Edwards: Four-Year Term Will Drive Voter Turnout, Participation

Councilor Lydia Edwards this week said she will defend and support the Council’s recent vote to start the process of creating a four-year term for City Council – dispatching the current two-year election cycle for the Council.

The vote by the Council on Feb. 13 was part of a larger package that included early voting in municipal elections and instituting the ‘Yancy Rule’ to prevent someone from running for Council and mayor in the same election.

The most controversial piece of that package however – which does require mayoral and state legislative approval before it can become law – is making a four-year term for the Council. The effort was attempted a few years ago, but failed at the State House, and now the Council is making a new attempt to extend their terms.

Councilor Edwards said many people have characterized it as members of the Council trying to enact an unfair advantage by creating longer terms. She said that could not be further from the case and that it is all about increasing voter turnout.

“In this election coming, the amount of folks that would come out in an off-year election between a mayoral and presidential election is going to be dismal,” she said. “I will be doing everything I can to get people to vote, but voters don’t see the point of coming out. We need ideas to get people to vote and this one of them.”

She said by making a new four-year term that is co-terminus with the mayor, they would be able to create more accountability for members and generate more interest in their election.

“We are trying to align it with the mayoral elections,” she said. “We want the turnout and an even playing field. The City Council serves just as important a function as the mayor and should be just as accountable as the mayor. I do believe people will come out and vote in larger numbers if we do this.”

Councilor Michelle Wu and Councilor Josh Zakim were the lone votes against the longer term in what was an 11-2 vote on Feb. 13.

Wu said she and Zakim voted against it because they were concerned it would raise barriers for candidates. She pointed out that it has been 22 years since an incumbent councilor was unseated by a challenger in a co-terminus mayoral election.

“Absent campaign finance reform, this would double the amount of time and number of years that incumbents could build up war chests and make it more difficult for a first-time candidate to raise the resources for a credible campaign,” she wrote. “Many of the instances where new candidates successfully challenged incumbents have occurred in the non-Mayoral years, so we would effectively halve the opportunities for new candidates to join the Council.”

Edwards disagreed with that assertion and said that the four-year term would actually help challengers get prepared to run against an incumbent.

“They say a longer term will discourage new challengers from coming forward,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. That’s exactly the opposite of what we’re seeing…Four-year terms allow a challenger to really get their message and money together and that could make them a much more formidable challenger.”

On a procedural point, Edwards said she is insulted that such an intimate Boston-only elections change has to go through the State House and be approved by representatives from as far away as Sudbury and Pittsfield.

“The representative of Sudbury has more impact on whether or not I get a four-year term than my constituents in Charlestown do,” she said. “I would love to go directly to the people in my district and hear what they think and abide by their sentiments. This only impacts Bostonians… I think that’s just offensive.”

The matter still is far from implementation and, if passed, wouldn’t go into effect until 2021 – two election cycles away. It still has to be signed by the mayor and forwarded to the State House as a Home Rule Petition. 

•In other news, Councilor Edwards visited the Navy Yard on Feb. 7 and had a lot of information for residents about the new Boston Planning and Development Agency’s activation plans.

She said she does not support any sort of Ferris Wheel, but she does support activating the Yard and making it more friendly to those in other parts of Charlestown – particularly those from Bunker Hill and Newtowne who may not venture across Chelsea Street now.

She said while there are a lot of controversies with some of the projects that have moved forward, she said it is a pilot and a chance for operators to earn the neighborhood trust.

“This is a pilot and a chance for them to earn our support and earn a place as a good neighbor in Charlestown,” she said. “If they don’t earn it, tough cookies for them. I’m happy they want to try to earn that respect and good neighbor status.”

She said she will not be building the area for tourists.

“I will not be interested in designing a neighborhood for tourists,” she said. •In-Town Shuttle? Edwards said she has been considering lately an idea of a private loop shuttle throughout Charlestown that would bring people from all over the Town to access the MBTA ferry service in the Navy Yard. She said it could be mitigation for many of the projects going on in the Town, including the casino or Bunker Hill or Hood Park.

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