Historic election changes face of council
Women, people of color are in majority for first time
At the Guira y Tambora restaurant in Roslindale on election night, Ricardo Arroyo, the first Latino elected to represent the District 5 city council seat, bounded onto a stage to applause and began his speech with a three-word sentence.
“We made history,” he said.
Two miles away at the Frogmore in Hyde Square, Julia Mejia, who could be the first Latina elected to any seat on the city council, made a similar announcement.
“This [campaign] has always been about our people — those who have been neglected,” said Mejia. She was surrounded by fellow city council candidates and current and former elected officials, former City Councilor Tito Jackson, State Rep. Nick Collins, at-large Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George and at-large candidate David Halbert.
Mejia’s victory speech may have been premature, as final results showed her just 10 votes ahead of Alejandra St. Guillen, prompting the latter to call for a recount.
“Every voter who came out and cast a ballot — whether it be absentee, in the voting booth, or provisionally — deserves a full and complete count to determine who is our next City Councilor at-large,” St. Guillen said in a statement issued by her campaign.
Regardless of which of the two ultimately wins the recount, Boston will have its first-ever Latina councilor.
New day for the council
The Nov. 5 victories are part of a sweeping change on the 13-member City Council. In addition to the at-large race, two women elected to district seats this year will increase the number of women on the council from a minority of five to a majority of eight.
Arroyo’s victory also brought the number of people of color on the council to a majority of seven.
“I want to put this in big, bold, blinking neon lights,” Arroyo said. “The city of Boston is going to have a majority-person-of-color city council. And for the first time, the city is going to have a majority-woman council. Think about the folks who are going to have voices now. Think about the issues that are going to be lifted up.”
Arroyo, a former public defender, beat Maria Esdale Farrell, an aide to outgoing District 5 Councilor Tim McCarthy, 5,325 votes to 4,398 — a 9.5 percent margin of victory.
In District 8, which includes Beacon Hill, the Back Bay, the Fenway and Mission Hill, Kenzie Bok handily beat Jennifer Nassour with 70 percent of the vote. In District 9, which includes Allston and Brighton, Liz Breadon became the first openly gay woman elected to the council, edging out Craig Cashman by a 17 percent margin.
On a body that for most of its 110-year history been made up entirely of white men, the change to a majority people of color and majority women board is historic —but in many eyes, natural.
“This is what our city is today,” said Suffolk County Clerk Magistrate Maura Hennigan, who when elected to the council in 1982 was the only woman serving on the body. “It’s refreshing. It’s momentous. It’s a change that’s long overdue.”
The shift in the balance of power on the body will likely bring a different politics to the body, which in past years has often found itself to the right of the mayor on issues including rent control.
At-large Councilor Michelle Wu, who for the last two election cycles has been the top vote-getter, said that with a council more representative of the city’s population, she expects greater collaboration with city residents.
“When we have a more representative council, communities are more willing to partner with us,” she said during her victory party at Distraction Distillery in Roslindale Square.
Wu said she thinks the council will take on issues including transit equity and reforms to the city’s planning and zoning processes — issues she’s taken on this year with her calls for the elimination of MBTA fares and the dissolution of the Boston Planning and Development Agency. She also noted that educational equity and housing affordability frequently came up in candidate forums.
“I’m excited to be on a council where candidates and councilors as candidates have forwarded so many bold ideas about changes they want to see,” she said. “We’ll work together on getting those changes done.”
This year’s city council race saw increased political activism from groups including Jamaica Plain Progressives, Roslindale/West Roxbury Progressives, the NAACP Boston Branch and the Right to the City Vote coalition. At campaign forums and in endorsement processes, those groups often pushed candidates to define their stands on issues that in previous years got little traction with the council, such as rent control and a return to an elected school committee.
Jonathan Rodrigues, a member of the immigrant rights group Mijente, said he expects the new council to take on those issues.
“With the new composition, you have new voices, new perspectives,” he said. “Folks are going to fight for those issues.”
Alexa Gagosz contributed to this article.