Proposal to eliminate Boston special mayoral election could be bad look, some councilors say

Several city councilors looked askance at a proposal to get rid of the possibility of a special election for Boston mayor this year, saying it would have poor optics.

“This vote, this action, would certainly benefit some,” City Councilor Matt O’Malley said. “I would hate it to seem that we’re putting the thumb on the scale for anyone.”

The legislation, from City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, would specifically eliminate the possibility of a special election for Boston mayor in 2021. As a home-rule petition, it would need the sign-off of the council, Mayor Martin Walsh, the Legislature and the governor to go into effect.

“We are in the middle of a deadly pandemic that’s claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Bostonians,” Arroyo told his fellow councilors as he introduced the proposal, insisting that the move isn’t political.

Under the current law, if Walsh, the nominee for President-elect Joe Biden’s Labor secretary, leaves before March 5, a special election would occur three months after his departure to fill his seat with an elected mayor for the rest of the term.

When Walsh departs for Washington, City Council President Kim Janey will become acting mayor.

If there’s no special election, she will serve out his full term in the interim capacity.

If Janey does end up running for mayor — which she has said she’s giving “serious consideration” to doing — this would give her a couple more months as the city’s chief executive and more time to build out a political organization.

This week she brought on a high-powered communications outfit to handle press for her.

On the flip side, a special election so soon would favor candidates like City Councilors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, who are already in the race, and those with a well-established citywide political organization, like At-Large City Councilors Annissa Essaibi-George and Michael Flaherty.

State Sen. Nick Collins, Police Commissioner William Gross, and state Reps. Aaron Michlewitz and Jon Santiago are also among those considering runs.

Wu’s campaign said she supports Arroyo’s proposal, but she didn’t sign on to co-sponsor it.

Janey didn’t sign on. Her office didn’t return a request for comment.

Campbell did sign on to co-sponsor it, but her campaign said she isn’t taking a position yet. Essaibi-George didn’t sign on and didn’t take a position.

“It obviously sets up for someone to be in the driver’s seat in this election,” City Councilor Frank Baker said. “There’s a reason why people right now don’t like politicians — because we’re doing things like this.”

City Councilor Lydia Edwards, the chair of the government ops committee, said she plans to hold a hearing and a working session quickly.

Walsh’s office said he’s “aware” of the legislation but didn’t take a position.

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