Commonwealth Corner: A Woman's Place is On The Ballot

November 10, 2017

On November 7th, voters turned out across the Commonwealth to elect new leaders from School Committee, to a State Senate Primary, to Mayor. While voter turnout was low, around 9% in cities like Holyoke and only 27% in Boston, the results were noteworthy.


Bostonians re-elected Mayor Marty Walsh by a margin of nearly 2:1 against City Councilor Tito Jackson. It was hardly a surprise given Mayor Walsh's success record, bipartisan support, and fundraising capabilities. Mayor Walsh has vowed to focus his next four years on affordable housing, economic growth, equality, and improving Boston Public Schools - dubbing his platform, "A City for All of Us." As for the seat Councilor Jackson gave up, come January it will be filled by Kim Janey, one of six women of color elected to the Council last week, making the upcoming City Council the most diverse in Boston's long history.


Framingham made news in April when its citizens voted to change the form of government from a town to a city. This paved the way for the election of Framingham's first Mayor, along with an 11-member City Council. The wave of voting in powerful and diverse women made its way from Boston's City Council to Framingham's municipal executive in the form of Mayor Yvonne Spicer, who bested one-time State Representative John Stefanini (D-Framingham).


The narrative of women running for and winning office is a powerful one. For example, Newton voters elected their first female mayor, Ruthanne Fuller, and elected 11 women to the City Council out of 25. Voters elected four women to Cambridge's City Council , including Sumbul Siddiqui, the city's first female Muslim Councilor. And in Leominster, Susan Chalifoux-Zephir was selected to face off against Dean Tran in a State Senate Primary to replace Senator Jennifer Flanagan. The numbers certainly aren't staggering, but when you consider that of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth, 97 have no elected women, this shift toward female candidates in an off year feels significant. According to Blue Lab, a student-run political think tank, in 2016 there were only 430 women holding an executive level office (i.e., mayor, city councilor, aldermen, etc.) in Massachusetts, or about 24% of the total elected positions available. If current trends are any indication, perhaps we will see that percentage increase to at least 30% come 2019.


The impact on Beacon Hill is minimal from the municipal elections of 2017. There were two special elections held on the 7th; one for the seat of the late Representative Gailanne Cariddi in North Adams, and one for the seat vacated by former-Representative Brian Dempsey in Haverhill. North Adams voted in former Mayor John Barrett III, who served as mayor of the city for 26 years, to carry on Representative Cariddi's legacy and champion the needs of Northern Berkshire County. Haverhill elected 24-year old Andy Vargas to the House of Representatives. Representative-elect Vargas has agreed to resign his seat as on the City Council in order to focus on filling the shoes of the powerful former House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey.  


As two new faces join Beacon Hill, two known entities will depart -- maybe. Representative Heroux won the mayoral seat in Attleboro but has publically stated he does not intend to give up his State House seat. The move is widely seen as an attempt to keep the seat in Democratic hands and away from Republican City Councilor Julie Hall, a likely candidate to replace Heroux. While this political gamesmanship has naturally drawn criticism from folks like Governor Baker, others including Speaker DeLeo have declined to comment one way or another. The decision to hold both elected offices is not unprecedented, but it is unusual.


One face that will definitely be leaving the Legislature is long-time Senator Tom McGee (D-Lynn) who won the Lynn mayoral race. The Senator's move from Beacon Hill to City Hall will trigger a special primary election and a general sometime this winter, with possible candidates including current State Representative Brendan Crighton, and former Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy.


If the 2017 cycle lacked much of the election drama we've all come to appreciate, that is certain to change in 2018. The even-year state-wide election cycle will be a doozy, with several ballot initiatives including the "Millionaire's tax," the Governor's race, contests for Senator Elizabeth Warren's seat and all nine Massachusetts seats in the US House of Representatives, along with all 160 State House and 40 State Senate seats. 


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