With a regular election already on the calendar for later this year, a proposal to eliminate the requirement of a special election if Boston Mayor Marty Walsh resigns his post prior to March 5 drew an outpouring of support during a Tuesday afternoon City Council committee hearing.
Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, the sponsor of a proposal to prevent the special election, said holding multiple elections in one year would pose a threat to the health of residents due to the risks posed by COVID-19.
“It will certainly contribute to the disenfranchisement of people of color, the disabled, and low-income communities and would be wasteful and a costly expenditure for the city at a time when our revenues are down and so many critical services are in need of increased funding,” Arroyo said.
President Joe Biden has nominated Walsh to serve as the nation’s next labor secretary, and as some of Biden’s appointees begin to secure confirmation votes it’s still unclear when Walsh will be confirmed and when he will actually resign as mayor.
The petition did not receive unanimous support from councilors when it was first referred to Boston’s Committee on Government Operations two weeks ago. Councilor Matt O’Malley previously expressed concerns that the decision to do away with the special election might benefit some mayoral candidates more than others.
“This action would certainly benefit some in a time where there is so much cynicism around politicians and I would hate to be seen that we’re putting the thumb on the scale for anyone,” he said at the time.
If the rules are changed in Boston, City Council President Kim Janey would remain as acting mayor for the remainder of Walsh’s unfinished term. Councilors Michele Wu and Andrea Campbell are running for mayor, and the field is expected to grow with several other possible candidates still mulling their options.
Critics of the proposal have cited the power of incumbency as a reason for the special election to play out. In 1993, then-City Council President Thomas Menino became acting mayor and used that platform to boost his successful bid for the mayor’s office later that year.
Arroyo pushed back on that notion on Tuesday, saying the purpose for changing the rules requiring a special election “is not to put the thumb on the scale for any one candidate.”
“The purpose of this is to make sure that we are ensuring the health of our residents, our city workers who would have to man the polls four times for the same office and for volunteers,” Arroyo said. “It’s also for the stability of the city and ensuring that we’re not doing multiple turnovers and multiple transitions in the middle of a state of emergency in the same year.”
Janey has said she’s considering a mayoral run.
Should the petition clear the city council, it would need approval from the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker to become law. Rep. Russell Holmes, a Boston Democrat, said he is in support of changing the rules.
“There’s not a single person I’ve heard from in my district that believes that it is in our advantage to go and now have four elections, potentially, over the next three or four months,” he said. “I will advocate as strongly as possible to get it done as soon as I can.”
As provisions for mail-in voting are set to expire on March 31, city officials and voting rights advocates say skipping the special election for mayor will allow more time to potentially codify vote-by-mail in state law.
“The state may extend them again, and we are working to make them permanent, but it is impossible to know if they will be in place for the special elections,” MassVOTE Executive Director Cheryl Clyburn Crawford said in her prepared remarks. “As a result, we will force hundreds of thousands of Bostonians to turnout in person as many as four times this year.”
Janey, citing various officials and advocacy groups, said a special election is “at best foolish, and at worse, dangerous.”
“The only disagreement I have heard are from individuals on this body who seemed more concerned about perceived advantages or disadvantages for councilors who may run than the disenfranchisement of voters, or the health risks due to COVID, or the financial cost or the instability to our city,” she said. “Ultimately, our focus must be what’s best for the residents that we represent and serve, and not what will help or hurt council candidates.”
Boston City Councilors did not take a vote on the proposal Tuesday and the Government Operations Committee is scheduled to meet next on Friday for a working session. The full council is slated to meet next on Wednesday.
(Copyright (c) 2020 State House News Service.