With a US Senate hearing to review Mayor Martin Walsh’s credentials to serve as the next US Secretary of Labor set for Thursday morning in Washington, D.C., the City Council was poised to vote through a measure on Wednesday that would bypass a special election to pick his successor.
The Home Rule petition was expected to garner near-unanimous support following two weeks of debate and testimony from councillors and the public.
The measure, drafted by Councillor Ricardo Arroyo, argues that voters and the city will be best served by waiting for the already-scheduled fall elections to choose Walsh’s full-term successor.
Once approved by the council, the petition will require the support of the mayor, the Legislature, and Gov. Baker, who has indicated he would sign such a bill if it is sent to him.
A spokesperson for Walsh told the Reporter last week that the mayor “has not taken a position on the bill, but he will follow the will of the Boston City Council.” State lawmakers who spoke to the Reporter in recent days have indicated that the petition is likely to be taken up— and passed— in short order on Beacon Hill.
It’s not clear when Walsh will be confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has been moving swiftly to date in confirming cabinet appointees. 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, pending approval of Arroyo’s petition.
Gustavo Quiroga, Janey’s mayoral transition director, said this week that Janey will be prepared to begin her duties as soon as Walsh steps down.
“President Janey will assume the office of mayor, and when she does, there may be vacancies in the cabinet and Mayor’s Office that need to be filled,” Quiroga told the Reporter in a statement. “If so, she will immediately appoint highly qualified candidates to fill those positions as needed.
Given the multiple overlapping public health, economic, and racial justice emergencies confronting the city, the people of Boston need to have a Mayor’s Office and city government that is fully and completely staffed with professionals focused on serving the people and aggressively advancing strategies for recovery, equity, and justice.”
Of the 13 city councillors on the panel, 11 favored approving the petition before the scheduled Wednesday vote, according to a Globe account. Councillors Arroyo, Edwards, Kenzie Bok, Julia Mejia, Ed Flynn, Michael Flaherty, Matt O’Malley, Liz Breadon, Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell, and Kim Janey all support the petition, the paper reported on Tuesday.
Councillor Frank Baker has said he’s “completely undecided” on the matter, and Annissa Essaibi George, who announced her mayoral campaign last Friday, said she will abstain from voting, 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 put her at loggerheads with the other announced rivals for the mayor’s post, Campbell and Wu, who both plan to vote in support of skipping a special election.
Janey, who has not yet stated whether she will seek a full-term as mayor this year, has pointed to a State Ethics Commission opinion that said 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.
Arroyo said that his intention in offering the petition was to “make sure that we crafted something that was legally sound, that had precedent, that would make it all the way to the governor’s desk for signature as quickly as we possibly could.”
In a hearing last week, Michelle Tassinari, legal counsel in the Secretary of State’s office, encouraged the council to include language to address what happens if Walsh were to leave before the petition passes.
“I think everyone seems to be on board that it should pass quickly. … but you just want to cover yourselves for that possibility,” she said. “If you get an order for a special election or you get a vacancy, and you need to call for a special election I think you could put in the petition that there is pending legislation, and the order would only become effective in two weeks if the legislation doesn’t pass.”
Bok suggested an amendment to the petition that would make a permanent change ending special elections for mayoral vacancies in years with a scheduled election.
But Edwards and Arroyo wanted to separate the issue by tabling the conversation on permanent changes and keeping the petition language specific to this year’s election to move the legislation along quickly. But both councillors did say they would likely support the idea in the future.