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Boston votes for diversity with one seat still contested

City Councilor Michelle Wu celebrated Tuesday after retaining her seat, as the movement she helped build brought in the most diverse council in the city’s history. Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

City Councilor Michelle Wu coasted to victory Tuesday, a flag-bearer for a progressive-minded political movement that commanded election night, ushering in the most diverse council in city history and the first with a majority of women.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Wu won 21 percent of the vote, putting her ahead of fellow incumbents Annissa Essaibi-George and Michael Flaherty, who will also return to the council.

Political newcomer Julia Mejia, a community activist who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, claimed victory in a tight race for the fourth at-large seat with Alejandra St. Guillen, an immigrants right advocate and former school teacher. St. Guillen conceded late Tuesday.


Julia Mejia (left) and Alejandra St. Guillen each were looking to be the first Latina on the council. Jonathan Wiggs and Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Just before midnight, however, with city tallies showing her down by only 10 votes, St. Guillen called for a citywide recount, according to her top campaign aide.

St. Guillen and Mejia each were looking to be the first Latina on the council and help create the first-ever majority of women. Starting in January, there will be eight women on the council, and seven councilors of color — the most ever — changing the identity of a panel that has historically been dominated by white men and better reflecting a city where the majority of residents are black, Latino, Asian, Native American, or biracial.

“Tonight’s election results is a resounding call from residents of this city that they want more than just change, they want transformational change. Change that speaks to the fact that it’s time that all voices are included in the decision-making process in our city government,” Mejia said in a statement.

At-large (*indicates incumbent)

The progressivism that marked campaigns by Wu, Mejia, and others — promising to push the city to better address big-picture policy issues such as housing, transportation, and the environment — won over voters in the competitive district council races as well, bringing in three new councilors with a similar agenda.


Wu said she is “incredibly inspired and excited to serve with this new group of councilors, who all ran on bold, progressive campaigns.”

“Now it’s on all of us to continue the partnership and activism to get things done,” she added.

Liz Breadon, 60, a community activist who emigrated from Northern Ireland 20 years ago, defeated Craig Cashman for the District 9 seat, which covers Allston and Brighton. She will succeed Mark Ciommo, the longest-serving councilor, who announced earlier this year that he would retire.

District 9

Cashman had won the preliminary election in September and had strong support from the local political establishment, including his boss, state Representative Michael Moran. Yet Breadon put together a successful grass-roots movement, winning over many of the neighborhood’s new residents.

“I look forward to building a stronger community here in Allston and Brighton,” said Breadon, who focused her campaign on pushing back against what she characterized as the overdevelopment of luxury housing over affordable housing in the district.

“I think in the present political climate that people are realizing the importance of local municipal activism, and municipal races, because this is where we can make change happen,” she said.

In District 5, which stretches from Mattapan to Hyde Park to Roslindale, first-time candidate Ricardo Arroyo claimed victory over Maria Esdale Farrell, who worked for outgoing Councilor Tim McCarthy. Both were born and raised in the district, which has historically been represented by a white man.


District 5

Arroyo, 32, whose brother and father also served on the council — the only previous Latino councilors in city history — ran a social justice-focused campaign, promising to work on the systemic racial and economic inequality he witnessed through his years as a public defender.

And in District 8, which stretches from Back Bay to Mission Hill, first-time candidate Kenzie Bok handily defeated Jennifer Nassour, a former chairwoman of the state Republican Party.

Bok, 30, a housing activist who holds a PhD in political thought and intellectual history from the University of Cambridge in England, built a platform focused on addressing Boston’s affordable housing crisis.

District 8

She said late Tuesday that she was “proud of the coalition we built from all over District 8, and it’s meant so much to see people from every part of the district respond to the need to tackle our big challenges, by raising our civic ambition and pursuing bold policies.”

City Council President Andrea Campbell of Mattapan and Councilor Kim Janey of Roxbury both won reelection against nominal opposition.

A bevy of progressive-minded hopefuls had put their hats in the ring, with community, housing, and social justice activists seeking one of the 13 seats on the council, the city’s legislative body, which has been raising its profile in recent years and pushing Mayor Martin J. Walsh to the left.

The candidates collectively said they wanted to push the city to tackle big-picture policy issues such as housing, transportation, and the environment.

District 7

The at-large race began with an initial field of 15 candidates, who were narrowed down to eight finalists after the September preliminary. Newcomers Erin Murphy and David Halbert also ran for the at-large seats, and placed sixth and eighth, respectively.


At-large Councilor Althea Garrison, the fourth incumbent, who finished a far fifth in 2017, was appointed to the council by default in January to fill the vacancy created by Ayanna Pressley’s election to Congress. Garrison, a perennial candidate for three decades, spent the last several weeks asking voters to award her a full term, in what would have been her first successful election to the council. She placed seventh.

Political analysts called the heavy interest in the race the Ayanna effect: Pressley’s election to Congress showed that a council seat can serve as a launching pad to greater community activism — and higher office.

District 4

This year’s at-large race forced the first preliminary election since 2013, when several incumbents vacated their sets to run for mayor. It’s also the first time since 2005 that there were more than five contenders eyeing a realistic chance at a seat.

On a cold, rainy day, turnout was 16.5 percent, bettering the abysmal 11 percent turnout in the September election. The result topped the final 13 percent turnout the city saw in 2015, the last non-mayoral municipal contest; the city saw 18 percent turnout in 2011.

Halbert, Mejia, and St. Guillen won endorsements from leaders of the city’s minority communities, as well as progressive political groups from several of Boston’s neighborhoods, as they called on developers to build more affordable housing, and for reforms to the schools system.


Separately, voters citywide rejected a nonbinding referendum asking whether the city should rename Dudley Square in Roxbury, a historically black neighborhood.

The proponents of the initiative proposed changing the name from honoring Thomas Dudley, who served as governor of what was then the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s and helped facilitate slavery here, to Nubian Square, after a region that hosted one of the earliest civilizations in Africa.

Though the referendum was citywide, Walsh has said his administration would focus particular attention to the outcome in Roxbury; voters there appeared to support the measure.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at