2022 Politics: Wu hires have Dot connections … New faces head to Beacon Hill

Mary Skipper of BPS and Arthur Jemison of BPDA

Boston City Hall ended 2022 with a well-stocked mayoral cabinet, including several members with Dorchester connections.

Mary Skipper, the superintendent of the Boston Public Schools (BPS), is a resident and the founding head of TechBoston Academy, formerly known as Dorchester High, while Michael Cox, the police commissioner, lived in the neighborhood before he decamped for Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Arthur Jemison, Wu’s chief of planning, has returned to Dorchester, moving into a condo inside a three-decker, after stints working for the city of Detroit and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. He had previously worked for Gov. Deval Patrick’s housing secretariat, as well as the Massachusetts Port Authority, the Boston Housing Authority, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), which he now oversees as director.

“I wanted to come back to the neighborhood because it's where my family and I've had great times,” he told the Reporter in an interview earlier this year.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the Wu administration has others with Dorchester ties: Operations chief Dion Irish and environment chief Mariama White-Hammond, who also founded Dorchester’s New Roots AME Church, stayed on from previous administrations. Jessicah Pierre, Wu’s communications chief, lives in Dorchester and is former Reporter columnist.

But new hires Jemison, Skipper, and Cox have another thing in common: All face the task of rebuilding a societal trust that has crumbled in the face of scandals and public wariness of institutions.

Despite its rebranding under the Walsh administration, residents have continued to eye the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA, but still formally the Boston Redevelopment Authority) with suspicion. During the 2021 mayoral race, it continued to be a punching bag for candidates.

The city has remained one of the safest in America, the Boston Police Department has had criminals working at its desks, from overtime thieves to a longtime union leader convicted of child rape.

At BPS, enrollment continues declining as violence rocks some schools. Wu managed to stave off a state takeover of city schools just days before the School Committee narrowly voted to choose Skipper, whom insiders viewed as the mayor’s choice, too.

Skipper joined Wu at an event in Mattapan the day after the vote and told the Reporter that she has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years. “I love Dorchester,” she said. “I think being back in Boston, which literally raised me as an educator and where I learned to be a teacher, where I learned to be a principal and where I learned to be a district leader, it just feels so natural to be back and work in the community in which I live.”

Mattapan’s Campbell wins AG race, Healey first openly gay gov
The City Council has become more of a launchpad for higher elected office in the last ten years than in the decade before, with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Mayor Wu among the notables. Mattapan’s Andrea Campbell added her name to the list this year.

Months after losing the 2021 mayoral preliminary, Campbell pivoted to running for attorney general, a statewide slot that opened up with Maura Healey deciding to pursue the governor’s office. (Charlie Baker, part of a dwindling crew of moderate Massachusetts Republicans, tipped off the domino effect by saying he would not run for reelection.)

The Democratic primary largely came down to Campbell, who represented Mattapan and Dorchester as the District 4 councillor, and Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney who poured more than $9 million of her own money into the campaign. For her part, Campbell raised millions from donors and benefited from the backing of an outside group, also known as super PAC, that had few fundraising restrictions.

Campbell won the primary by 16 points, and trounced the Republican nominee, Cape Cod attorney James McMahon, handing Massachusetts Democrats another victory. She is the first Black woman elected statewide and to hold the AG’s office.

On the same ballot, Healey won and became the first elected woman, and the first openly gay person, to gain the chair in the Corner Office, handily beating former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Republican who welcomed the backing of a former president and insurrectionist who never picked up more than 34 percent of the vote in Massachusetts presidential elections.

In Boston, Diehl lost by more than 100,000 votes, a much larger margin than Baker saw four years ago, when he lost the Democratic stronghold by roughly 4,000 votes.

This year’s ballot also had a so-called millionaires’ tax, which passed 52 percent to 48 percent. The constitutional amendment, which proponents say will send billions into education and transportation accounts, sets up an additional 4 percent state income tax on annual taxable income above $1 million. The tax kicked in Sunday.

Down ballot bedlam
The statewide races were placid when compared to what was happening down ballot. An acerbic race for Suffolk district attorney dominated headlines in the leadup to the September primary, as Hyde Park Councillor Ricardo Arroyo and interim DA Kevin Hayden battled for the Democratic nomination.

Boston Globe stories about the candidates landed like depth charges: Hayden was accused of mishandling an investigation involving misconduct by Transit Police officers, and Arroyo fought back against sexual assault allegations from when he was a teenager. Neither allegation led to charges.

Hayden won 53.5 percent to Arroyo’s 45.6 percent, with 8,340 people choosing to skip the race on their ballot. Hayden did not face a GOP opponent in the general election.

The primary was also decisive in campaigns for the Second Suffolk Senate district and the Fifth Suffolk House. The two open seats were the result of Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, first elected in 2008, deciding to run for governor. She suspended her campaign in June.

State Rep. Liz Miranda won a primary that included fellow state Rep. Nika Elugardo, former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, and former federal housing official Miniard Culpepper. In the contest for Miranda’s seat, Boston Planning and Development staffer Chris Worrell beat Danielson Tavares, a former top aide in the Walsh administration.
Miranda and Worrell are set to be sworn in and start their two-year terms this week.

Five new councillors make their marks; redistricting roils body
The year began with five new members joining the 13-member City Council, and the body marking 200 years since the town of Boston became a city. Its first government comprised a mayor, a Board of Aldermen, and a Common Council with 55 members. Reform in 1909 led to a single City Council, and further changes (like the number of sitting members) followed over the years. It would take more than 100 years to see a woman or person of color elected to the city’s legislature, as Mayor Wu pointed out at an outdoor swearing-in ceremony last January. Mildred Harris was the first woman elected to the City Council, representing Roxbury and the South End, in 1937.

The new members included Ruthzee Louijeune, the first Haitian American to serve; a former teacher, Erin Murphy of Dorchester; Roxbury’s Tania Fernandes Anderson, the first Muslim and an immigrant from Cape Verde; Dorchester’s Brian Worrell, the first Black man to serve on the council since 2017, when Tito Jackson gave up his seat to run for mayor; and Jamaica Plain’s Kendra Lara, the first person of color to represent District 6. (Later in the year, East Boston’s Gabriela Coletta, who has Italian and Mexican heritage, replaced her former boss, Lydia Edwards, when the councillor won a special state Senate election.)

The thirteen quickly turned to the business of choosing the council’s president, an internally elected position. But while Ed Flynn won the presidency and the bigger office that comes with it, he obtained it with the help of Ricardo Arroyo and the Hyde Park councillor’s allies, and Arroyo has continued to wield significant influence.

That became obvious during the battle over redrawing the council’s district boundaries, also known as redistricting, a decennial affair that follows every US Census. Amid a divisive DA’s race, Flynn had stripped Arroyo of his committee chairmanships, which included the responsibility for shepherding a new map focused on diversifying the population of the districts to the mayor’s desk. The move drew rebukes from Arroyo's allies over a lack of due process.

But both publicly and behind the scenes, Arroyo worked with outside advocates and the new chair, Allston-Brighton's Liz Breadon, to craft compromise maps. The one that passed 9 to 4 and gained Mayor Wu’s signature bore Arroyo’s imprint.

The discordant notes played during the DA’s race carried over into the twists and turns of redistricting, as councillors haggled for weeks over which precincts would go where. Dorchester’s Frank Baker, a Hayden supporter who on the Council floor referred to Arroyo as a "predator,” saw a significant chunk of the southern section of his district shifted over into the district represented by Worrell, while Flynn lost several South Boston precincts to Baker.

Before the vote on the final map, an enraged Baker accused Breadon of anti-Catholic bias, a wild allegation that shocked and bewildered the assembled crowd in the Council chamber. Breadon hit back, telling colleagues, “That is not what’s happening here. I’m standing up for the rights of minority communities – Hispanic, Asian, and Black – to have equal access to voting, and to elect the candidate of their choice.”

On Dec. 20, several days after the last Council meeting of the year, Flynn sent out a summary of 2022, calling it a “transitional year” for the city. The memo pointed to $2.2 million for parks and playgrounds, support for renaming a South End school after former state Rep. Mel King, and $500,000 for sidewalk improvements, among other items.

“The list of what we have worked on is long, and I have included more details below,” Flynn wrote, citing hearings on pest control and trash containment and resolutions supporting various unions and declaring gun violence as a public health emergency. Redistricting went unmentioned.

Material from previous Reporter articles was used in this report.

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