The City Council tomorrow might vote tomorrow on a proposal to seek the elimination of a special mayoral election should Marty Walsh leave for Washington before March 5 - although it might also defer action to better craft the required request to the state legislature.
At a long public hearing on the matter today, local NAACP President Tanisha Sullivan blasted a memo written by one of the council's attorneys last week that indicated Councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, who announced they were running for mayor even before President Biden picked Walsh as his labor secretary, and Councilor Kim Janey, who will become acting mayor when he leaves, would face potential state conflict-of-interest charges should they discuss or vote on the measure.
Sullivan, herself a lawyer, said she was shocked by this "complete misread of the law on its face," an "unconscionable" and "deeply "troubling" error so blatant it was obviously an attempt to "oppress and subjugate" three women of color seeking higher office by casting them as somehow violating the law.
Sullivan spoke after Janey herself read from what she said was a written communication from the state Ethics Commission hat she said actually faced no such conflict because the state ethics law specifically exempts work on home-rule petitions, the formal name for the request the city would have to forward to the state to bypass the special elections otherwise called for in the city charter.
The charter calls for a special election if a mayor leaves his or her post before a certain number of weeks before the regular election - which this year would be March 5. If that happens and the charter is not amended for this year, Bostonians could wind up voting for mayor four times: Once in a special preliminary to narrow the field to two candidates for a special election, then again in the regular preliminary in September and then the regular election in November.
Sullivan amplified City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who first proposed the change - and who is not running for mayor, but who is also a lawyer, who said he got a similar opinion from the Ethics Commission on the issue as Janey.
Arroyo said the potential for four elections in roughly five months would not only be expensive at a time when the city is no longer bringing in as much tax revenue as it used to before Covid-19, but would cause unacceptable health risks to both voters and city elections workers, particularly to minority, disabled and low-income voters, whom he said are already getting hit the hardest by the virus.
He noted that Lawrence, which is losing its mayor to a job in the Baker administration, recently won legislative approval to bypass a similar provision in its charter.
Janey said she supports bypassing special elections for the same reasons. Campbell said only that she was looking forward to hear from residents at the hearing. Wu either did not attend the Zoom hearing or did not speak.
In the first two hours of testimony, most speakers backed Arroyo's proposal, as did state representatives Russell Holmes and Nika Elugardo.
Eric Esteves of Roxbury said eliminating the special election would be "more equitable, safer and fiscally responsible."
Matt McCloskey of Roslindale said forcing people to go through four elections would be particularly irresponsible because the current state adoption of voting by mail and early voting, enacted last year, expires March 31, which might force far more people to vote, if they decide to take the risk, in person.
Priscilla Flint-Banks, who said she lost her mother to Covid-19, said forcing the extra elections would be "unfair, unkind and unreasonable."
In the first two hours, only one person spoke in support of possibly going with four elections. Sean Ryan of Roxbury said that elected officials have assumed greater powers during the pandemic and that even a public-health crisis might not be enough to warrant the precedent it would set of allowing such an easy change to an established law. Keeping the charter provision in place might be "necessary to protect the rule of law," he said.