Now that the municipal election in Boston is over, there’s a new, open race — for the City Council presidency, with several councilors already jockeying for the ceremonial position.
At-large Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George said she would like the job, and so did Councilor Timothy McCarthy, who represents Hyde Park, parts of Mattapan and Roslindale.
Mark Ciommo, the longest-serving councilor, from Allston and Brighton, has reportedly gauged support.
Councilor Andrea Campbell, who represents Mattapan and Dorchester, parts of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain, is said to be interested, too (though, when asked she would only say she’s honored to be considered, and that more discussions need to take place).
Councilor Frank Baker, currently the vice president who represents Dorchester, parts of South Boston and the South End, said he would be open to the possibility, though he didn’t express intent to actively seek the position. And Councilor Josh Zakim, whose district stretches from the Back Bay to Fenway, said he would not say no to the idea, though he said it’s too early for anyone to pick a winner.
“I wouldn’t blame anyone for throwing their hat in the ring,” he said. “The office is important, both as a spokesperson and a leader for the council.”
The new president needs at least seven votes from his or her colleagues to be elected, and that does not officially happen until after the inauguration in January. However, a winning candidate could garner enough support to publicly declare a victory before then.
The presidency is largely seen as a symbolic position, the ceremonial leader of the 13-member council. But, the council president does wield some power through a larger office budget. And, if the mayor is unable to serve for any reason, or if the position becomes vacant, the council president steps into that role.
Outgoing president Michelle Wu, who, due to term limits, must step down after serving two consecutive years, said the tasks range widely. The president’s duties can be as detailed as overseeing administrative duties and coordinating facilities projects, such as the renovation of City Council chambers, to setting up council committee assignments and establishing chains of communication among all 13 councilors and the mayor.
“It’s a very intense but rewarding way to support all your colleagues on the council,” she said, adding, “It’s having a role in opening up the council business to the public … if the council president really focuses on transparency, and bringing residents in, the public in, we will all have gained from it.”
The quest for the position can become quite political, too. Four years ago Wu, then a freshman councilor, displeased progressive groups when she supported then-Councilor Bill Linehan, one of the body’s more conservative members, from South Boston. City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who represents Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, had been vying for the position in a close contest, but McCarthy also switched his vote to Linehan, giving him the top job.
Two years ago, Wu won the presidency with the same base that supported Linehan, though O’Malley and Ciommo had expressed early interest in the position.
This time around, Wu said it was too early to discuss her support for any new candidate, adding, “I’m confident whoever emerges will be focused on trying to work with all of our colleagues.”
The council will also see a historic change with the election of three new members, including two black women – totaling six women of color on the council, eight years after Councilor Ayanna Pressley was elected the first black female councilor in city history.
Campbell, finishing up her first term in office, said any of her discussions about seeking the council presidency are still preliminary, though she said the new dynamics of the council should influence those inevitable discussions. Meantime, she said, she has been reaching out to the new councilors — Kim Janey, Lydia Edwards, and Ed Flynn — offering her support in their transition.
Zakim added, “I think it’s an interesting time, the most diverse body … certainly since I’ve been here.”
“I think I’m excited to see what [the new councilors] have to offer, and make sure we get to work together,” he said, though he says he hasn’t been soliciting any votes, or promising them, either. “I won’t be calling them, and I hope they won’t be calling me, over Thanksgiving.”
Baker said he would tell the new councilors that the presidency is one of the last questions they should seek to address before they’re inauguration. He added, though, that he wasn’t opposed to eventually seeking their support, saying he was “loosely” considering it.
“You look at it . . . ‘what’s my plan?’,” said Baker, saying he would look to align the council’s goals with the mayor, whether on the opioid crisis or the affordable housing crunch, to bring change.
Other councilors are more intent on making their pitch for the presidency.
Essaibi-George said she would bring the council’s agenda to state and federal government.
“If we can take an active role, and flex our muscle at those levels, we can do more to help the city of Boston,” she said, citing council resolutions on programs, ranging from drug to housing reforms, that must be cleared at the state level. She also said the city should demand more in state aid.
McCarthy cited his work for the city, as a councilor for the last four years and previously as the city’s neighborhood services coordinator, and as a Boston Public Works manager.
“People are relying on past relationships, and past bridges they’ve built,” he said, adding that the council as a whole, “I think we’ve worked together really well.”
He agreed, however, that discussions are still preliminary, adding that, “a lot of people are tired after a long election season.”
He joked: “I wish we could do a conclave, and lock ourselves up in a conference room, and when you see the white smoke, you’ll see who the next council president is.”Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.