Competing in the shadow of the Boston mayoral election, City Council hopefuls Josh Zakim and Michael Nichols will go head to head after beating out a field of five candidates on Tuesday, fighting to fill former mayoral candidate Mike Ross’s seat and represent District Eight in the Boston City Council.
Zakim, a lawyer at Greater Boston Legal Services, came in first place in the primary, garnering 2,691 votes or approximately 45 percent. He said public education is at the top of his agenda.
“Boston should be a place with good quality elementary schools and success from no matter what neighborhood you come from,” he said. “I want to make sure Boston is a place of opportunity … we need to look at innovative solutions for school systems and make sure folks have constants in government.”
Nichols, research director to the entire City Council, came in second in the primary with 1,619 votes, or approximately 27 percent, and said his top priorities are affordable housing in Boston’s neighborhoods and late-night transportation.
“[A priority is] making sure that people at every income level or none at all can afford to live in Boston,” he said. “[Another] one is late-night transportation, not only for the student population but those who work third-shift jobs, whether it be a hotel or a hospital, bar or restaurant — those folks don’t have reliable transportation.”
Although this election will affect only residents of Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway, Kenmore, Mission Hill and parts of the West End, voter turnout was low, with only 7,013 votes or about 21 percent of the number of registered people voting in the D8 city council primary election.
Katherine Einstein, a political science professor at Boston University, said voters are already too overwhelmed with the mayoral race to pay attention to the city council race.
“Mayors in Boston are more high salience and have more power than individual city councilors,” she said. “When you have this crowded mayoral field, that is already pretty complicated and hard to follow, you’re going to have interested voters focused on that election and not so much on the city council election,” she said.
She said because Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has been in office for decades and voters had to choose between 12 candidates, many did not have the time or energy to invest into voting for city council as well.
Nichols said light voter interest is not surprising and that he understands voters are tired and consumed with the mayoral race.
“It’s definitely the mayoral race … so that has demanded a lot of attention,” he said. “There were a lot of candidates to consider all at one time, 19 [city councilors] at-large, 12 mayoral and five in this [D8] race. Now that it’s down to 8 at-large, two mayoral and two in this race, [so] there are only 12 left that people have to be concerned with, so I think this race will get a lot more attention.”
Einstein said general election turnout is always higher than during the primaries, so more people will pay attention to this race leading up to the Nov. 5 election.
“The city councilors play an important role in the city policy-making process,” she said. “It would be great if voters could be informed on both elections. General election turnout is almost uniformly higher than primary election turnout. Even for a local election, we should expect more turnout in November than we saw in the primary election.”
Some residents said they were overwhelmed by the political ads and differentiating all the candidates from each other.
“The number of people running for mayor gave people a lot to choose from,” said John Wilson, 25, resident of Jamaica Plain. “People may have voted for whoever was more familiar instead of the different platforms they were running for.”
Lucy Meyers, a resident of Brookline, said although the mayoral race is more publicized, she believes the city council race will affect voters more directly.
“I think city council usually affects people more,” she said “It’s more local.”
Jillian Permiano, resident of Somerville, said voters are more concerned about the mayoral election because Menino has been a symbol of Boston for so long.
“It’s definitely about Menino,” she said. “Menino was forever such a force and symbol of Boston and I think people are looking for a new symbol.”