Look who landed in Roxbury council final

Roy Owens’s success speaks to low voter turnout and interest in Black community

THERE HAS BEEN much consternation and reflection since last week’s Boston mayoral preliminary about the failure of any of the three Black candidates to land a spot on the November final election ballot. 

“One big reason is that voter turnout was anemic,” writes Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, a veteran Black political strategist, in today’s Boston Herald. “In the Black community, at a time when we had the most to gain, we did not come out in the numbers we needed to win.” 

But the outcome of another race may say as much about the woeful state of political activism and energy in the city’s Black community.

In the contest for the open District 7 city council seat based in Roxbury, perennial candidate Roy Owens, who shows up reliably on Boston ballots for everything from City Council to Congress but invariably falls short of ever winning, landed one of the two slots for the final election to replace Kim Janey, who gave up the seat to run for mayor.

Tania Anderson, director of the Bowdoin-Geneva Main Streets office, a business district improvement organization, placed first in the eight-candidate preliminary with 2,014 votes. But Owens eked out a second-place win over Angelina Camacho, an administrator with the Boston Public Health Commission, finishing 28 votes ahead of her with 1,284 votes to Camacho’s 1,256. 

Owens, who espouses religious-based right-wing social positions decrying abortion, sex ed in classrooms, and the prohibition against prayer in public schools, has run for various offices for decades. Last year, he was on the ballot as an independent against US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, with a campaign website that the Globe said touted  “traditional family values” and featured COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

Owens could not be reached, but in a voice message he said he is “trying to make commonsense make sense.” He added that he favors a tax break for homeowners before going on to say that over the last year in District 7 “tens of thousands of Blacks been moved out,” with “many groups of people that’s been brought in to replace them, whether from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, India” or others “from south of the border.” 

“He has run in every election there’s been, so he’s got name recognition,” said veteran Black activist Barry Lawton, who was in a state rep race that included Owens more than 25 years ago. As for Owens’s political bearings, “He’s to the right of Texas,” said Lawton. 

But that name recognition and perhaps a base of support among a slice of District 7 voters were enough for Owens to place second, Lawton said, amid the dismal turnout in Black precincts that was well below the citywide 25 percent showing.

“The problem with Black folks and why we can’t generate any votes is there’s nobody we trust,” Lawton said, describing a vicious cycle at work. “There’s no benefit seen to voting because we haven’t seen any return on it.” 

Segun Idowu, president of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, said his phone “lit up” with people expressing surprise that Owens landed a spot in the final. 

Hedging his bets, Owens also ran in the at-large city council race, placing 15th in the 17-candidate field. He also has a website up and running for another congressional run next year. “If you are not ashamed of your God, take a stand with Roy Owens for CONGRESS,” it says, plugging the dates of the 2022 primary and general election.  

On Monday, Camacho filed petitions with the city election department seeking a recount of Owens’s 28-vote margin over her. 

She lamented the low turnout in the race that saw just 8,500 voters cast ballots in the district, less than half the 21,000 voters who turned out in the West Roxbury-Jamaica Plain district that also had an open race for a district council seat. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“When they don’t come out to speak their choice, that’s them telling us we have work to do,” Camacho said of the District 7 voters who stayed home. “We didn’t do enough to get people excited about local government, and that’s a job we have.” 

“The main thing that people kept saying repeatedly is we go out and we ask for support and then we get quiet behind the walls of City Hall,” Camacho said of her experience trying to energize voters. “Once we get into office, they don’t see us, they don’t hear from us.”