Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell proposed several changes to the council Monday that include extending councilors’ terms from two to four years, barring candidates from running for two city positions at once and requiring a special election when there is a vacancy in one of the four at-large council seats.
“There are ways I think we can change some of our election procedures … to strengthen us as a body, making us more autonomous,” Campbell said Monday.
Barring candidates from running for two city positions is something that should have been done a long time ago. Allowing people to run for multiple positions sends a poor message: those candidates simply want a government position. When anyone runs for office, they should express why they want to represent the people in that role explicitly.
If voted and passed by the council, the proposals would still require the approval from the State Legislature. A similar proposal to extend terms passed the council in 2016 but was not passed by the state.
Boston spends about $800,000 on every election, according to City Elections Commissioner Dion Irish. When considering preliminary and general municipal elections, the Boston Globe reported, the City could save about $1.6 million if it did not have to host preliminary and general municipal elections every two years.
Creating special elections for vacated seats is an important step in improving the democratic process. Special elections already exist when there is a vacancy for one of the council’s district seats.
A current At-Large City Councilor, Althea Garrison, has run for local election 32 times. She was only able to obtain her seat after former At-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Because Garrison was the fifth-runner up in the election for the at-large City Council seats, she gained a seat to represent all of Boston. It didn’t matter that she only garnered 6.87 percent of the vote in the 2017 election.
According to the Globe, City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu was skeptical about extending the term for councilors. Wu expressed concern that it could discourage people from running for office against incumbents.
However, District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley disagreed, saying he believed it would allow candidates to build up their own profiles and campaign finances.
A two-year term forces councilors to be in an almost constant state of campaigning. Instead of constantly worrying about donations, four years is enough time for councilors to forget about the next election and focus on passing legislation to improve the lives of Boston residents.
Ian Kea, the communications and advocacy manager of Mass Vote, an organization that promotes political participation, said the organization would support extending council terms since it could improve voter interest in council elections and allow councilors to spend more time doing their jobs.
“For too long, and too often, we have to see public officials campaigning for half the time,” he told the Globe.
Voter participation should be a concern for the city councilors, as well. In the last two elections when the mayor was not on the ballot, 2015 and 2011, voter participation was 13.63 percent and 18.14 percent.
But in the past two elections where the mayor was on the ballot — in 2017 and 2013 — voter participation was 27.80 percent and 38.17 percent, respectively.
Therefore, it is clear that extending the City Councilors’ terms to four years would be positive. By having elections that would always coincide with the mayoral election, the City Councilors At-Large turnout would roughly double based off past elections.
The mayor and the City Council work side-by-side to represent the people of Boston, so it makes sense that the City Council and mayor have elections at the same time. While the mayor currently overshadows the council as the preeminent representative figure for Boston, the City Council works tirelessly to express the concerns of all Bostonians.