At-large race taking shape as a contest for two spots

The eight candidates vying for one of four at-large spots on Boston’s city council are chasing votes across the neighborhoods this week ahead of the Nov. 2 general election. With early voting kicking off this weekend, the race is widely seen as a contest for two open spots, with recent polls showing incumbents Michael Flaherty and Julia Mejia — the top two finishers in the Sept. 14 preliminary— still running strong.

A hard-fought battle is now afoot for spots 3 through 5 right now, with the contenders pumping out endorsements and going to in-person events in search of an edge down the stretch. Even a fifth- place finish is a coveted spot this cycle, since Flaherty is widely seen as a potential Suffolk County DA appointment if current DA Rachael Rollins is approved— as expected— to become the state’s next US Attorney. If that happens, it would bump up the fifth-place finisher into Flaherty’s seat.

“All the candidates seem to be working very hard and I see a lot out there,” said state Rep. Dan Hunt of Dorchester. “And it’s not just social media, but knocking on doors. In September, we had a little break in terms of Covid-19 restrictions. Neighborhoods are having events again and candidates go there. Erin Murphy from a Dorchester perspective is coming on strong with that.”

Murphy, who finished fourth in the Sept. 14 balloting, has also shown strength in two recent surveys, including a Reporter-sponsored poll last week that showed her in a tie for the third position with Ruthzee Louijeune, a first-time candidate with roots in Mattapan. Both Murphy and Louijeune have strung together high-profile endorsements from labor and elected officials.

This week, Murphy touted fresh support from former state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez of Jamaica Plain, who remains the highest-ranking Latino leader in Massachusetts history.

“Erin is a special kind of leader because she has walked in the shoes of the people she is seeking to represent,” said Sanchez. “She taught in the Boston Public Schools for 22 years. She raised her family in the city as a single mom. And she’s been on the frontlines of the substance abuse and recovery crisis for a long time. She’s ready to represent the whole city.”

Joining Murphy in what observers repeatedly say is a four-way battleground for spots 3 to 5 are Louijeune, Carla Monteiro, and David Halbert. All three — along with Mejia— won endorsements this week from Andrea Campbell, the current District 4 councillor, who finished third in the mayoral contest last month. Campbell has also endorsed Brian Worrell to replace her in the district 4 seat on the council.

The “slate” advanced by Campbell this week mirrors the picks of US Rep. Ayanna Pressley and other progressive groups that have lined up behind Mejia, Louijeune, Halbert, and Monteiro.

“For David and Carla to get on, there’s a need for white progressive voters to vote a full slate as well as Black voters to vote a full slate, and not to use bullet voting,” said Jonathan Cohn, chair of the Ward 4 Democratic Committee, which covers the South End, Fenway, and parts of the Back Bay. Bullet voting is the strategic practice in at-large races to vote for only one candidate instead of choosing four candidates.

The group JP Progressives in Jamaica Plain has also endorsed those same four candidates and see it as a service provided to voters who trust them to weed through so many candidates and positions, according to Krista Magnusson, the group’s co-chair.

For Louijeune’s part, the candidate says her team is focused on running their own campaign. While organizations might pick her as part of their own slate, she said her campaign is not collaborating with other candidates to form coalitions.

“We’re running our own race and I look forward to having some great collaboration on the City Council, but we’re running our own race,” she said.

State Sen. Nick Collins, who has endorsed Murphy abd Flaherty, said the contenders should be talking to voters about how to use hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding that will be in the hands of the City Council next year for critical budgeting decisions. Such an inflow of federal dollars, he said, will likely never happen again.

“I think it’s an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to talk to voters as a candidate about the things you will be able to do by proposing a budget you can actually deliver on without having to pull resources from one place to give to another,” he said.

“And I think people will be excited to hear about how we can fix our problems in the city with these strategic resources as they ask voters to elect them to make these important decisions come January.”

In the end, Rep. Hunt says, the outcome will come down to who comes out, what neighborhoods are represented, and which candidates have the passion to get people to the polls. In the end, it will be about GOTV – get out the vote.”

The at-large city council candidates will appear together in an in-person forum on Thurs., Oct. 21, in the lower hall of St. Brendan Church, 589 Gallivan Blvd. The event, sponsored by a coalition of Dorchester civic groups, will be moderated by Reporter managing editor Gintautas Dumcius and the paper’s correspondent, Katie Trojano. The event starts at 7 p.m.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Sen. Collins had endorsed David Halbert. Collins has not made an endorsement of Halbert. The incorrect information was the result of an editing error. The Reporter regrets the error. - Bill Forry

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