By Seth Daniel
The Boston City Council voted 12-1 last Wednesday, April 6, to approve a home rule petition that would lengthen Council terms to four years from the existing two-year terms.
As a Home Rule Petition, the matter must still be approved by Mayor Martin Walsh and the State Legislature before becoming law.
Voting against the measure was Council President Michelle Wu.
The change is the result of a yearlong examination of the City Charter by the Charter Change Committee led by Dorchester Councilor Frank Baker. The change in the length of a term was something initially suggested last year, and then re-introduced in the new session. A public hearing took place in March.
Wu said she voted against the matter because
“My concern with moving to four-year Council terms is that this would strengthen incumbency and raise barriers for new candidates,” she said. “I believe having an election every two years is important for accountability and representation.”
She said she recalled as a new candidate having to work extremely hard to raise money so that she could prove to be a viable candidate. She said giving incumbents more time to amass larger campaign accounts would only discourage new candidates.
However, councilors such as Sal LaMattina said they supported the effort because it made more sense and would potentially attract more candidates for office. It also, he said, would save the City money on an off year with no mayoral race.
“I support this for two reasons,” he said. “First, in the off-year without a mayor’s race you have very, very low voter turnout. To run a election where no one votes costs $800,000. You would also get more candidates if it’s every four years instead of every two years. That’s the two reasons I voted for this.”
The nuts and bolts of the matter would extend the term so it lines up with the Mayoral election cycle. Councilors would only be up for election on years when the mayor is up for election.
In another less controversial matter, the Council voted to bar candidates from running for two municipal offices at the same time – something done in the last election cycle by former Councilor Charles Yancey when he ran for Council and mayor.
That was approved 12-0. “It’s just not right and not fair,” said LaMattina. “That was something we had to take care of.”
Mayor Martin Walsh said this week he is still reviewing both proposals and hasn’t taken a stance on either yet.
Both matters have to be approved by Mayor Walsh first, and then they would be sent to the State House as a home rule petition. There, the State Legislature would have to approve the change.