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2022 was year of historic firsts

Black, Latino communities make political gains in Boston, statewide

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
2022 was year of historic firsts
Andrea Campbell was elected attorney general, becoming the first Black woman elected to statewide office. PHOTO: ISAIAH THOMPSON

In the fields of politics and public policy, Boston’s communities of color made historic gains in 2022, with former City Councilor Andrea Campbell’s elevation to attorney general, Michelle Wu’s first full year as mayor and, for the first few months, a majority of people of color on the City Council.

After decades of incremental gains and setbacks, the seven-vote majority on the Council, coupled with the first woman of color elected to the mayor’s office, demonstrated the potential for change in a majority-people-of-color city. Two African Americans, a Cape Verdean woman, two Dominican women and a Puerto Rican man rounded out the council at the beginning of the year, although the departure of Lydia Edwards from the Council in May after her January win in the special election for the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex District state Senate seat dropped the number back down to six.

Edwards’ replacement for the East Boston/Charlestown/North End District 1 Council seat, Gabriela Coletta, has, however, voted with the progressive-leaning people-of-color majority, helping to preserve the bloc’s power.

Rachael Rollins is sworn in as U.S. attorney. BANNWE PHOTO

Nowhere was the power of the Black, Latino and progressive-white majority on the Council more apparent than during the body’s decennial redistricting process, where a small bloc of Irish American councilors — the group that has dominated the council for decades — failed to derail the passage of a map backed by a coalition of Black, Latino and Asian American advocacy groups.

State and county politics

During a historic electoral cycle for Massachusetts politics in which the state elected its first female, first openly-gay governor, Maura Healey, former District 4 City Councilor Andrea Campbell’s historic rise to the attorney general’s seat was no less significant. After winning a three-way Democratic primary, Campbell crushed her Republican opponent with 63% of the vote.

Campbell’s almost anti-climactic November victory against a poorly-funded Republican opponent was a theme that played out in Massachusetts statewide races in 2022, as right-leaning, Trump-supporting Republican candidates succumbed to their Democratic rivals. Despite its somewhat successful history of backing socially moderate, fiscally conservative governors and legislators, the party’s years-long shift to social conservativism seemed to accelerate during the Trump years, leading to its nomination of Trump-backer Geoff Diehl to run for governor and his 64% to 35% loss to Healey.

Black Republicans apparently have not been repulsed by the state party’s embrace of Trump’s racially divisive ideology. Challenging Secretary of State William Galvin, Rayla Campbell became the first Black woman to win nomination for a statewide seat on the GOP ticket. Predictably, her campaign, which featured a near-laser-focus on her allegations that Massachusetts schools are teaching young children to have gay sex, failed to draw in voters. She lost to Galvin, securing 29.5% of the vote.

Locally, the Suffolk County District Attorney race generated the most headlines — not for the public policy differences between progressive candidate Ricardo Arroyo, who has at times led the charge for police reform on the council, and veteran prosecutor Kevin Hayden, who served under former district attorneys Dan Conley and Ralph Martin — but rather for the dueling controversies generated by a pair of Boston Globe investigations.

Early on, Hayden appeared to take a hit after the Globe aired allegations his office had agreed to drop misconduct charges against an MBTA police officer shortly before Hayden hit up  the officer and his attorney for campaign contributions.

Later in the race, the Globe ran a series of stories alleging that Arroyo had twice been investigated for sexual assault. Although the police found the allegations in the first case to be unfounded and the victim in the second case said through her attorney that Arroyo was never a suspect in her assault, the damage was done. Arroyo lost the September primary, with the number of blanked ballots in the race exceeding Hayden’s margin of victory.

Michael Cox holds his first press conference as Police Commissioner. BANNER PHOTO

Criminal justice

Mayor Michelle Wu in July appointed former Ann Arbor, Michigan Police Chief Michael Cox to be commissioner of the Boston Police Department. Cox, who spent decades moving up the ranks in the BPD before leaving for Ann Arbor, takes the reins amid calls from activists to trim the department’s budget and reinvest funding in crime prevention programs. During his first few months as commissioner, the city saw an uptick in shootings and violent crimes by teenagers — a worrying trend amid a larger downward trend in violent crimes overall.

In addition to the police budget, activists and civil rights lawyers have taken aim at the department’s gang database, which purports to track members and so-called affiliates of gangs in Boston. The department’s definition of a gang — a group of three or more people who frequent an area and among whom at least one is or has engaged in criminal activity — is broad enough to capture a large segment of the city’s Black and Latino populations.

The database, which Wu publicly pledged to dismantle while campaigning for mayor in 2021, took a hit in January when U.S. appeals court justices determined that a Salvadoran teen who was deported based on his entry in the database was unjustly identified as a gang member.

“Flaws in that database, including its reliance on an erratic point system built on unsubstantiated inferences, compel us to conclude that the credibility judgment — and, in turn, the rejection of Diaz Ortiz’s request for relief — is not supported by substantial evidence,” the justices ruled.

MBTA

While Wu made good on her campaign pledge to expand free bus pilot projects in Boston, making the 28 bus fare-free, years of disinvestment in the MBTA seemed to bear fruit in August, when a month-long shutdown of the Orange Line forced commuters and students returning to work and school to use a system of shuttle buses while the transit agency performed track work. But after the shutdown ended in the second week in September, slowdowns and less frequent service remained a defining feature of MBTA subway travel in 2022.

Mass and Cass

One of the biggest stories of the year has been the evolving crisis of addiction that until this year was centered around the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue, where a nexus of treatment and harm reduction programs paired with a critical mass of dealers and users has led to encampments, public drug use, overdose and petty crime.

Under pressure from abutters in the South End and Lower Roxbury and local businesses in the area, Wu pledged to decentralize the problem by creating low-threshold housing and spreading treatment programs throughout the city. However, over the last year, new housing and treatment programs appear to have merely shifted from the Mass and Cass area into Roxbury, with nearly all of the city’s housing options sited in the predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood.

Adding to an already dense network of sober homes and group care facilities in Roxbury, state officials released a request for proposals for siting low-threshold housing for people experiencing homelessness and addiction at the Shattuck Hospital in Franklin Park, receiving a single bid from a coalition of nonprofits for 400 such units on the site.

The addition earlier this year on the Shattuck site of temporary housing structures and services for people struggling with addiction has already led to a marked increase in drug use, overdoses, public defecation and public sex in the park, according to a group of abutters who have been tracking such incidents.

Meanwhile, privately-led efforts to create housing for homeless people have met with stiff opposition. In Dorchester, the Pine Street Inn’s proposal to site a shelter on Morrissey Boulevard drew flak from neighborhood residents and elected officials in the area.

Looking ahead

In the coming year, Bostonians will likely be looking to the Wu administration for resolution of the Mass and Cass crisis. The mayor also will likely face pressure from housing activists and the Council to move forward with a home rule petition on rent control, to respond to the City Council’s coming push for an elected school committee, and to advance meaningful police reforms such as ending use of the gang database.