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Boston voters could elect most diverse City Council ever

Xianshi Chen, of Boston voted alongside his wife, Yannong Li, of Boston (right) at a polling station at Villa Victoria in the South End. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

From Mattapan to the Back Bay, voters in Tuesday’s preliminary election will be advancing a slew of finalists for City Council, beginning the process of empaneling what could be the most diverse body in the council’s history.

Nowhere in the city is that possibility more evident than in District 5, covering Mattapan, Hyde Park, and parts of Roslindale, where voters look poised to select a black, Latino, or female front-runner for a seat that has always been held by a white Irish- or Italian-American man who came up in the local political machine.

Since 1983, when the makeup of the council was reorganized, the district has been represented by only four men — retiring Councilor Timothy McCarthy, Rob Consalvo, Daniel F. Conley, and Thomas M. Menino.


Now, all but one of the eight candidates seeking the seat are female, black, or Latino.

Across the city, there are more than 30 candidates seeking to be finalists for four contested district seats and the council’s four at-large seats, which could lead to the first majority-woman council in history. It could also be the most racially and ethnically diverse.

In the local district races, the top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s election move on to the Nov. 5 general election.

So far in District 5, public defender Ricardo Arroyo, whose father and brother previously served on the council; Maria Esdale Farrell, who works in McCarthy’s office; and Mimi E. Turchinetz, a lawyer with the city and community activist, have built up the greatest political support and campaign warchests, according to Boston political insiders and fund-raising records.

And the only white man seeking election, Justin Murad, who holds a mix of Irish, Scottish, Italian, and Lebanese ancestry, said he’s the type of political newcomer that the electorate has been demanding.

“What makes me different is that I don’t come from a political family, or have political ties to the office itself,” said Murad, a paralegal for the city. “I’m someone completely new.”


Whichever two candidates advance will represent a change, either by their gender, race, or lack of connection to local pols.

The retiring McCarthy, for instance, worked for Menino. Consalvo now works for Boston Public Schools. Consalvo’s predecessor was Conley, who went on to become district attorney. Before Conley, Menino held the seat.

Other candidates in the district race include Cecily Leticia Graham, a teacher and community activist; Alkia Powell, who worked for the city’s fair housing office; Jean-Claude Sanon, a radio personality who ran for office before; and Yves Mary Jean, a community activist and poet.

McCarthy, who was first elected in 2013, what he called a career goal of his after several years working in government, said running for office “is all about timing.”

The next councilor will be overseeing a neighborhood in flux. The development boom taking over the city now is set to land in Mattapan, something the new councilor will have to oversee, McCarthy said.

He said in January that it was time for change, that he wanted to move on to his “next adventure.”

Political analysts said that the slew of candidates in Tuesday’s races have also been motivated by a grass-roots political movement of progressive-minded reformers sweeping the state, and the nation, amid the President Trump-era unrest with Washington politics.

The job of Boston city councilor, which pays $99,500, has always attracted political newcomers and policy wonks, but the ascension of US Representative Ayanna Pressley proved that a council seat can also be a launching pad to higher office.


Eight years ago, Pressley — the first black woman elected to the council — was the only woman on the panel. Last year, when Pressley was leaving to go to Congress, there were six woman councilors of color, a record.

Pressley said in a statement last week, “I’m proud of the diverse and talented field of candidates who have put their names forward to run for the Boston City Council. I know, firsthand, what a powerful positive impact the Council can have on the lives of residents across Boston, and I’m deeply encouraged that so many knowledgeable, passionate leaders have made the choice to run.”

Technically, Pressley’s at-large seat is up for grabs. Though it was filled by Councilor Althea Garrison, that process was by default because Garrison placed fifth in the last election. She will now have to win the seat on her own. The other incumbents, Councilors Michael Flaherty; Annissa Essaibi-George, and Michelle Wu, are also seeking reelection.

The list of newcomers to the at-large race includes Alejandra St. Guillen, the former head of the immigrant advocacy office for the city, who is openly gay and could become the first Latina on the council. She is seen as a front-runner and has raised an impressive $125,000 through Sept. 16, more than most of the other candidates.


David Halbert, who used to work for Governor Deval Patrick, has also made waves in the at-large race and picked up several progressive endorsements, as has Julia Mejia, a community and education activist.

Also on the ballot are William A. King, Herb Alexander Lozano, Domingos DaRosa, Jeffrey Michael Ross, Erin Murphy, Priscilla Flint-Banks, Martin Keogh, and Michel Denis.

Another race insiders are closely watching is District 8, where the incumbent, Josh Zakim, is retiring after six years. The district, one of Boston’s most economically diverse, stretches from Back Bay to the Fenway, and the candidates have debated neighborhood-centric issues ranging from traffic and bike lanes to new development in Mission Hill.

The candidates are: Kenzie Bok, a housing advocate, and Jennifer Nassour, a former State Republican Party chairwoman; Helene Vincent, a director of research for an education organization; Kristen Mobilia, a community organizer and finance executive; and Montez Haywood, a Suffolk County prosecutor.

The candidates for District 9, the Allston and Brighton seat Councilor Mark Ciommo is vacating, have spoken about the effect that that local development has already had on the neighborhood, as well as the effects that Harvard’s planned expansion will have in Allston. The area has a unique mix of blue-collar families and college students.

The candidates are Craig Cashman, Lee Nave Jr., Amanda Gail Smart, Liz Breadon, Daniel Daly, Jonathan Allen, and Brandon Bowser.

Wilnelia Rivera, a Boston-based political consultant, said most of the candidates for City Council across Boston are new, progressive-minded reformers who are focused on national issues like climate change and income equality. But they also know the city, attended local schools, and are driven by local matters.


“I think there’s a different degree of credence they bring to the conversation,” she said, saying the diversity of the race is a “maturation” of efforts to diversify governments, an effort that was realized with Pressley’s move to Congress. “They’re running and they want to serve because that’s how they want to lead right now,” Rivera said.

Councilor Matthew O’Malley, who represents Jamaica Plain and parts of Roslindale and is running unopposed, will emerge as the longest-serving councilor next year. He said the panel is seeing a cultural change, with an “exciting, diverse crop of candidates across the city,” which he welcomed.

“You’re seeing candidates reflect the vibrancy and diversity of the city, I would venture to guess better than most elected boards across the country, certainly in the state, certainly in New England,” said O’Malley, who was elected in 2010. “That’s a great thing, not only for where people came from, or what people look like, but you have a real diversity of experience coming into play as well.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the characterization of candidate Alejandra St. Guillen, who is gay and could become the council’s first Latina member. She would not be the first openly gay councilor.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at