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Boston City Council candidates hit the streets for open seats

Howard Manly | 9/11/2013, 11:57 a.m.
Michelle Wu and Ava Callendar are two at-large candidates for Boston City Council that have worked hard knocking on doors, ...
Standing above the first two letters of her name on the campaign banner, At-Large City Council candidate Michelle Wu joins supporters in Dudley Square. Courtesy of Michelle Wu

Wu says she is hoping for the best turnout, which partly explains why she has focused on a grassroots campaign of the type that not only saw Warren win, but also Deval Patrick and Pressley, the City Council’s first female of color, who topped the at-large ticket in a historic 2011 election with more than 35,000 votes.

But based on her interactions with potential voters, Wu says many are “overwhelmed” and almost fatigued by several recent special elections.

District Five candidate Ava Callendar adds another word to Boston electorate — “confused.”

When Councilor Rob Consalvo launched a bid for mayor, his seat representing District Five attracted nine different candidates.

Further complicating matters is last year’s city redistricting map. It stripped away parts of Mattapan from District Four — longtime city councilor and mayoral candidate Charles Yancey’s seat — and added them to nearby District Five, making it significantly more diverse. More than 70 percent of residents in District Five will be voters of color, and almost 50 percent of the voting-age population will be black.

Those sorts of numbers should help Callendar’s campaign. Consalvo won the District Five seat in 2011 with a little more than 6,000 votes and he was virtually unopposed. In the last two months alone, Callendar says she has met at least 2,000 potential voters in the new district. “It really comes down to who can reach out to the most voters,” she says.

But, she quickly added, she has spent a lot of time explaining just who can vote in District Five. “A lot of residents are confused about the new district boundaries,” she said. “A lot of folks in the old District Five didn’t know that they are now a part of District Four.”

Once that is cleared up, Callendar says she can talk about the issues and why she believes she is the one to represent the new district.

For Callendar, politics is in her DNA. She was raised by her grandmother, the former State Rep. Willie Mae Allen. “She took me everywhere when I was a little girl,” Callendar says. “So I started in politics really, really early.”

Hanging out with her grandmother led Callendar to become politically active as a teenager. She served on several political task forces and youth councils as a high school student at Boston Latin Academy. She continued her political work after she graduated from Johnson C. Smith College, a historically black college in North Carolina, by working for her cousin, the esteemed U.S. Democratic Whip James E. Clyburn, (D-S.C.), the man President Barack Obama once said is, “one of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens.”

Callendar is now attending New England Law School and has worked as a victim’s advocate for Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley.

Like Wu, she hopes to increase the diversity of City Council members. More importantly, she says, she wants to increase constituent services and give her district a reliable voice.

“I don’t want to be a city councilor that only sits in their office,” Callendar says. “I want to be out with the people, listening to their concerns and making city government more responsive to their needs.”