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Boston’s Black political bench needs rebuilding

Joyce Ferriabough Bolling

Mayor Michelle Wu should be congratulated for a spectacular, two-fold victory in last week’s election. All the candidates she endorsed won seats on the Boston City Council.

One can say she single handedly rescued progressivism, which had come under attack on the Council following a contentious redistricting debacle that pitted its more liberal, interracial wing against its more moderate, white bloc, sparking an unsavory and disruptive racial dynamic.

The newbies Wu ushered in will not only change the face of the Council, but also its tenor. That’s a good thing. It has been a bruising, bawdy time for the current Council, full of name-calling and downright disrespect, not to mention a total lack of appropriate decorum in the institution.

The voters have had their say. In September, they turned away two incumbents. Two other members left voluntarily, expanding the opportunity to add fresh faces to the beleaguered body.

Voters showed their appreciation for the solid work of Ruthzee Louijeune, the first Haitian American elected to the Council, who not only topped the ticket but, after the final election, announced she has the votes to become president of the 13-member body.

We shouldn’t get too caught up in the euphoria of ideology, even with the election of a decidedly progressive Council. Overall, political progress for African Americans, who make up the city’s largest population of color, took a bit of a backslide.

There was a time not too long ago that a majority-minority and history-making City Council ushered in a number of prominent firsts for the African American community. Ayanna Pressley became the first Black woman elected to the Council and the first elected to Congress from Massachusetts; Andrea Campbell, now the state’s attorney general, the first African American woman to serve as the Council’s president; and Kim Janey, the first African American woman to represent Roxbury’s District 7 and the city’s first Black mayor.

Today, the African American community lacks what my late dear sister friend Mukiya Baker Gomez would call a “bench,” meaning individuals who are ready to move up and into office and political leadership. We can and must do better.

I do remain optimistic for more African American participation in the future, with the introduction of two young initiatives that show great promise. The 1866 PAC helmed by Reynolds Graves, who counts Doug Wilder, the nation’s first elected Black governor, as a family member, supports Black candidates statewide. 1866 kicked off its maiden voyage this year with a win for all the statewide candidates the PAC endorsed except one. And a new Black Men’s Political Task Force, kicked off by Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, is harnessing and cultivating Black male leaders and recently hosted its first candidates’ forum.

In no way am I knocking the value of ideology. But it shouldn’t be the guiding light. Folks are elected to serve. That’s where the focus should be. Somehow that got lost in the City Council’s recent verbal melee.

With all the challenges the city faces, the new Council needs to be more productive and can be. Former councilor Bruce Bolling showed what can be done when members come together, putting aside personal differences in greater service to the people.

The laws my late husband initiated and championed still impact the city today. Most importantly, the results of his approach show the power the City Council can and should wield.

Joyce Ferriabough Bolling is a media and political strategist.

Black candidates, boston city council, progressives
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