Walsh cruises to re-election in Boston mayoral race

Mayor Martin Walsh staved off his first mayoral challenge in decisive fashion on Nov. 7, defeating City Councillor Tito Jackson by more than 30 points, according to unofficial results from the city. In Dorchester, Walsh’s margin of victory mirrored his citywide success: He won his home neighborhood with 65 percent of the vote to Jackson’s 34 percent, according to a Reporter review of precinct returns.

Walsh asked Bostonians for a second four-year term this year, beginning the race as a heavy favorite in a city where no incumbent mayor has lost a re-election bid since James Michael Curley in 1949. His constituents answered his call by handing him a 31-point victory over Jackson in an election where turnout was stronger than expected by observers in the days leading up to the vote.

Reporter Editorial: Walsh earns a mandate in election sweep. Plus: How does Council President Pressley sound?

According to the city’s unofficial final tally, 108,909 ballots were cast, a 27.8 percent turnout. In the Sept. 26 preliminary, which Walsh won, 63.5 percent to runner-up Jackson’s 29 percent, the turnout figure was 14.45 percent.

On Tuesday night, the Reporter declared Walsh the winner at 8:39 p.m., less than 40 minutes after the polls closed.

In his celebratory speech, Walsh thanked supporters, volunteers, staff, and family, pledging “to make the greatest city in the world even greater.”
To Jackson, Walsh said, “Thank you for a spirited campaign.” And to those who voted for the councillor, he said, “Thank you for making your voices heard, and let us come together to build a city that is surely for all of us.”

The first black candidate to reach the general Boston mayoral election since 1983, the 42-year-old Jackson hails from Grove Hall on the border of Dorchester and Roxbury. Walsh, 50, a native of the Savin Hill village, cast his vote this year from his home precinct’s Lower Mills polling location.

Bellwether locations like Walsh’s old precinct, Savin Hill’s 13-10, and the Florian Hall double precinct, 16-11 and 16-12, saw some of the highest turnout in the city. Almost 760 votes were cast in 13-10, which boasted a 46.6 percent turnout; in 16-11 and 16-12, 603 and 698 voters hit 41 and 58.8 percent turnouts, respectively.

In the September preliminary, Jackson won his home precinct with 54 percent of the votes, though he did not carry District 7, which he has represented on the council, as a whole. Walsh won both his old and new home precincts by 70-plus-percent in the preliminary.

The mayor again posted lopsided vote totals in his Dorchester base on Tuesday. In Savin Hill’s 13-10, it was Walsh over Jackson, 608-151. Walsh was even more dominant in Florian Hall’s 16-12 precinct, where he notched 653 votes to Jackson’s 34, pushing 95 percent of the vote, per unofficial results.

Jackson saw more modest wins in Roxbury, his District 7 base. For example, in the 12-8 and 12-9 precincts at Higginson Lewis K-8 School, he posted a 304-188 victory over Walsh. He also performed well in Dorchester’s Ward 14, where he won six precincts.
Overall, Jackson won ten precincts in Dorchester, including the four in Ward 17 and one in Ward 13. The rest went to Walsh.

In Adams Corner’s 16-8, voters at the library branch on Adams Street delivered a 485-105 win for Walsh, who also won, 674-311, at the Lower Mills library. Margins such as these proved insurmountable for Jackson, who conceded defeat in a speech in a Roxbury restaurant just after 9:15 p.m.

“I need to acknowledge [that] about 15 minutes ago I called Mayor Walsh and congratulated him on his victory,” the challenger said. “I walked in here with my head unbowed. I walk in here with pride because this was never about me. It was never about Mayor Walsh. It was always about the people of Boston and what they need.”

Walsh’s team and supporters celebrated at the Fairmont Copley Plaza on Tuesday night as it became clear that the victory was all but assured.

Said state Rep. Dan Cullinane, who worked under Walsh when the latter was a representative, said, “It’s an exciting time for the city of Boston,” calling his former boss “a genuine and hardworking individual.”

Walsh turned out solid margins in areas that historically have experienced under-investment, like Mattapan, parts of which Cullinane represents. According to the Walsh campaign, the mayor won over 80 percent of the votes in precincts of color.

In his victory speech, the mayor said he would continue to push for Boston to be a city that’s a hub of opportunity for every individual in every neighborhood.” In his turn, Cullinane asserted that Boston is “a world class city, but still one we’re going to be comfortable handing to the next generation.”

Throughout the campaign, Walsh touted his leadership over a booming city, pointing to job growth, dropping unemployment, a slight stabilization in rents, and the increasing desirability of Boston as a technology and business hub.

In making his challenge, Jackson said that Boston is not serving all of its residents equally, particularly in areas of affordable housing and educational spending. He knocked Walsh for his leadership priorities, criticizing the failed pursuit of the 2024 Olympics and condemning the successful courting of General Electric through incentives as “a bet the city of Boston lost.”

Housing was a chief issue for voters in this campaign, consistently topping the list of concerns in polls throughout the year. Walsh says the city has made strides to protect low-income and affordable units, prioritizing increased production as a way to level out costs.

On Tuesday night, he noted the accumulation of more than 70,000 new jobs and 20,000 new housing units since his election in 2013. He mentioned the new libraries that are coming to Roxbury and Dorchester, the upcoming renovations at Franklin Park, and greater investment and more cohesive start times for the public schools.

After securing four more years at City Hall, and with a prospective 2022 gubernatorial run already the subject of speculation, Walsh reminded supporters that casting cards in elections are not the only votes that count in a growing city.
Bostonians, he said, “vote with our feet to come here, and vote with our hearts to stay.”

A good day for incumbents

Walsh’s was not the only safe seat after the polls closed.

At-large councillors Michelle Wu, Ayanna Pressley, Michael Flaherty, and Annissa Essaibi-George all won re-election. Wu topped the ballot with 24.3 percent, followed by former three-time-ticket-topper Ayanna Pressley with 21.6 percent, Flaherty with 19.4 percent, and Essaibi-George with 17.1 percent.

“I’m waking up this morning with a grateful heart and determined footsteps,” Pressley wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning after a “decisive” fifth re-election. “I get to continue doing the work that I love, with and for the people of Boston whom I love.”

When Pressley was elected in 2009, she was the lone woman on the council, and the first woman of color ever elected to a seat on that body. With the re-election of Wu, Essaibi-George, Andrea Campbell in District 4, and her new colleagues, Lydia Edwards in District 1 and Kim Janey in District 7, Pressley has seen a record surge of women to the council.

None of their challengers broke 10 percent, although former state representative Althea Garrison notched a fifth-place post with 6.9 percent of votes.

Reporter Editor Bill Forry contributed to this report.