Petition to nix Boston mayoral special election receives widespread support

BOSTON — A debate on whether Boston will hold a special election to replace Mayor Marty Walsh remains up in the air after a hearing on Tuesday night.

Mayor Walsh has been nominated to be President Biden’s next Labor Secretary.

If he’s confirmed by the U.S. Senate and vacates his office before March 5th, the city charter requires a special election.

That additional voting cycle would mean a primary in the spring and a final in the summer, and then repeat the process again in September and November.

A petition launched by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo to avoid voting four times in less than six months during a pandemic received widespread support during the hearing.

Other leaders, advocates and residents across Boston spoke in support of forgoing the special election.

”We are scared to death, and that’s not an exaggeration,” said former Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson. “Do you want to be that guy or girl? Do you want to be that councilor who endangers the lives of people of color?”

Another woman who testified, Priscilla Flint-Banks, said she’d lost her mother to COVID-19. Flint-Banks said mandating the special election would be, “unfair, unkind and unreasonable.”

Only one person, identified as Sean Ryan of Roxbury, spoke in support of a potential special election.

City Council President Kim Janey, who’s set to take over as interim mayor of Boston as soon as Walsh departs, didn’t mince words during the meeting.

“A special election is at best foolish and at worst dangerous,” said Janey. “The only disagreement I’ve heard are from individuals on this body who seemed more concerned about perceived advantages or disadvantages from councilors who may run.”

Councilor Andrea Campbell, who’s running for mayor, said she was looking forward to hearing from residents. Councilor Michelle Wu, who’s also running, did not appear.

Local NAACP President Tanisha Sullivan challenged a memo written by one of the council’s attorneys. That memo suggested Wu, Campbell and Janey would face potential state conflict-of-interest charges by discussing or voting on the measure.

Sullivan called it a “misread of the law on its face” and an attempt to “oppress and subjugate” three women of color pursuing higher office.

Boston City Council might vote on the proposal tomorrow night.

Ultimately, any change will require the approval of the legislature and Governor Baker.

Lawrence recently won legislative approval to bypass a similar provision in its charter.