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Ayanna tops at-large City Council race

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Ayanna tops at-large City Council race
At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley greets supporters gathered on Dorchester Avenue. Pressley topped the ticket in Tuesday's balloting with 37,506 votes, becoming the first woman and first African American to do so in Boston's history. (Photo: Yawu Miller)

At-large councilor Felix G. Arroyo greets supporters Aaron Tanaka and Kelly Bates at his victory party at James’s Gate in Jamaica Plain. Arroyo won the second highest number of votes in Tuesday’s election, with 35,465.

In a stunning upset, at-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley topped the ticket in Tuesday’s election with 37,506 votes, closely followed by fellow incumbent Felix G. Arroyo, who garnered 35,465.

Pressley’s strong showing at the polls marked several important firsts – the first time a woman has been the top vote-getter and the first time a person of color has done so as well. Coupled with Arroyo’s 2nd place finish, the election results point to what many say is a sea change in Boston’s political scene.

“The game has changed,” said political commentator Marvin Venay, celebrated Pressley’s victory at Tivolo, the Ashmont Square restaurant where she held her victory party. “The first African American woman to be elected to the city council has now broken through the glass ceiling and topped the ticket.”

Incumbent John Connolly came in 3rd with 32,803 votes and incumbent Steven Murphy held onto his seat with 26,712 votes, narrowly beating out challenger Michael Flaherty, who garnered 25,790 votes.

This year’s election results flipped the script on the last municipal election in 2009, when Connolly was the top vote-getter and Murphy, the second highest. The results also flew in the face of conventional wisdom, which holds that black, Latino and Asian candidates fare worse than their white counterparts in low-turnout municipal elections when there is no mayoral election.

Tuesday night, dozens of Pressley supporters stood on the Dorchester Ave. sidewalk outside Tivolo. As Pressley arrived, a surging crowd surrounded her chanting “number one.”

Removing her high-heels, Pressley stood on a folding chair to address the crowd.

“I can’t believe what we’ve accomplished tonight as a city,” she said. “I’m so fortunate and so blessed. We had over 500 boots on the streets today.”

After thanking supporters, Pressley ceded the microphone to Gov. Deval Patrick.

“This is Ayanna’s night, but it’s also our night,” he said. “Anybody who doubts that you have all the power you need to make all the change you want – come and look at the outcome of this election.”

Over in Jamaica Plain, Arroyo supporters gathered at the James’s Gate restaurant to celebrate his re-election.

“It’s clearly a great day for me and Ayanna,” Arroyo said. “I’m so grateful that the voters of Boston decided to elect us to a second term.”

Arroyo said the election results show increasing clout in the city’s communities of color.

“I don’t know whether it’s a new Boston so much as it’s an acceptance of the fact that our communities have a voice and we’re expanding that voice at the ballot box”

The supporters gathered at Pressley’s party included a mixed-race mélange of Democratic party insiders, political activists in the black community and advocates for many of the issues Pressley champions on the council.

“What a great night and what a testament to Boston,” said Priti Rao, executive director of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus. “In a low turnout-year, voters recognized Ayanna’s work taking on serious issues. This vote is the city of Boston supporting the work she’s doing.”

In her first term on the council, Pressley put much of her focus on women and low-income families, highlighting issues including teen pregnancy, human trafficking, sexual assault and employment equity.

Her victory comes on the heels of what she has described as one of her most difficult years. Pressley spent much of the summer campaign season sidelined by her mother’s fight with Leukemia. Her mother died in August. During her victory speech, Pressley invoked her mother’s memory.

She was my she-ro, my bedrock,” she said. “Losing her was a heart-break. I know that the best way to honor her is to continue the work she inspired.”

Pressley, a former aide to U.S. Sen. John Kerry, was able to amass a strong base of volunteers to staff her city-wide organization, including more than 500 volunteers who worked her campaign on election day.

Among them was state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who door-knocked for Pressley over the weekend, participated in a Grove Hall standout on Monday and handed out literature for Pressley on election-day in front of the Martin Luther King towers in Roxbury.

“Seeing Ayanna in the top spot is great,” Chang-Diaz said during the victory celebration. “It’s a testament to her hard work.”

Tuesday was the culmination of a campaign season that was marked by shifting alliances and fierce competition between the four incumbent at-large councilors and three challengers.

In June, Conley and Murphy began pushing the idea of running a slate of all four incumbents. Pressley and Arroyo did not buy in. More recently, Pressley began working in tandem with Conley.

More recently, Pressley joined forces with District 7 Councilor Tito Jackson, Arroyo and District 4 Councilor Charles Yancey as part of a joint campaign to boost turnout in the low-voting precincts their they represent.

Monday, that alliance seemed more tenuous, after political activists in the black community say they saw Jackson supporters handing out fliers urging support for Steven Murphy.

“There was talk at the polls about where were people’s allegiances,” said political activist Danielle Williams, who says she saw Jackson supporters handing out Murphy literature at her polling place.

Jackson denied his campaign was helping Murphy.

“My priority is getting Felix and Ayanna re-elected,” he said.

Venay said he saw Jackson supporters handing out flyers for Murphy at the Boys and Girls club on Warren Street and at the Martin Luther King tower. Williams said she saw Jackson supporters putting up Murphy signs at polling places in District 7.

Jackson also hosted Murphy on his weekly radio spot on Touch 106.1 on Monday.