The effort to cancel a potential special election to replace Boston Mayor Marty Walsh ahead of the city’s already-scheduled mayoral elections later this year cleared its first hurdle Wednesday afternoon.
By a 12-0 vote, the Boston City Council passed a home rule petition to override a requirement in the city charter requiring a special election if Walsh, who has been nominated to be President Joe Biden’s labor secretary, vacates office before March 5.
Supporters cited the potential health risks, confusion, and costs of holding a total of four elections in what would be less than six months, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Having multiple elections for the office of mayor in the same year in the midst of the pandemic is a serious threat to the health of our residents, our city workers, and our communities,” Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, the petition’s sponsor, said during the meeting Wednesday, adding that it also would “contribute to the disenfranchisement of people of color, disabled, and low-income communities and would be wasteful and costly as an expenditure for the city at a time when our revenues are down and so many critical services need increased funding.”
Under the petition, Boston City Council President Kim Janey would continue to serve as acting mayor from the day Walsh leaves office until a new mayor is elected (an amendment to the petition last week made it so the winner of the November election would be sworn in as soon at the results are certified, instead of in January).
The petition, which had broad support from local voting advocates and residents, would allow Boston to skip the additional preliminary and general special elections in the current three-way race
Two of the declared candidates, Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, voted yes on the petition, while the third hopeful, Annissa Essaibi George, was the sole member of the body to abstain from the vote.
In the end, the measure even won support from several councilors who initially expressed concerns about the optics of canceling a special election.
However, approval from the City Council is just the first step in the home rule petition process.
The petition now goes to the desk of Walsh, who is scheduled to appear in Washington, D.C, on Thursday for his confirmation hearing.
A spokesman for Walsh told Boston.com on Wednesday that the mayor “looks forward to reviewing the final language” of the petition. However, Councilor Kenzie Bok indicated during the meeting they already had Walsh’s support.
“I know the mayor’s already said that he’s going to support the council,” Bok said.
The petition also requires approval from the state Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker. And while other home rule petitions have so often died on Beacon Hill that it has become a joke among some local officials, lawmakers did sign off on a similar measure last month to nix a special mayoral election in Lawrence.
Asked about the Boston home rule petition last month, Baker indicated he was likely to sign the measure.
“As a general rule … we sign home rule petitions,” he said.
If approved, the petition sets up a long runway for the three declared candidates in the race, with other hopefuls expected to join in the coming weeks.
The city will hold a nonpartisan preliminary election in September featuring all candidates, with the two top vote getters facing off in the Nov. 2 general election.
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