Take-aways from Tuesday’s voting

Please allow for a few first-draft observations as the dust settles from the 2023 City Council election.

It will be tempting to frame the ’23 municipal cycle as a “change election”— and Tuesday’s results will give some credence to that narrative. September’s preliminary brought the shocker of two incumbent district councillors — Ricardo Arroyo and Kendra Lara— getting shown the door, basically by the same constituents who swept them into office. But were those voters motivated less by policy and ideology than by the perceived personal foibles of the incumbents? Tuesday’s results seem to suggest the latter.

Lara and Arroyo were scandalized by well-documented allegations of impropriety in the run-up to their election defeats. But each will be succeeded by self-professed progressives – Ben Weber and Enrique Pepen – who are more in line with them on policy matters than the two men, Jose Ruiz and William King, whom they defeated.

Above, Mayor Wu celebrated with Councillor-elect Henry Santana at his victory party in Mission Hill on Tuesday. Chris Lovett photo

Tuesday was an exceptionally good day for Mayor Wu and a bad night for her detractors. The four candidates she endorsed in contested races all won, including Henry Santana, a 27-year-old whose trajectory from relative obscurity to citywide councillor-elect in six months has been remarkable.

But there’s a follow-up point: This was also a pretty weak at-large field, in reality a five-person race with three also-rans, including two notorious conspiracy theorists, Shawn Nelson and Catherine Vitale. Their campaigns peaked the day they made the ballot, but at least they had something to do for several months instead of shouting at the mayor and others with whom they disagree.

Ruthzee Louijeune shined on Tuesday in her second time on the citywide ballot—topping the ticket. So, too, did Erin Murphy, who finished close behind her and was also re-elected for the first time. Murphy showed strength in parts of the city far flung from her solid Neponset base. And, she now has a close ally in the next District 3 councillor, John FitzGerald, a promising leader for whom she campaigned. Louijeune’s strong showing underscored the city’s eagerness for a more centrist approach to governing, as Murphy proved skeptics who thought her “weakest” link among the incumbents to be dead wrong.

That distinction goes instead to her Dorchester neighbor, Julia Mejia, who took a survivalist approach to her second re-election bid – eschewing the idea of either giving or receiving endorsements. Survive she did. But the early read is that Mejia underperformed compared to her last outing, perhaps a byproduct of her being seen as too closely aligned with the hard-left of the council, which clearly lost members and momentum this season.

Tuesday was a happy outcome for Frank Baker, the outgoing District 3 councillor who saw his preferred successor, John FitzGerald, romp in the final and his closest council ally, Murphy, nearly top the ticket at-large.

"It’s been a total pleasure and the joy of my life to represent this neighborhood and to be a person from Boston and have a say in what happens in our schools and on our streets," Baker said at FitzGerald's victory party.

Tuesday was also a comeuppance for those right-leaning donors who’ve sought to influence this cycle, some by pouring in PAC dollars in the final stretch to promote candidates and challenge Wu’s leadership. It was yet another rejection of that tone-deaf approach.

It’s hard to get too excited about any election when less than 20 percent of the electorate bothers to participate. But there’s reason to believe that the re-alignment promised in the next council will see a more collaborative, collegial, and productive approach at work. Despite the wailings of naysayers who seem to wish it, Boston isn’t a failing city. It’s in good hands.

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