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Vote for next president exposes rift in council

Progressives still lack votes to move agenda

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO

The results of the Nov. 3 municipal election revealed a profound shift in Boston with two women of color — Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu — winning the majority of the votes in the city and a longstanding councilor – Stephen Murphy — displaced by female challenger Anissa Essaibi George.

That Murphy, a longtime Hyde Park resident, lost by a wide margin on his Ward 18 home turf to Ayanna Pressley demonstrates how much the city has changed. Arguably, the fact that second-place finisher Michelle Wu appears to have enough votes on the council to become the body’s president also signals a profound shift in Boston’s political scene.

Changing same?

But for many progressives in the city, the way the council vote has sifted out looks like business as usual, with a coalition of progressive councilors backing District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley while the body’s more conservative-leaning majority is backing Wu.

Although Wu received votes from progressives and people of color in her first bid for the council in 2013, she disappointed many when she threw her support behind Bill Linehan’s council presidency bid, seemingly distancing herself from the council’s more progressive members.

While the council will not vote on the next president until January, sources say Linehan, Tim McCarthy, Mark Ciommo, Sal Lamattina, Michael Flaherty and Frank Baker are committed to voting for Wu. Backing O’Malley are Pressley, Tito Jackson, Essaibi George and Josh Zakim. Newly elected District 4 Councilor Andrea Campbell remains uncommitted.

The current alignment on the council is a far cry from ten years ago, when the four councilors of color — Felix D. Arroyo, Chuck Turner, Charles Yancey, and the newly-elected Sam Yoon — campaigned together, forming a Team Unity caucus and joining forces with liberal-leaning white councilors to advance a progressive agenda on the council.

In this year’s election the councilors of color did not openly support each other’s campaigns in their respective districts, though black voters in Wards 12 and 14 threw their support behind Pressley and Wu in the at-large race.

“The black community has always been supportive of candidates of color,” noted political activist Louis Elisa. “It’s not always been reciprocated.”

In Chinatown, some advocated a different alliance. Veteran political activist Frank Chin’s organization distributed literature in Chinese urging voters to support incumbent at-large councilors Wu, Flaherty and Murphy, and District 2 Councilor Linehan.

Despite the apparent lack of coordination among candidates of color and white progressives, the changing demographics of city voters favor those groups at the electoral level. Pressley and Wu won handily in the city’s majority black and Latino wards and precincts and did well with the city’s more progressive majority white wards and precincts. They also garnered votes in wards and precincts that ten years ago voted conservative. The fact that Wu won in West Roxbury’s Ward 20 would have been inconceivable just ten years ago.

Back in 2001, when Felix D. Arroyo ran at-large and placed fifth behind Murphy, Maura Hennigan, Michael Flaherty and Mickey Roache, progressive political activists questioned whether a candidate of color could win city-wide.

In the following years, when Arroyo and Yoon made history as the first Latino and first Asian elected to the council, the progressive wing of the council still lacked the seven votes needed to move forward a progressive agenda.

Next year when Essaibi George and Campbell are seated, the equation could change. Much of that will depend on Wu, who, even with her backing from conservative councilors, has tended to vote with the progressive wing of the council.

Local political observers are keeping a keen eye on the council’s shifts in power.

“I want to see a more progressive agenda coming out of the council,” said East Boston political activist Gloribel Mota. “It will be interesting to see how things are moving forward.”

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