Boston lawmakers: Clear path ahead for home rule petition bypassing special election

Multiple members of Boston's delegation in the Legislature said Monday they think the path is clear for a petition to call off a special election for mayor that would be triggered if Mayor Marty Walsh resigns to become U.S. labor secretary before March 5.

Walsh signed the bill last Friday after the City Council unanimously approved the change to the city's rules, sending the matter up Beacon Hill from City Hall to the State House where the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker must also sign off.

The Boston delegation met over Zoom on Monday to discuss the issue, and several lawmakers on the call told the News Service that Rep. Chynah Tyler is expected to file the home rule petition in the House in the coming days.

"Since it was pretty unanimous from the council and signed by the mayor, I can see us moving pretty quickly on it," said Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, a North End Democrat and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Walsh went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last week for a confirmation hearing where he encountered little resistance to his nomination to become secretary of labor in the Biden administration. The committee is expected to vote this week to send his nomination to the full Senate.

If Walsh resigns before March 5, city bylaws state that there shall be a special election for mayor, even though city voters are already slated to vote for mayor in a regularly scheduled mayoral election in November.

The City Council voted unanimously last week to scrap the special election, and allow City Council President Kim Janey to serve as mayor until after the regularly scheduled election. In addition to costs and the health risk associated with holding multiple elections, councilors said holding so many elections so close together could lead to voter fatigue and confusion and discourage participation in low-income communities of color.

Tyler, a Roxbury Democrat and chair of the Boston delegation, could not be reached for comment on Monday, but others on the delegation call said the all-Democrat group was in agreement that the city's home rule petition should move forward.

"It does seem that everyone in the delegation is in agreement," said Rep. Ed Coppinger, a West Roxbury resident. "The City Council passed it. In a way, who are we to disagree with them?"

Coppinger said that he hasn't spoken directly to Speaker Ron Mariano about the issue, but believes the speaker will accept the recommendation of the delegation.

"It does make sense," Coppinger said. "The reality that you could have four mayors in nine months is insane."

That would occur only if Walsh were to resign and Janey were to take over for a short time before someone different is elected in the special election and yet another person wins in November.

Janey has not said yet whether she will run for mayor, but already three members of the council - Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George - are running. State Rep. Jon Santiago, from the South End, and the city's chief of economic development John Barros are also weighing campaigns.

Sen. Nick Collins, of South Boston, was at the State House Monday and said he did not expect any hiccups at the State House, where Gov. Baker has also indicated that he would sign a home rule petition to cancel the special election if city leaders approved.

"I haven't heard anybody in opposition so I expect that it will be receiving broad support from the delegation," Collins said.

While the City Council voted unanimously with just one abstention (George), there were critics, including Councilor Matt O'Malley who initially worried it could look like the council was trying to tip the scales in favor of less-established candidates who would benefit from more time to raise money and get their message in front of voters.

Councilor Frank Baker also said he worried about the appearance of changing the rules of the game after campaigns were already underway, and wondered how it would be received on Beacon Hill, where he said the Legislature often ignores other home rule petitions sought by the council.

"Now the State House is going to slam this through in matter of weeks for us. No one thinks that looks inappropriate?" Baker said on Jan. 13 during a preliminary discussion of the issue.

Michlewitz and Coppinger both said it was unclear at this point whether the Legislature would have their own hearing on the bill once it is filed by Tyler, or simply try to pass it quickly. Neither the House nor the Senate have set up committees to start the new session, but there are temporary Rules and Ways and Means Committees in place to process legislation that leadership wants to act on fast.

Sam Doran contributed reporting.