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Progressives sweep Wards 1, 18

Local political activists took note of sweeping changes on the local level.

Kenneal Patterson
Progressives sweep Wards 1, 18
Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins looks on as City Councilor Michelle Wu collects a signature for U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley from Nicole Purvis during the Ward 18 Democratic Caucus. Banner photo

While much of Boston remained fixated on the political fates of presidential front runners Joseph Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on Super Tuesday, local political activists took note of sweeping changes on the local level.

Boston and Massachusetts may have leaned centrist, but three of Boston’s ward committees veered left, with activists running under a “fresh slate” banner sweeping Wards 1 and 18, and gaining seats on Ward 9. The new committee members have vowed to bring greater accessibility and accountability to their organizations, which serve as the grassroots level of the state’s Democratic Party.

“The fresh slate, and the pledge that we took, means that there will be an active platform for voters from every community and every demographic in the ward to be involved,” At-large City Councilor Michelle Wu told the Banner. Wu, along with 34 others from the fresh slate, replaced every single Ward 18 committee member.

Ward 18’s committee has transformed from a majority-white body to a body in which more than two-thirds of the members are people of color. The old committee, comprised primarily of city workers from Hyde Park, will in April hand the baton to a slate that is more than two-thirds people of color, including African American, Haitian-American and Latino elected officials and political activists from Hyde Park and Mattapan.

“Voters reaffirmed what we saw in the city council elections a few months ago,” said Wu. “That it’s time for bold, progressive activist leadership at every level.”

Boston has 22 wards, and each ward has a committee. These committees hold caucuses to determine which delegates go to the Democratic Party convention. At the annual convention, delegates vote on their preferred candidate for statewide office. Some committees also make endorsements of local and statewide candidates, hold political forums and engage in voter outreach.

District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo addresses the Ward 18 Democratic Caucus as outgoing committee Chairman Rob Consalvo presides.
Banner photo

Every member of Ward 18’s new slate amassed over 1,000 more votes than any incumbent garnered on Election Day. Rob Consalvo, chair of the old committee, ended up with 3,474 votes. However, Consalvo. By comparison, no member of the fresh slate had fewer than 4,500 votes. Wu ended up with 5,972 votes, closely followed by District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, community activist Jean-Claude Sanon and Boston NAACP Branch President Tanisha Sullivan.

Wu said that the old Ward 18 Committee held very few meetings. They usually met once a year, she said, to host a caucus where “a slate of delegates that had been pre-arranged would be elected quickly.” Wu emphasized the importance of holding many more meetings that accommodate people throughout the ward.

“We look forward to having a much more active committee,” she said.  “Many of the conversations during this campaign for the fresh slate were just to tell people the committee existed and what ward committees do, because ours hasn’t been very active in the past. And people hadn’t heard of it before. So we hope to change that, come next time.”

Segun Idowu, another member of Ward 18’s fresh slate, said that Tuesday was a great victory for the community.

“Many of us on the slate have been talking for many years about standing up in an active ward committee that actually goes out and talks to folks and informs people on what’s going on,” he told the Banner. “So for us, we’re excited that we have the opportunity and we’re ready to put our words into action now.”

New Ward 18 committee member Jonathan Rodrigues agreed.

“I think that’s kind of the aim here,” he told the Banner. “To make sure that everybody has a voice in the process and knows what a ward committee is and gets involved in the democratic party. That’s our goal.”

A full fresh slate also won in Ward 1, which covers East Boston. There was more than an 800-vote difference between the old committee member with the most votes and the fresh slate member with the lowest number. Councilor Lydia Edwards amassed the most, ending with 3,425 votes.

There was a partial victory in Ward 9, where three of the eight fresh-slate members were elected: Tomiqua Williams, Armani White and Aaron Jones. White told the Banner that the new members’ mission was to “energize” the ward committee and make it more transparent.

“I plan to, as a member of the ward committee, make sure people know about meetings in advance,” he said. “I hope to clarify what the process is for non-elected members to participate.”

White also said that Ward 9 has issues with voter turnout.

“I am excited to be able to participate and I’m excited to be a watchdog, if you will, for the folks who feel left out and excluded and to … push the ward to do more to get more people involved,” he said.

White had also sought to unseat 2nd Suffolk State Democratic Committee Man Jeffrey Michael Ross, but fell short, with 9,982 votes to Ross’ 15,558.

A fourth fresh slate committee in Boston’s downtown neighborhoods was unable to gain seats in Ward 3.

Ward 18 caucus underway.
Banner photo

The caucus

The newly-elected members have 30 days to organize themselves, under state Democratic committee rules. On Saturday, Consalvo was still in charge, leading Ward 18’s caucus and welcoming the new members.

“I look forward to working with you as a proud Democrat in this ward,” he said.

Consalvo noted that despite disagreements within the Democratic Party, Ward 18’s cohesion has remained strong.

“What I love about Hyde Park is that we always work together,” he said. “We always build bridges.”

For decades, Ward 18 has been dominated by city workers and the 61 delegates the committee sends to the state’s convention were long seen as loyal to former Mayor Thomas Menino. That bloc of votes in the convention has long held clout in the state convention, where candidates for statewide office vie for the party’s nomination.

“We send the most delegates to the convention of any ward in the state,” noted fresh slate member Gretchen Van Ness.

Fresh slate members nominated their own slate of delegates on Saturday, a process that differed from years past caucuses, when the committee chair often ended delegate nominations with a single vote, which prevented anyone else from running.

The majority of those elected as delegates Saturday were fresh slate members and their allies.

Idowu and White both agreed that Saturday’s caucus information was not readily available to the average resident.

“The people on the slate learned about [the caucus] because we were watching like hawks to find it out,” said Idowu. Without the new slate’s efforts to increase citizen involvement, nobody would have known about the caucus, he said.

Idowu said the new slate’s mission is to inform and engage voters. In the days leading up to the election, he said, every fresh-slate member was knocking on doors and teaching their neighbors about the ward committee’s importance.

“Information is the lifeblood of a democracy,” he said.

This year’s Massachusetts Democratic Party state convention will be held in Lowell May 30 at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.

Yawu Miller contributed to this article.

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