Call it the Ayanna effect.
Seats on the 13-member Boston City Council, long a political backwater, are suddenly hot tickets — in particular the four at-large positions. That’s the perch from which then-councilor Ayanna Pressley launched her improbable upset in last year’s Democratic congressional primary, sending her on the way to Congress.
With their citywide visibility, the at-large seats are definitely great springboards to higher office, as Pressley demonstrated. But — as Pressley also showed during her successful council career — savvy at-large councilors can also find ways to shape municipal policies around economic development, public health, housing, environmental resilience, and the city’s myriad other challenges. Freed from some of the constituent-service demands of district councilors, at-large councilors have the leeway to think big.
Now 15 candidates have made the ballot for the preliminary election Sept 24. Here’s how the at-large election works: Every voter can pick up to four candidates, then the top eight advance to a final election in November, when voters again pick four, this time from the slimmed-down field. Winners serve two-year terms.
For the preliminary vote, the Globe endorses two incumbents and two first-time candidates, who would bring a combination of useful experience and fresh blood to the council.
■ Incumbent councilor Michelle Wu of Roslindale is seeking another term and, as one of the most diligent members of the council, she deserves it. First elected in 2013, and sometimes rumored to be a potential mayoral candidate, Wu clearly grasps the potential of her current office. In recent years, for instance, she has adopted public transit as her big cause, rightly seeing it as key to providing economic opportunities in the city’s low-income communities and reducing the city’s carbon footprint.
Now, ordinarily when Boston councilors start talking about transit, voters should be a little leery. The council has no formal control over the MBTA, so bashing the T like a piñata can be a cost-free way for a local politician to score points. But as Wu points out, just because the city doesn’t run the T doesn’t mean there’s nothing it can do to make transit work better. Boston controls its streets, and Wu wants to create more bus lanes in Boston to speed the form of transit that many of the city’s poorest residents use. Turning the key corridors the T has identified into bus lanes might take some political heavy lifting, since it could involve removing parking spaces, but it’s a worthy agenda for Wu to pursue in the next two years.
■ Often effective, often frustrating, and always verbose, incumbent Michael Flaherty of South Boston has more experience in city politics than any other member of the council seeking reelection. Don’t underestimate the value of his granular understanding of the machinery of City Hall: Two years ago, when this page endorsed Flaherty, it urged him to pass lobbying transparency legislation — and he did. He wants to work on adding an optional “year 13” to better prepare Boston high school graduates, which he says can be “another tool in our toolbox to closing the achievement gap.”
During the Menino administration, Flaherty was notable for his willingness to buck the popular but vindictive mayor, a trial-by-fire that demonstrated his independent streak. To a certain extent, the growing assertiveness of the city council under Mayor Marty Walsh is a testament to the example set by Flaherty, who was sticking his neck out to differ with a sitting mayor when doing so carried a much heavier political price. (The flip-side, though, is that Flaherty sometimes still seems obsessed with the Menino years, even as they quickly recede into history.)
■ Newcomer David Halbert of Mattapan hasn’t run for office before, but he’s no stranger to politics, having worked for two Boston city councilors and former governor Deval Patrick. He’s staked out perhaps the most nuanced and thoughtful platform of any of the first-time candidates. He wants to establish a co-op program for high school students to develop job skills at city agencies, and to reconstitute the council’s post audit and oversight committee to step up scrutiny of city services.
Like many council candidates this year, Halbert says housing affordability is the city’s biggest challenge, and that he supports denser development. He also says that asking Boston to solve the housing crisis on its own is unfair, and that he wants to be part of the regional conversation to break down barriers to housing throughout Greater Boston.
■ Like Halbert, Alejandra St. Guillen of West Roxbury is a new candidate, but not a new face. The former director of ¿Oíste?, she played a key behind-the-scenes role during the 2010 redistricting to ensure minorities were fairly represented. If elected, she would be the first Latina member of the council, and that would be an important milestone. The lack of adequate representation for Latinos in Boston politics grows more glaring every year, as the city moves away from the black-and-white demographics — and politics — that defined it for decades.
Although she worked for Walsh at the Office for Immigrant Advancement, and the mayor endorsed her candidacy, St. Guillen left no doubt she’d be willing to break with him when necessary. As an example, Walsh has shied away from serious changes to the Boston Latin School admission process, despite the yawning racial gaps at the school, which is only about 20 percent black and Latino. St. Guillen, a Latin School graduate herself, says she’d work to reform the admission process to reduce those disparities.
The other candidates hoping to advance to the general election include incumbents Althea Garrison and Annissa Essaibi George, along with Erin J. Murphy, Priscilla E. Flint-Banks, Marty Keogh, Michel Denis, Jeff Ross, Domingos DaRosa, Herb Lozano, William King, and Julia Mejia.
Preliminary municipal elections often have dismal turnout. But the way voters winnow down the field on Sept. 24 will determine how the general election plays out. Wu, Flaherty, Halbert, and St. Guillen have earned a place in the final, and the Globe endorses their candidacies.
Who’s on the ballot?
The following candidates are on the ballot for the Sept. 24 preliminary election, listed in the order they will appear:
■ ERIN J MURPHY
■ MICHELLE WU
■ PRISCILLA E FLINT-BANKS
■ ALTHEA GARRISON
■ MARTIN MARTY KEOGH
■ ALEJANDRA NICOLE STGUILLEN
■ MICHEL DENIS
■ ANNISSA ESSAIBI GEORGE
■ JEFFREY MICHAEL ROSS
■ DOMINGOS DAROSA
■ MICHAEL F FLAHERTY
■ HERB ALEXANDER LOZANO
■ WILLIAM A KING
■ DAVID HALBERT
■ JULIA MEJIA