Growing interest in District 6 seat
Soon-to-be vacated seat draws candidates
Ten years ago, the two front-runners in the five-way preliminary race for the District 6 City Council seat were Matt O’Malley and Sean Ryan, continuing what is now a 37-year tradition of Irish-Americans representing the West Roxbury/Jamaica Plain seat.
Back then, West Roxbury voters accounted for as much as 60% of the vote in the district.
But by 2019, with a string of progressive candidates driving turnout in liberal-leaning Jamaica Plain precincts during successive elections, voters in that neighborhood grew to 54% of turnout in District 6.
“Jamaica Plain has increased its turnout dramatically in recent elections,” said Ziba Cranmer, a co-chair of Jamaica Plain Progressives, “and so has the West Roxbury share of progressives.”
Will the longstanding dominance of Irish-American West Roxbury residents finally come to an end? Kendra Hicks is counting on it. She has raised $36,277 since announcing her run in September. Hicks is one of three Jamaica Plain residents who are either committed to or considering a run for the seat, which O’Malley plans to vacate at the end of 2021. Urban planner Gustavo Quiroga and former O’Malley staffer and current Yale Law School student Will Poff-Webster are considering runs.
On the West Roxbury side Giovanny Valencia, a community organizer with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, is said to be considering a run; former School Committee member Mary Tamer has opened a campaign account and Paul Sullivan, a community liaison for at-large City Councilor Michael Flaherty, confirmed he is mulling a run.
It’s only December, and nomination papers won’t even be due until May of next year, but the prospect of a seven-way race in politically evolving district could confound the punditry.
“The last time there was a competitive race, it was a very different district,” Cranmer said. “The city is changing. The voting centers of the past — South Boston, Charlestown and West Roxbury — are changing.”
West Roxbury remains a 75% white neighborhood in a city that is now only 45% white. While the electorate there has a reputation for leaning conservative and backing Irish-American candidates, recent elections have shown growing support for progressive candidates of color. In the 2018 race for Suffolk County District Attorney, the winner, Rachael Rollins, garnered a respectable 2,957 votes in West Roxbury-based Ward 20 to neighborhood resident Greg Henning’s 3,158 votes.
Rachel Poliner, a member of Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale, points out that women of color have done well in West Roxbury in recent elections.
“The top vote-getters in most precincts are women of color — Michelle Wu, Ayanna Pressley, Annissa Essaibi-George,” she said.
Poliner says the decreasing significance of race in West Roxbury elections means voters will pay greater attention to issues. School equity and quality, an elected versus an appointed school committee, housing construction and affordability, gentrification and the city’s COVID response could come up in debates.
One issue that could divide progressive and conservative voters is police reform. Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protesters clashed repeatedly this year at the traffic circle by the Holy Name church in West Roxbury.
An issue on which West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain residents may agree is charter schools. Poliner expects the controversial schools will come up in debates because Mary Tamer once served as director of strategic projects for the Boston Charter Alliance.
“I can’t imagine she won’t attract a lot of donations from charter supporters,” Poliner said.
NAACP Boston Branch President Tanisha Sullivan said the pandemic and anti-police-violence demonstrations have elevated issues of racial, economic and social justice.
“The races in 2021 will give us an opportunity to consider candidates through those three lenses,” she said. “The successful candidates will be those who can articulate a clear, coherent vision as it relates to those three areas in the city of Boston.”
Cranmer echoed Sullivan’s sentiment.
“Progressive causes and issues are more viable than they ever have been,” she said. “A truly progressive candidate has a really good chance to succeed.”
So far, with most potential candidates still considering whether or not to jump in the race, there has been little room for discussion of issues.
Hicks, who entered the race months before O’Malley announced he would not seek reelection, already has outlined the policy areas in which she intends to work if elected, including educational equity, environmental justice, affordable housing and an approach to public safety that emphasizes prevention and resources over policing.
Hicks told the Banner she already has held more than a dozen events, virtual “house parties” hosted by activists representing all areas in the district.
Hicks also this week released a list of endorsers, including Suffolk County Register of Probate Felix D. Arroyo, District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo and at-large Councilor Julia Mejia.
An earlier version of this story mentioned former Deval Patrick staffer Alex Gray as a contender for the District 6 seat. He is running for an at-large seat.