Boston city council race

Boston City Council race could change landscape

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Boston City Hall.

They are the races that have played out in the backdrop of a humdrum Boston mayoral election, in the neighborhoods where local politics matters to voters who have crowded church halls for candidate forums and scoured community bulletins for the latest policy announcements: Three district City Council seats are up for grabs this year and one sitting councilor is trying to fend off two challengers, his first opposition since 2009.

Tuesday’s preliminary election will narrow the playing field for the four district seats and, according to political analysts, set the stage for an exciting primary election that will inevitably change the face of the council.

“It’s always great to get new interest, new blood into the political scene,” said Thomas Whalen, a Boston University social sciences professor who follows city politics.


The political environment in Boston is “moribund right now; it has barely a beating heart, politically speaking,” Whalen said, and the election of new players would be a welcome change to the landscape.

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And, according to Whalen and other analysts, the races could send a larger, symbolic message citywide, one that would go to the heart of Boston’s identity. The races have pitted an old Boston against a new city: In two of the districts, well-positioned candidates who represent the new demographics of their neighborhoods are confronting candidates from established families with roots in those communities.

The race to replace Councilor Tito Jackson, who is vacating his seat to run for mayor against incumbent Martin J. Walsh, has set off a scramble among 13 candidates.

And two newcomers to city politics are seeking to unseat Councilor Mark Ciommo, who represents Allston-Brighton in what has become Ciommo’s first real challenge since taking office a decade ago.

Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said the four council races have taken hold of the city in a way that the mayoral race has failed to do, especially in the neighborhoods where they matter most.


“I think the fact that such different dynamics seem to be at play . . . it speaks to the fact that they really are different [from the mayor’s race],” she said. “You go through South Boston, and they care a lot about that race right now.”

Voter turnout is bound to play a role, and the candidates will be looking to get voters to the polls from East Boston to Roxbury, knowing that Tuesday’s election can serve as a barometer of how they performed and how they could improve.

“It’s always exciting for the candidates, because they’re the ones that have worked hard, and it’s time for them to strut their stuff,” said Michael McCormack, a former city councilor who is now a local government relations consultant. “If it’s close, it gets really exciting.”

No race in the city holds more interest than the quest for the District 1 seat, which incumbent Councilor Sal LaMattina is vacating after a decade in office. LaMattina is from East Boston, which makes up 48 percent of the district’s total voter turnout.

Two of his aspiring replacements come from his old neighborhood: Lydia Edwards, a housing and immigrant rights lawyer who works for the city Office of Housing Stability, and Margaret Farmer, who works in the mental health field.


Edwards mounted a notable but ultimately unsuccessful race for the neighborhood’s state Senate seat last year, and she has built up a respectable campaign finance account. Farmer is a relative political newcomer, though she headed the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association.

Both candidates have cited affordable housing and transportation as priority concerns for the neighborhood, which has seen an influx of luxury housing development in recent years.

They are facing off against Stephen Passacantilli, an operations specialist at the Boston Office of Housing Development and former president of the North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council, who comes from a well-established political family in the North End. His grandfather was a longtime city councilor, Fred Langone.

Passacantilli raised more campaign funds than any other candidate in any race leading up to Tuesday’s election, other than Walsh.

No race better exemplifies the duel of Old vs. New Boston as the challenge for the District 2 seat, which features two openly gay men in one of the city’s more traditional and conservative neighborhoods. Since the early 1980s, when the council moved to geographically based districts, District 2 has always been held by a South Boston man — Bill Linehan, and prior to that, James Kelly.

But Linehan is vacating the seat after a decade in office, leaving the race open at a time when the district is seeing a brunt of the development in Boston, specifically with revitalization of Fort Point and development in Chinatown. Over the past decade, 50 percent of development in the city has occurred in the area, which spreads from South Boston to the South End and Chinatown.

Corey Dinopoulos, a community organizer who cofounded the privately backed failed Olympics bid Boston 2024, and Michael Kelley, an aide to the late mayor Thomas M. Menino, have emerged as front-runners alongside Ed Flynn, a Navy veteran, probation officer, and son of former mayor Raymond Flynn.

They are running along with Peter A. Lin-Marcus, head of a corporate training firm; Kora R. Vakil, a community activist; Joseph Kebartas a retired mental health specialist; and Army veteran; and Erica Tritta, a lawyer.

Jackson’s decision to run for mayor left his seat open for its first contest since he took office in 2011, and 13 candidates have stepped in seeking to take over. They include repeat candidates such as Roy Owens, a former social worker, as well as political newcomers such as Brian Keith, a neighborhood activist, and Jose Lopez, a former teacher.

Rufus Faulk is a well-known antiviolence activist. Deeqo Jibril, who fled civil war in Somalia as a youngster and now heads the Somali Community and Cultural Association in Boston, would be the first Muslim elected to the council. Carlos Henriquez was the area’s state representative before he was expelled in 2014 after he was convicted of assault charges. Domonique A. Williams worked for the Obama administration. Kim Janey, senior project director for the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, has outpaced the group in fund-raising.

The district represents some of Boston’s poorest and underserved neighborhoods, as well as its most coveted: Jackson has cited income and health discrepancies within the district, including a 33-year difference in life expectancy between residents in Back Bay and Roxbury.

Ciommo, the council’s chairman of its Ways and Means Committee, which oversees city finances, is facing his most significant challenge since taking office in 2007 and his first preliminary election since 2009. The District 9 seat covers Allston and Brighton, and faces some of the same housing and gentrification concerns that have taken over other neighborhoods.

Ciommo faces challenges from Brandon David Bowser, a schoolteacher, and Alexander Bernhard Golonka, a software quality assurance analyst.

The races could set the stage for a change of the landscape of city government. But political analysts say that Tuesday’s voter turnout will also play a role in November’s final election.

“There’s a new Boston emerging, for sure,” McCormack said. But “there’s a question of whether the ‘new Boston’ comes out and votes.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.