Walsh’s mandate, and what’s next for the council

The mayor greeted poll workers at his home precinct in Lower Mills. Walsh campaign photo

One thing is clear from the results of Tuesday’s city election: Marty Walsh now has a real mandate to govern. The 50-year-old incumbent from Dorchester won an impressive victory that painlessly spanned some of the racial, ethnic, and ideological divides in a town that’s increasingly tired of that hackneyed reputation.

It would be simplistic to say that Walsh simply trounced an underfunded and less powerful candidate in Tito Jackson. That’s true, but it ignores the fact that Jackson’s emergence as the only bona fide opponent to Walsh this year is— in and of itself— a testament to Walsh’s political skill and governing style.

Give the mayor credit: He has cemented and expanded his base since 2013. Comparisons to the re-election cycles of his predecessor, Tom Menino— who posted larger margins of victory over challengers like Peggy Davis-Mullen and Maura Hennigan— don’t really square with the realities of today’s Boston. Menino didn’t have to run head-to-head against Tito Jackson, Bruce Bolling, or Dianne Wilkerson.

Walsh defeated a well-liked son of Roxbury, an African-American contender with years of experience as an organizer and politician in a head-to-head race. Jackson improved his performance between September and November, but Walsh still dominated, winning 80 percent of precincts where people of color make up the majority.

At the Groveland Senior Center on River Street in Mattapan— where black voters are the big demographic— Walsh bested Jackson 601-444. The mayor won the heavily Haitian precinct (18-5) at the Hassan Apartments on the Hyde Park-Mattapan line, 305-235. Marty topped Tito at another black voter bellwether, the Chittick School double-precinct, 581-559.

Jackson posted more decisive margins in his Grove Hall base, but Walsh was highly competitive in most precincts that Jackson won, such as the Greenwood School in ward 14, where it was Tito atop Marty, 319-269. Or the Frederick School on Columbia Road, where it was Jackson 127-Walsh 108. Tight margins like that were swamped by Walsh’s juggernaut elsewhere, like the right-leaning Florian Hall precinct 16-12, where the mayor needed an industrial-sized scale to weigh his 653 votes to Tito’s 34. You won’t find anything close to that lopsided score on Jackson’s side of the ledger.

Both men were gracious as the polls closed and the results poured in. There was little suspense to the main events on this election card, including in the at-large races, where all four incumbent citywide councilors were easily re-elected.

Note, however, that it was Althea Garrison, who served one-term as a state representative for the Fifth Suffolk district from 1992 to 1994, who finished fifth in the at-large balloting. That means that if any of the top four citywide councillors leaves for any reason over the next two years, Garrison will ascend to a seat on the council.

Garrison won her House seat in 1992 after she mounted a pre-election legal challenge to Nelson Merced, then seen as an up-and-coming lawmaker, and knocked him from the ballot. Garrison, at the time a registered Republican, cruised to an uncontested win.

Voters in the Fifth Suffolk, none too pleased with that outcome, ousted her at the first possible moment in 1994, choosing as her replacement Charlotte Golar-Richie, who quickly became a star on Beacon Hill.

Garrison’s ascendancy to the council would be an unfortunate result of Tuesday’s ballot, if it comes to pass.

What’s next on the city’s political dance card? That would be the race for city council presidency. Michelle Wu, who topped the at-large ballot on Tuesday, has fulfilled her term as president and must relinquish it by council rules.

Who will take the gavel? Election day’s most significant result may have been the elevation of two more women of color to the body with the elections of Lydia Edwards in D1 and Kim Janey in D7. Many observers— this one included— think that Councillor Ayanna Pressley, who has not yet served in the role, can make a strong case for the presidency. Pressley, a Dorchester resident, is not only supremely qualified, but she also led the charge in bringing about a sea change in the composition of the council, which will soon count six women in the prime seats inside the Iannella Chamber.

President Pressley? I like the sound of that.

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