Assessing the new order on the Council

Councillor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley

The Boston City Council at-large race ended with a shake-up as challenger Annissa Essaibi-George bested longtime incumbent Stephen Murphy to claim the fourth at-large seat on the council and first-time candidate Andrea Campbell ousted veteran District 4 Councillor Charles Yancey, doubling the number of women on the council in the process.

It was an election year with low turnout – 14 percent of the city found their way to the polls on Nov. 3 – slightly boosted by the contentious race in District 4.

When the votes were settled, the results looked familiar. For the third election in a row, Ayanna Pressley finished at the top of the pack, followed by Michelle Wu and Michael Flaherty, the same order as in 2013.

Pressley’s dominance was impressive in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury where, out of 255 precincts, she won 99, most of those by significant margins, according to unofficial voting results. In Dorchester, she took down about 27 percent of the vote, almost 2,000 votes ahead of the next closest candidate (Flaherty, with 21 percent in Dorchester).

Though Wu’s strongest showings were near her Roslindale home base, she also won about half of next-door West Roxbury and topped the ticket downtown and in Allston-Brighton, leaving her within 3,000 votes of Pressley.

Murphy did well in precincts around Hyde Park and in small patches elsewhere, but did not seem to have the spread of appeal that the other candidates demonstrated.

More so than in a mayoral election year, candidates needed to work strategically, campaign advisors said after the voting was done with. Although general wisdom suggests that knocking off an incumbent in an off-year election is more difficult, the less-crowded ballot offers an advantage to challengers with strong ground games.

“To win, we knew we needed to do well in every neighborhood in every community in the city,” said Adam Webster, Essaibi-George’s campaign manager.

In years when mayoral campaigns dominate the landcape, city council races can fall out of the limelight as voters use name-recognition and incumbency to make choices, campaign advisors said. In a municipal election year, candidates have a better sense of who the motivated voters are and how strongly they need to perform to lock in a top slot.

For established front-runners like Pressley, though, her team emphasized that they always run as though fifth place was a possibility as campaigning and council duties dovetail.

“What I’m most proud of for our team is our ongoing commitment to the policy work, the agenda that Ayanna has been championing for the last six years, and making sure that we didn’t let up on those efforts through the campaign,” said Jessica Taubner, Pressley’s chief of staff and 2011 campaign manager.

Essaibi-George was no doubt helped by her previous unsuccessful run, but, unable to count on dominance in any particular neighborhood, she still faced an uphill battle to squeeze past incumbents across the city. She did claim the third position in Dorchester, however, less than 50 votes short of Wu and 600 behind Flaherty. Across Dorchester and in parts of Mattapan, turnout was just over 16 percent, slightly higher than the city average.

Next up: the presidency

Wu announced last week that she had the support of six other councillors for the president’s post, giving her seven votes, and an apparent win over Matt O’Malley, who had put himself in the running. Wu, though, said she will not be coasting until the actual vote by the 13-member council. “I want to have conversations with all my colleagues,” she said.”

Councillor Mark Ciommo had been angling for the seat, but he dropped out and threw his support to Wu, joining Bill Linehan, Michael Flaherty, Frank Baker, Timothy McCarthy, and Salvatore LaMattina as backing her.

Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley, Josh Zakim, and Annissa Essaibi-George have said they would support O’Malley. Campbell has not publically announced support for a candidate yet.

“He has a great deal of experience on the Boston City Council,” Essaibi-George said of O’Malley, “and I do feel that my values and ideologies align with his.”

Voting will take place Jan. 4 after the new council is sworn in. By the time that day rolls around, Wu said, she hopes to have the support of the others on the council.

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