Council passes Home Rule Petition to override special election

Members of the Boston City Council voted 12-0-1 to pass a Home Rule Petition that will cancel a special election if Mayor Martin Walsh vacates his office before March 5, a likely scenario given that a US Senate hearing to review his credentials to serve as the next US Secretary of Labor is set for tomorrow morning in Washington, D.C.

The petition, put forth by Councillor Ricardo Arroyo, will also need the support of the mayor, the Legislature, and Gov. Baker, who has indicated he would sign such a bill if it was sent to him.

A spokesperson for Walsh told the Reporter on Wednesday that the mayor “looks forward to reviewing the final language passed today by the Boston City Council.”

Last week, a spokesperson said that the mayor “has not taken a position on the bill, but he will follow the will of the Boston City Council.”

Council President Kim Janey will be sworn-in as acting mayor after Walsh submits his letter of resignation to the city clerk, triggering a transition that will see her in the city’s top job through November.

Councillor Annissa Essaibi George, who announced her mayoral campaign last Friday, voted “present” on the matter. The rest of the councillors voted yes: Arroyo, Frank Baker, Kenzie Bok, Liz Braedon, Andrea Campbell, Lydia Edwards, Michael Flaherty, Ed Flynn, Kim Janey, Julia Mejia, Matt O'Malley, and Michelle Wu.

The petition was brought before the council following a robust hearing and working session hosted by the committee of Government Operations.
During the council’s virtual working session last week, the following amendment was tacked onto the petition to provide clarity:“A mayor shall be elected at large at the next regular municipal election”

Committee chair Lydia Edwards re-capped last week’s session, calling the swift process “a victory lap for all of us in how we came together as a body and moved this as fast as possible.”

She added that an overwhelming majority of public testimony at the hearing supported cancelling the special election, including officials from the city’s Elections Department, the Secretary of State’s Office, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, and organizations like MassVOTE.

"I can honestly say 99.99 percent of the people who testified wanted to dispense with the special election. “Most people found that the safety during the pandemic and the fact that we could be disenfranchising voters was far more outweighed following the exact rules as written,” she said.

Essaibi George explained why she would abstain from voting last week, citing what she characterized as a conflict of interest.

“I have made the decision to abstain from voting on the upcoming Home Rule Petition regarding the special election,” she said in a statement. “As a candidate, this decision directly impacts me and my campaign.”

Her position puts her at loggerheads with the other announced rivals for the mayor’s post, Campbell and Wu, who both supported skipping the special election.

In the council’s Jan. 27 hearing, councillors and attendees criticized a legal memo written by a council attorney suggesting that announced mayoral candidates Wu, Campbell, Essaibi George –and Council President Kim Janey, who will be the acting mayor once Walsh resigns— might face conflict of interest violations if they registered a vote on the home rule measure.

Janey and others have pointed to a State Ethics Commission opinion that all councillors could vote on the matter.

“For anyone concerned about conflicts of interest, the Ethics Commission has the final say and can offer advice to anyone who has questions,” Janey said last week.

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