Newcomer Erin Murphy canvassed at the Maverick Square train station in East Boston.
Newcomer Erin Murphy canvassed at the Maverick Square train station in East Boston. David L Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

She’s a City Council candidate you probably haven’t heard of, a single mother of four handing out political flyers at the Roche Bros. in West Roxbury, or at the train stop in Maverick Square.

“Who’s this kindergarten teacher who thinks she can take on City Hall?” Erin Murphy even asks herself at times, learning the art of campaigning on the fly.

But if Murphy has learned anything since the September preliminary election, it’s that the race for one of Boston’s four at-large council seats is still well within her grasp, the most competitive contest the city has seen in a decade.


“It’s far from over,” said Larry DiCara, a longtime political observer and former city councilor who has analyzed the city’s voting trends. “People like me are now talking about the fact that she can win a seat. I would have not said that before; I didn’t see it coming.”

At this point, it seems, anyone can win.

The council’s three established incumbents — Michelle Wu, Annissa Essaibi-George, and Michael Flaherty — have the strongest chance to win the top three spots, based on the results from last month’s preliminary race and analyses from political operatives. But the fourth seat remains for the taking. And based on the vote tallies from September, even a seventh-place finisher like Murphy has a legitimate shot.

So do the other political newcomers. Alejandra St. Guillen, who placed fourth in the preliminary, is looking to hold on to the spot. Julia Mejia, a community activist, placed fifth and has since earned several key endorsements. David Halbert, who has worked in state and city government, placed eighth, the last spot for the final election, and is looking to boost his profile in the final week of the campaign.

Althea Garrison, the fourth incumbent, placed sixth in the preliminary election and is looking to make up ground and win her first race.


She had placed a distant fifth in the 2017 election, and city rules allowed her, as the next-place finisher, to fill the vacancy created by then-councilor Ayanna Pressley’s election to Congress last fall. Now, Garrison has asked voters to give her a shot at a full term.

The fourth- and seventh-place finishers were separated only by 2,525 votes — Murphy won 9,385 votes, to St. Guillen’s 11,910.

So, based on the recent voter turnout, it could be easy for Murphy, or any candidate, to catch up to St. Guillen if he or she can win a good chunk of the 20,000 votes that were cast for the seven candidates who lost in September.

And political analysts pointed to Murphy — once one of the least-known of all of the candidates — as an example of how a candidate can still have room to grow. She has already won the endorsement of one of the former candidates, Jeff Ross, who earned 5,078 votes in September, and hired one of his campaign workers. She’s been boosting her profile, largely with old-school glad-handing.

Since mid-September, she has opened her first official headquarters, in Hyde Park, part of an effort to leave her home turf of Dorchester’s St. Ann’s neighborhood, where she got 74 percent of the vote in the Ward 16 voting stronghold. She meets voters in Roslindale and Charlestown.

“I just go to the soccer field, and kind of introduce myself,” she said in a recent interview.


Now, she’s hoping to spread the word about herself to other voters in a heated campaign that has one week remaining. This year’s at-large council race forced the first preliminary election since 2013, when several incumbents vacated their seats to run for mayor. It’s also the first time since 2005 that there are more than five contenders eyeing a realistic chance at a seat.

St. Guillen has pointed voters to her work as a teacher and immigrants’ rights advocate, saying she would “hit the ground running” on the council to work on bringing equity across city neighborhoods.

Mejia speaks about her upbringing as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, and her work as a community activist, saying she’d provide a voice for all residents on issues ranging from affordable housing to obtaining child care.

Halbert, a son of a single mother, said he has seen when government programs work for families, and when they’re needed. He said he would work on smart policies to address the inequities in housing and in the school system, what he called “not just an effort to sustain people, but to uplift them.”

In September, Mejia placed fifth, or 1,111 votes shy of St. Guillen. And Halbert placed eighth, with 6,534 votes.

With a week before the final election, the eight finalists have been working hard.

“It’s doubling down,” said St. Guillen, who said she was proud of her September finish, though she’s not taking anything for granted. “At the end of the day, it’s . . . being at the doors that really matters.”


The unusual competitiveness of the council race has largely been attributed to what has been called the “Ayanna effect,” the chain reaction to former councilor Pressley’s surprise election to Congress last year.

Aspiring politicians saw that a council seat can be a launching pad for their advocacy work.

“There’s a combination of people wanting to get engaged, but also seeing new people win seats, that is making people also think it’s possible,” said Natasha Perez, a Democratic consultant.

“At one time, you had to come up through a kind of process . . . And now people are seeing they could come from the outside and run,” she said. “The electorate, themselves, are interested in new and different people, to give them a chance.”

Milton J. Valencia
can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.