What’s ahead for Boston politics in 2022?
The year 2021 brought significant turnover to Boston City Hall. After an historic campaign season, three mayors and a low-turnout election, Boston is now on the brink of a few major political changes. And, with a new cast of power players assuming power within the brutalist building, there’ll be no shortage of news to monitor in the coming year.
Here are a few key storylines.
Michelle Wu: What happens when a progressive darling comes to power?
Aside from being the first woman and person of color to be elected mayor, Michelle Wu is a progressive Democrat who defied a trend of losing municipal elections in 2021 (see Eric Adams in New York City, Bruce Harrell in Seattle and Jacob Frey in Minneapolis).
With that political positioning came sweeping promises on the campaign trail: to bring rent control and free transit to the city of Boston, despite the hurdle of the state Legislature; to make Boston a Green New Deal city by pushing to achieve a net-zero building footprint by 2024 and implementing clean energy financing; and to deliver structural changes to the nation’s oldest police force through contract negotiations.
Tall orders for even the non-incumbent mayor elected on the widest of win margins.
Wu’s been successful at pushing from outside the mayor’s office on policies like paid parental leave and short-term rental regulation, but securing policy changes will no-doubt be different as she sits in the seat of power and has to balance the concerns of all sorts of constituents.
Whether she actually finds ways to implement these ideas will be the spectacle of #Bospoli observers up until the next mayoral campaign when she’ll have to answer for her record if she seeks the seat again.
Wu’s decision to expand vaccination requirements within the city demonstrates that the national media will have its eyes on her as much as we will locally.
Boston City Council: How will the newbies settle into their roles?
Along with Wu, Jamaica Plain-West Roxbury Councilor Matt O’Malley and the three other women who ran for mayor — Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George and Kim Janey — ended their stints on the council.
That’s a loss of five seasoned public officials.
Each of the seats they held will be filled with first-time councilors who will have inevitable learning curves coming into office.
By the way, those five exits do not include the seemingly imminent exit of East Boston Councilor Lydia Edwards, or, depending on who Gov. Charlie Baker taps to serve out the Suffolk County district attorney term, the potential exit of At-Large Councilor Michael Flaherty.
If both come to pass, Boston could see a majority of new city councilors before the end of 2022.
Wu and the City Council: How will they get along?
With Wu now at the seat of city power and a new crop of councilors coming into office, the dynamics between the two is another political storyline to watch.
The interaction between the council and the mayor can sometimes be tense, making for good headlines (remember when the council gave itself explicit power to dethrone Janey as acting mayor?).
But the relationship between the council and the mayor represents the most important political partnership for Boston residents who must live under the ordinances, programs and budgets they pass.
Speaking of budgets, the council will have the power to veto Mayor Wu’s fiscal plan this year thanks to voters’ endorsement of a charter change through a November ballot question. And, if the reports about committee assignments promised in exchange for elevation Ed Flynn to the council presidency are true, a new councilor will oversee the council’s portion of the budget process.
The relationship between Wu and the City Council will also play into the forthcoming debate on the configuration of the Boston School Committee. Nearly 80% of voters answered “yes” to the advisory ballot question of whether the city’s appointed school committee should revert back to an elected body. Despite the clarity of the question and the overwhelming affirmative response, Wu has signaled she’ll hold fast to her preference for a hybrid school committee, preserving an unspecified number of seats on the committee for appointments.
Hyde Park-Mattapan Councilor Ricardo Arroyo and At-Large Councilor Julia Mejia are now leading the charge to turn the committee back to a fully elected body, but if Boston’s legislative and executive offices can’t find middle ground on the topic, there’ll be no home rule petition to send up to the state Legislature or the governor for enacting.
What’s next for Boston’s former women mayoral candidates?
While rumors are swirling about the futures of Campbell, Essaibi George and Janey post–council term, no member of the ex-mayoral candidate trio has yet revealed what’s up next for her.
Janey seems well-poised to land within the Wu administration. When asked by reporters about such a role, Wu said she wanted Janey to play a leadership role alongside her, adding that their agendas were intertwined. With Janey’s focus on equity, for her portion of the campaign, it wouldn’t be surprising to see her leading that office under Wu.
Campbell, whose name was thrust into speculative consideration for the Suffolk County district attorney seat, has denied any interest in that job. An inquiry about a potential gubernatorial campaign was met with silence Wednesday.
Essaibi George is also rumored to be weighing a gubernatorial run. Asked about it, she had little to say.
“As I transition off the Council and wrap up all my work there, I’m going to explore all the options before me.”
We will simply have to wait and see what happens with these three.
The Boston Police Department
Presumably, 2022 will be the first year Boston’s new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency is filled with an executive director, commissioners, civilian board members and staff to start the work of investigating complaints of police misconduct, examining BPD internal affairs investigations and reviewing the force’s polices and procedures.
The office was established, though not staffed, in the wake of widespread protests against police brutality and its creation was followed by a spate of negative headlines following the release of a video of a BPD sergeant bragging about driving into protesters. And then there were the allegations of domestic violence against a new commissioner, and child assault allegations against a longtime officer and former patrolmen’s union head.
While the Boston Police Department has had an oversight body in the past, this one is distinguished by its power to subpoena sources as it reviews internal investigations.
Watching the office’s process unfold as Mayor Wu attempts to hire a new police commissioner and renegotiate the seven now-expired police contracts with various police groups will definitely yield important stories.
Saraya Wintersmith covers Boston City Hall for GBH News.