There likely will be a number of new names on this year’s municipal ballot; there will also be a familiar one, says veteran campaigner Althea Garrison, now 80 years old.
“Oh yeah, my name will definitely be on the ballot,” Garrison told the Reporter this week. She hasn’t yet pulled papers, but it’s probable she’ll be aiming for an at-large seat on the city council. On the other hand, the race to succeed Mayor Walsh however the balloting schedule turns out, might be too tempting to Garrison to rule it out as an alternative candidacy.
If the city council is her choice, she will be seeking to regain a citywide seat on the council that she briefly occupied in 2019 after Ayanna Pressley was elected to Congress. Garrison was elevated to the council having placed fifth in the 2017 election. Then she failed to retain her seat in the November 2019 election, finishing seventh in an eight-person run-off. Still, she notes with a chuckle: “A lot of people think that I’m still in office.”
Garrison has lost count of the number of times her name has appeared on the ballot in Boston, but she has been campaigning daily for decades. In the past 30 years, she has sought multiple positions— from state rep and city council to, most recently, Register of Probate last year.
She has won an election outright just once— in 1992, when she was elected to represent the Fifth Suffolk district in the House of Representatives. In that instance, Garrison successfully petitioned to have her Democrat opponent, Nelson Merced, knocked off the ballot after challenging the validity of his nomination signatures.
She was unseated herself after a single term, losing decisively to Charlotte Golar Richie in 1994.
A resident of Woodcliff Street near Uphams Corner, Garrison said she will campaign on the same messages she has highlighted in previous election cycles: supporting public transportation, advocating for more affordable housing, and championing the police department.
Though she has not entirely ruled out a mayoral campaign, Garrison said she would love to support Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, who has expressed interest in running, but is not at this point a candidate.
She said it would be “wonderful” if Gross were mayor because “I work very well with the police. I think he would be outstanding.”
Since leaving City Hall, Garrison said she has remained active with the Uphams Corner Health Center, where she serves as vice-president of the board of directors. She will never stop running for office, she told the Reporter, because “it keeps me young. I’m out every day talking to people. That’s why I don’t have to spend as much money.”
She expressed her dissatisfaction over how her former colleagues on the council have handled the pandemic. “I didn’t see any of them supporting businesses like I would have— like they should have,” she said.
Boston’s municipal elections are non-partisan, but Garrison identifies herself as an independent who leans conservative, though she has also run as a Democrat and campaigned and served as a Republican during her one term in the Legislature.
In an election cycle already full with candidates touting progressive credentials, Garrison said she would like to see the council body swing more moderate.
If she decides to seek an at-large seat, she will join a so far small pool of candidates in the running.
Of the 13 seats on the panel, the 4 at-large seats are held by Michelle Wu, Annissa Essaibi George, Michael Flaherty, and Julia Mejia, who edged out the fifth-place finisher, Alejandra St. Guillien, by one vote in 2019.
Wu, who is an announced candidate for mayor, will leave a vacancy on the council. Essaibi George, who is seriously weighing a bid for mayor, would, if in the race, leave a second opening.
Several other candidates have already signaled their intent to run for at-large this year, including Dorchester’s David Halbert, who finished in eighth place in 2019, and Domingos DaRosa, who ran unsuccessfully for a citywide seat in the last two election cycles.
Alex Gray, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who works as a policy analyst at City Hall, is also running for an at-large seat, as is Nick Vance, a Hyde Park resident who grew up in Dorchester and Mattapan and served as political action co-chair for the Boston NAACP.