Voters across Boston head to the polls Tuesday to vote in City Council races, in an election cycle that could tilt the ideological balance of the progressive body — and, candidates say, restore the reputation of a legislative body that has come to be known more for its dysfunction than its decision making.
As it nears the end of its current two-year term, the current council has been plagued by division and interpersonal disputes, with few major legislative accomplishments that did not originate from the mayor’s office. More than any policy position, candidates this cycle have been united in their promises to restore the council to a competent and cooperative body, and to keep personal baggage from disrupting policy discussions.
Tuesday is voters’ chance to declare what kind of council they want. Come January, the 13-member council will welcome at least four new faces, a notable level of turnover in a city where incumbents rarely lose. Those openings come after a dramatic September preliminary election, when voters ousted Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Kendra Lara, who were each battling personal scandals. Two long-term incumbents, Councilor At Large Michael Flaherty and District 3 Councilor Frank Baker, are also leaving the council after this year.
Voters in Dorchester, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, and other neighborhoods are choosing new representatives in open races. Meanwhile, Councilors Tania Fernandes Anderson, Sharon Durkan, and Liz Breadon are defending their seats against challengers, in Roxbury, Beacon Hill, and Allston-Brighton, respectively. Three incumbent councilors — Gabriela Coletta of East Boston, Ed Flynn of South Boston, and Brian Worrell of Dorchester — are running unopposed. And in the race for four at-large seats representing the entirety of Boston, three incumbents are seeking reelection, while five newcomers vie for a spot.
Several of this year’s council races follow familiar battle lines in Boston politics: progressive newcomers, many of them with ties to Mayor Michelle Wu, taking on more moderate candidates with links to the city’s old guard, in several cases former mayor Martin J. Walsh. Tuesday will be a test of Wu’s influence in city politics, as several candidates with her backing appear on the ballot.
“There are some really big choices ahead of us,” Wu told a group of volunteers and candidates on Saturday morning in Hyde Park, as she campaigned for ally Enrique Pepén in District 5. “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.”
Pepén faces Jose Ruiz, a longtime Boston police officer, in the race to represent District 5, which includes Hyde Park, Roslindale — where Wu lives — and parts of Mattapan.
In neighboring District 6, which includes Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, labor attorney Benjamin Weber is running against IT director William King.
In Dorchester-based District 3, longtime BPDA official John FitzGerald faces teacher and pastor Joel Richards.
In the at-large race, incumbents Ruthzee Louijeune, Julia Mejia, and Erin Murphy are seeking reelection. From the field of five challengers, two have emerged as the most serious contenders, political analysts say: Henry Santana, a former City Hall official with Wu’s endorsement, and Bridget Nee-Walsh, a union ironworker who ran unsuccessfully two years ago.
Alysia Ordway, of Readville, said Tuesday she was voting for Enrique Pepén for district five counselor and Louijeune and Santana for at-large councilors as she walked into a polling location in Hyde Park. ”I would like the council to be made up of people who are invested in the community, and do things for the city, not just for self interest or career ambition,” Ordway said. “We want people who will represent us well.”
Outside of the Holy Name Parish Hall in West Roxbury, Vicki Solar, of West Roxbury, said she hopes the new city council that takes office after the election will have the “intelligence, education, and experience to accomplish things . . . not just sit in a room and yell at each other.”
Solar said she is mainly concerned with how councilors will address the cost of living and how bike lanes will affect the flow of traffic in West Roxbury.
”The cost of living is skyrocketing,” she said. “What I hope to see is more attention paid to people of modest income and housing.”
As of midday Monday, 28,631 Boston voters had already cast ballots, most of those by mail.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Monday he expects turnout in Boston to fall below what it was in 2021, when 144,380 voters — or 32 percent of registered voters — weighed in during the historic race that saw Wu become the first woman and person of color elected mayor in the city’s history.
Speaking about the elections in 80 Massachusetts cities and towns this week, Galvin said Monday that turnout is expected to vary dramatically across the state with neither the White House, statewide offices, nor most state legislative seats on the ballot. It’s “reasonably acceptable,” he said, to expect 30 to 50 percent of registered voters to cast ballots in the various municipal races.
“It’s not acceptable to me. But that’s the range historically,” Galvin said, noting the elections can decide not only who serves in a town or city but also how much residents are taxed or critical development decisions. “These really are the elections that affect people where they live.”
Matt Stout of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Maggie Scales contributed reporting.