The Boston City Council voted overwhelmingly Monday to give Stephen J. Murphy his third consecutive term as the body’s president, choosing to preserve the status quo as the city faces a potentially volatile election year.
Murphy captured 11 votes from his colleagues on the 13-member City Council. Councilor Charles C. Yancey initially voted for himself, but then threw his support to Murphy to make the vote unanimous.
The City Council presidency is largely ceremonial and does not come with a pay raise or strict control over a legislative agenda. With Murphy at the helm, pent-up political ambition at City Hall may remain in check while Mayor Thomas M. Menino decides whether to seek reelection.
A new council president could have tried to use the post as a springboard to a bid for mayor. Murphy is a known quantity who barely held onto his at-large council seat during the last city election.
Still, as council president, Murphy will be first in the line of succession if Menino leaves office before his term expires at the end of this year. The 70-year-old mayor has recently suffered a string of health problems and is recuperating after an eight-week hospital stay. He has not said whether he will seek a sixth term.
Breaking with his practice in years past, the mayor did not walk across the fifth floor at City Hall and make an appearance in the council chamber during the year’s first meeting. Menino did not attend because he was taping a nationally broadcast radio interview about a push for stricter gun laws, said his spokeswoman, Dot Joyce.
Mobility is also an issue for the mayor, who is recovering from a severe respiratory infection and a spinal fracture. He was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Menino did attend a luncheon Monday with city councilors at the University of Massachusetts Club on Franklin Street. He stood to offer brief remarks and walked to an elevator under his own power, said people who attended.
In the council chamber, Murphy rejected a reporter’s suggestion that he was positioned to become acting mayor if Menino did not finish his term. “I don’t expect anything to happen,” Murphy said. “I’m just honored to be leading the legislative body. That’s what I asked for the votes for, and I’m honored to continue in that capacity.”
Murphy, 55, was elected to the council in 1997 and became the body’s president in 2011. He succeeded Councilor Michael P. Ross, who stepped down because of a council presidency term limit. Murphy will be barred from running for the post again in 2014.
Growing up in Dorchester and Hyde Park, Murphy graduated from Boston Latin School and Stonehill College. He worked as a manager and vice president of a transportation company before landing a job on Beacon Hill in the mid-1980s.
Murphy did budget work in the state Senate and the attorney general’s office before moving to the secretary of state’s office as assistant personnel director. He ran unsuccessfully for School Committee before winning a spot on the council.
“I think most of Steve Murphy’s colleagues believe he has been measured, reasonable, not a headline grabber, and I anticipate very fair with the gavel,” said Lawrence S. DiCara, a former city councilor who served as the body’s president. “That’s how City Council presidents get reelected.”
After taking the president’s podium Monday, Murphy banged a gavel three times. He thanked his colleagues for allowing him to lead what he described as the level of government closest to the citizens. “It is a distinct honor to be here to work,” Murphy said, “where the rubber meets the road for all of the people of Boston.”
In a speech after the vote, Murphy described governing with a “spirit of cooperation” to face continued fiscal challenges. He challenged councilors to help create affordable housing for city employees required to live in Boston but finding it unaffordable on a city salary.
Murphy addressed the massacre in Newtown, Conn., calling for a national ban on assault weapons, enhanced mental health screening for people purchasing firearms, and a hard look at the violence in video games or movies.
On Monday, the council also voted 13 to 0 to give Maureen E. Feeney a full term as city clerk, keeping her in the post through 2016. Feeney served on the council for 17 years before becoming clerk in 2012.