoon, knocking doors. He pointed out potholes and gaps in the sidewalk, saying the infrastructure is still not getting the attention it needs.
“It is not being addressed right now,” said Hayward, who is chief of asset forfeiture, parole and commutation for the Suffolk District Attorney’s office, where he’s worked for 17 years.
Durkan has conducted fundraising for Wu in her role as a political consultant, and enjoys the support of the mayor and Bok.
Haywood took issue with the way the special election came about, saying it was “anti-democratic” in how Durkan immediately had such institutional political support.
“It was a transfer of power to someone they are friendly with,” he said.
Asked about that criticism, Durkan said relationships are an important part of getting anything done in city politics.
“I’m the candidate who did the work before running for office,” she said.