Emotions run high as Boston progressives process preliminaries

Wu says voters still turned out for progressive candidates

TUESDAY’S PRELIMINARY election was a drubbing for two of the Boston City Council’s most outspoken progressive voices, but the city’s progressive mayor rejected the idea that the results represent an indictment of the movement’s power in Boston.

In Districts 5 and 6, where embattled incumbents Ricardo Arroyo and Kendra Lara lost their seats amid ethics and legal scandals, “the majority of the votes went to candidates who define themselves as wanting to be in that progressive agenda and aligned with what we’re trying to do in the administration of bringing about needed change,” Mayor Michelle Wu told reporters after a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Ben Weber in District 6 and Enrique Pepén in District 5, who took the top spots in the preliminaries, “also define themselves as people who are interested in not settling for what has been, pushing for what’s needed, and doing so in a way that can really be effective and get things done,” Wu said.

Wu endorsed Pepén, who previously served as her director of neighborhood services, over her former council colleague Arroyo. Former mayor Marty Walsh endorsed retired police officer Jose Ruiz in that same race.

The evening’s results were a surprise to many. The District 5 contest, covering Hyde Park and Roslindale, was expected to be a proxy war showing how much political muscle Wu has amassed and how much Walsh has retained. Instead, the candidates endorsed by the city’s current and former mayor both advanced to the final in the District 5 race, with Arroyo placing third.

“I think every election is an opportunity for voters to look at all of those who are putting themselves forward, and get to know candidates and think about the whole set of considerations,” Wu said. “There were very strong choices in that in that field, and I think some of them have worked incredibly, incredibly hard, in these last few weeks especially, and the voters have spoken.”

Progressives who backed Lara and Arroyo took to social media as the results, and concessions, rolled out.

The election was a referendum on progressivism in Boston, they said, arguing that the results reflected forceful backlash to a council body that looked more diverse and left-wing than ever. Lara’s car crash and Arroyo’s ethical issues could have been met with more compassion rather than a concerted effort to broom them out of office, progressives said.

“Folks can chalk it up to ‘bad behavior’ by individual councilors but a lot of the outrage over said behavior has been fueled by an unhinged, fiercely reactionary group of people in/around Boston,” journalist Miles Howard wrote in a thread.

“The cops, conservative council members and the old white guard in Boston engaged in a campaign to manufacture controversy, conflict and discord and pin it on the Black and Brown people that fought against it and their racism and so many of y’all fell for it hook, line and sinker,” posted Mark Martinez, a staff attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and former staffer to Sen. Patricia Jehlen who ran for a legislative seat himself before being priced out of the Boston district.

Lara herself told supporters at her election night event, “When you fight the system, sometimes the system fights back, and today we lost this battle.”

When asked if framing the results as the system pushing back against councilors of color and progressive candidates seemed fair, Wu tried to soften the tenor of the discussion.

“Today is a very emotional day,” she said. “It’s incredibly difficult to separate out relationships and people who are in elected office at the same time as being members of their family and living lives that are deeply impacted by decisions like this, which can be unpredictable. And so my focus is on making sure that we continue to steer the discussion towards what’s needed in the term ahead.”

Progressive groups who endorsed Lara and Arroyo could still have some skin in the game heading into November.

Walsh and outgoing councilor Frank Baker’s pick for Dorchester’s District 3, John FitzGerald, was the dominant top-vote getter in the preliminary. He will face teacher Joel Richards, who highlights a message of supporting affordable housing and good neighborhood schools for getting him across the preliminary finish line. Incumbent progressive councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson will face perennial candidate Althea Garrison in November for the mostly Roxbury and Dorchester District 7 seat, and Julia Mejia will again be running to keep her at-large council seat.