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Florida Realtors suspends initiative campaign after making compromise deal with state legislators

On Sept. 7, 2021, Floridians for Housing, a ballot initiative committee sponsored by the Florida Realtors, said they were suspending their campaign. The initiative would have created state and local government housing trust funds to “address affordable housing access and availability, including funding of programs addressing new construction, down payment and closing cost assistance, rehabilitation, and financing for affordable housing development.”

According to campaign finance reports covering information through Aug. 31, the Florida Realtors had contributed $13 million to the committee. The committee reported $2.75 million in expenditures. As of Sept. 8, the Florida Division of Elections website said the group had submitted 65,018 valid signatures. To qualify for the ballot, sponsors would have needed to submit 891,589 valid signatures by Feb. 1, 2022.

Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert said that the campaign would work with legislative leaders on laws to address affordable housing instead of the ballot initiative. Lambert said, “The legislative leadership has committed to working with us to find significant, immediate solutions to Florida’s workforce housing crisis. This crisis cannot wait. Every day, we hear about workers who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic who can’t afford a home. This approach will help bring homeownership within reach of Floridians much faster.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) and House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) said, “We commend the decision by the Florida Realtors to suspend their ballot initiative. As we have seen in recent months, the housing market is extremely fluid, and fluctuates based on a variety of factors, which are outside of the Legislature’s control. Constitutional amendments, while instrumental in defining the ideals of the framework of our state government, do not provide the flexibility needed to respond to the ever-changing housing situation in Florida. Legislative solutions derived from the input and expertise of the entire coalition of stakeholders and experts who work on housing-related issues remain the best way to address housing challenges that impact families across our state.”

Committee meetings ahead of the 2022 legislative session were set to begin on Sept. 20, 2021. The legislative session was set to begin on Jan. 11 and run through March 11, 2022.

Ballotpedia is tracking 24 potential initiatives targeting Florida’s 2022 ballot. As of Sept. 8, seven of the initiative campaigns had zero valid signatures submitted. For the other 17 campaigns, the number of valid signatures on file ranged from two at the least, to 9,347 at the most, collected by Florida Voters in Charge, sponsors of an initiative to expand casino gaming in Florida.

Proposed measures are reviewed by the state attorney general and state supreme court after proponents collect 25% of the required signatures across the state in each of one-half of the state’s congressional districts (222,898 signatures for 2022 ballot measures). After these preliminary signatures have been collected, the secretary of state must submit the proposal to the Florida Attorney General and the Financial Impact Estimating Conference (FIEC). The attorney general is required to petition the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the measure’s compliance with the single-subject rule, the appropriateness of the title and summary, and whether or not the measure “is facially valid under the United States Constitution.” To qualify for the ballot, sponsors must submit 891,589 valid signatures, which must be verified by election officials by Feb. 1, 2022. Signatures equaling at least 8% of the district-wide vote in the last presidential election must be collected from at least half (14) of the state’s congressional districts.

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Loudoun County school board recall effort heads to court

Welcome to the Monday, September 13, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Hearing on Loudoun County school board recall effort set for Sept. 13
  2. Tomorrow’s California recall election
  3. Florida Realtors suspends initiative campaign following compromise with state legislators

Hearing on Loudoun County school board recall effort set for Sept. 13

Ballotpedia has tracked 64 school board recall efforts against 165 board members so far in 2021—the highest number of school board recall efforts we have ever tracked in one year. The next-highest year was in 2010 with 38 recall efforts against 91 school board members.

One of those recall efforts this year is based out of Loudoun County, Virginia. Here’s an update.

On Aug. 25, opponents of Beth Barts submitted petition signatures to recall her from the Loudoun County School Board of Education. The show cause hearing on those petitions will take place on Sept. 13 (today).

In Virginia, recall efforts are determined in circuit court rather than at the ballot box. Virginia, which is the only state to use this court process, also requires certain criteria be met for a recall to move forward, including neglect of duty, misuse of office, incompetence, or conviction of misdemeanors related to drugs or hate crimes. Recall supporters must collect signatures ​​equal in number to 10% of the votes cast in the last election for that office. The recall effort against Barts needed 1,176 signatures. Recall supporters announced they had collected 1,860.

Barts’ attorney filed a motion to dismiss the petition against her since it was not signed by an attorney. He also asked the circuit court judges to recuse themselves from the case because it involved local officeholders.

Barts was first elected to a four-year term on the board on Nov. 5, 2019. She received 54.8% of the vote and defeated one other candidate. Though school board elections are nonpartisan, Barts is supported by the Loudoun County Democratic Committee.

Recall supporters are also circulating petitions against another six members of the nine-member school board. They said the board members’ involvement in a private Facebook group, where they discussed public matters in a private setting, was a violation of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and the school board’s Code of Conduct. Recall supporters also alleged that the district was using Critical Race Theory in its employee training and student curriculum, which they opposed.

Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler said the district uses a Culturally Responsive Framework that “speaks to providing a welcoming, affirming environment and developing cultural competence through culturally responsive instruction, deeper learning, equitable classroom practices and social-emotional needs for a focus on the whole child.” Ziegler said the district did not use Critical Race Theory in its staff training or student curriculum.

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Tomorrow’s California recall election

California voters will head to the polls on Sept. 14 for the recall election seeking to remove California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

The recall election will present voters with two questions. The first will ask whether Newsom should be recalled from the office of governor. The second will ask who should succeed Newsom if he is recalled. A majority vote is required on the first question for the governor to be recalled. If Newsom is recalled, the candidate with the most votes on the second question would win the election—no majority required.

Polling places across the state will be open for in-person voting or ballot drop-off from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. These polling places also allow for same-day voter registration.

All registered voters in the state were previously sent a vote-by-mail ballot in August. Those mail ballots must be postmarked by Sept. 14 to be counted. California voters can click here to find their polling place.

Forty-six candidates, including nine Democrats and 24 Republicans, are running in the election. Since 1911, there have been 55 attempts to recall a California governor. The only successful recall campaign was in 2003 when voters recalled then-Gov. Gray Davis (D). Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) was elected as Davis’ replacement.

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Florida Realtors suspends initiative campaign following compromise with state legislators

On September 7, 2021, Floridians for Housing, a ballot initiative committee sponsored by Florida Realtors, announced they were suspending their ballot initiative campaign. The initiative would have created state and local government housing trust funds for “affordable housing access and availability, including funding of programs addressing new construction, down payment and closing cost assistance, rehabilitation, and financing for affordable housing development.” 

As of Sept. 8, the group had submitted 65,018 valid signatures. To qualify for the ballot, sponsors would have needed to submit 891,589 valid signatures by February 1, 2022. 

Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert said, “The legislative leadership has committed to working with us to find significant, immediate solutions to Florida’s workforce housing crisis. This crisis cannot wait. Every day, we hear about workers who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic who can’t afford a home. This approach will help bring homeownership within reach of Floridians much faster.” Florida Realtors had contributed at least $13 million to the ballot initiative committee.

Ballotpedia is tracking 24 potential initiatives targeting Florida’s 2022 ballot. As of Sept. 8, seven of the initiative campaigns had zero valid signatures submitted. For the other 17 campaigns, the number of valid signatures on file ranged from two to 9,347. That top figure came from Florida Voters in Charge, the sponsor of an initiative to expand casino gaming in Florida.

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Union Station: Biden, AFSCME include Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act in Labor Day statements

Biden, AFSCME include Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act in Labor Day statements

Over Labor Day weekend, President Joe Biden (D) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) each reiterated their endorsements of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act (PSFNA), congressional legislation originally introduced in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME

Biden issued a Labor Day proclamation on Sept. 3 that said, “American workers should make their own decisions –- free from coercion and intimidation — about organizing with their co-workers to have a stronger voice in their workplaces, their communities, and their government. That is why I strongly support the Protecting the Right to Organize [PRO] Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.” (The PRO Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March, would amend federal labor laws for private sector workers.) 

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a Labor Day statement that the PSFNA would “empower public employees nationwide with collective bargaining rights, giving us the seat at the table we deserve.” AFSCME also highlighted its support for the act on its blog and Facebook page over the weekend. 

About the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act 

First introduced the day of the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, and reintroduced a year later, the PSFNA would “[set] a minimum nationwide standard for collective bargaining rights that all states must provide to public sector workers,” according to the bill’s fact sheet.  

Versions of the bill were introduced and referred to committee in June 2018, during the 115th Congress, and in June 2019, during the 116th Congress. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) sponsored the bill both years. Neither version of the bill made it to a vote.

The 2019 bill says, “Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the [Federal Labor Relations Authority] shall issue rules and take such actions that the Authority determines appropriate to establish and administer collective bargaining rights and procedures that substantially provide for the rights and procedures described in [the section of the act outlining federal minimum standards for collective bargaining rights].” The Federal Labor Relations Authority is the entity that administers federal labor relations.

The bill would establish the following rights for public employees: 

(A) to self-organization;

(B) to form, join, or assist a labor organization or to refrain from any such activity;

(C) to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing; and

(D) to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid (including the filing of joint class or collective legal claims) or protection.

For more information about each version of the bill on Congress.gov, click here.

Perspectives

Support

  • In August 2020, a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said: “Currently more than half of the states lack comprehensive collective bargaining laws for public-service workers like teachers. Public-service workers deserve the right to join together in unions to fight for stronger safety and health protections, better pay, and better working conditions.” The EPI describes its mission as “to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.”  
  • A fact sheet for the Communications Workers of America’s June 2020 legislative-political conference said, “Since the outrageous, anti-worker Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, public service workers across the country work under this unfair free rider law. It’s time to level the playing field by establishing federal protections to guarantee public service workers the right to join together and collectively bargain.” 
  • An October 2019 AFL-CIO legislative alert said, “Unlike the private sector, there is no federal law that protects the freedom of state and local public service workers to join in a union and collectively bargain for fair wages, hours, and working conditions. … It’s time to even the playing field for working people and public servants by passing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.”  
  • A June 2019 legislative report from AFSCME said the PSFNA was “needed to unrig a system that favors the wealthy over working people. It marks another big step forward in the growing political and grassroots momentum behind unions after years of attacks on workers from right-wing special interests and politicians.”
  • In June 2019, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act closes the chasm in public sector bargaining rights, ensuring minimum standards are in place across the nation, while retaining flexibility for states to write and administer their own laws. … [T]his bill helps public workers achieve together what would be impossible alone—better and more-efficient services, dignity and a voice at work, and fair compensation and benefits for the work they do. We are proud to support it.” 

Opposition

  • In March 2021, National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC) President Mark Mix wrote, “A federal power grab introduced in the 2019-20 Congress as H.R.3464/S.1970, and strongly endorsed by Biden … would, by federal fiat, foist union monopoly bargaining on state and local fire fighters and other public-sector workers in all 50 states.” NRTWC describes itself as “a coalition of 2.8 million workers and concerned Americans fighting to break the chains of forced unionism.”
  • A January 2021 report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy said, “The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act represents another tremendous threat to worker freedom. This act, while incapable of overriding the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision … would nevertheless drastically limit state’s [sic] abilities to manage government employees. … Most notably, the PSFNA would force all states to adopt collective bargaining with almost no limitation.” The Mackinac Center describes itself as “a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government.” 
  • In September 2019, Empire Center for Public Policy fellow Ken Girardin said, “While supporters claim the proposed law merely intends to protect union bargaining rights, it would represent a major change in the federal government’s long-standing neutrality towards state and local labor relations. … Requiring binding arbitration, as opposed to simply allowing parties to come to terms directly, would be a one-way street to inflexible and expensive labor deals.” The Empire Center, a New York–based think tank, says its mission is to “Make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.”  
  • In July 2018, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) policy analyst Trey Kovacs wrote, “The more concerning aspect of the bill is it grants broad power to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which currently governs only federal employee labor relations, to enforce the legislation and to determine whether states are in compliance with its requirements. … The FLRA’s regulations will essentially override current state labor relations law and establish collective bargaining procedures for the state.” CEI’s mission is to “promote both freedom and fairness by making good policy good politics.”

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 99 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

No public-sector union bills saw activity this week.




SCOTUS grants review in capital case

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on Sept. 8 accepted a capital case to its merits docket for the 2021-2022 term. The case, Ramirez v. Collier, originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, located in New Orleans.

John Ramirez filed an emergency appeal with the court on Sept. 7 to postpone his execution and to hear his case on the merits. Ramirez was convicted of a 2004 murder and was sentenced to be executed on Sept. 9. Ramirez requested that his pastor be allowed to pray over him and physically touch him in the execution chamber while he was put to death. The State of Texas refused the request. Ramirez argued that this denial was a violation of his constitutional and federally protected religious rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The state argued that it did not force Ramirez to violate his religion, rather, it was not meeting all of his religious needs. 

SCOTUS granted the emergency appeal to stay the execution and accepted the case for oral arguments this fall in order to consider the aid a spiritual advisor may or may not provide during an execution.

To date, the court has agreed to hear 34 cases for the 2021-2022 term. Two cases were dismissed after they were accepted. Fourteen cases have yet to be scheduled for arguments.

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Biden withdraws Chipman from consideration for ATF director

President Joe Biden (D) announced on Sept. 9, 2021, that he was withdrawing David Chipman from consideration for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

Chipman, a former ATF agent and senior policy advisor at Giffords, had been nominated in April 2021. The Senate Judiciary Committee declined to report on Chipman’s nomination favorably after it held hearings in May.

“We knew this wouldn’t be easy – there’s only been one Senate-confirmed ATF Director in the Bureau’s history – but I have spent my entire career working to combat the scourge of gun violence, and I remain deeply committed to that work,” Biden said. He did not name a new candidate for the position.

This is Biden’s second major nominee to withdraw. Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget, withdrew in February following bipartisan opposition to her selection. Tanden currently serves in the Biden administration as a senior advisor to the president.

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Brian Benjamin sworn in as New York’s lieutenant governor

Brian Benjamin (D) was sworn in as New York’s lieutenant governor on Sep. 9. Governor Kathy Hochul (D) had appointed Benjamin to the position on Aug. 25, after Hochul became governor in the wake of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) resignation.

The Lieutenant Governor of New York is the second-ranking officer of the executive branch and the first officer in line to succeed the governor. The lieutenant governor is popularly elected every four years by a plurality and has no term limit.

Previously, Benjamin had served in the New York State Senate since 2017, representing District 30. So far in 2021, there have been 98 vacancies in 39 state legislatures. 

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A recent history of presidential election bellwether counties

The United States is composed of 3,143 counties or county equivalents. Of them, Clallam County, in northwest Washington, has the longest record of always voting for the winning presidential candidate.

Since 1980, Clallam County has voted in every presidential election for the candidate that would go on to win the White House. Since 1920, it has only voted for the losing candidate in 1968 and 1976. Political scientists have a term for counties or states that anticipate how the rest of the country will vote—bellwethers.

Before the 2020 election, Clallam was one of 19 counties with an unbroken record of voting for the winning presidential candidate since 1980. Those counties were:

  1. Warren County, Ill.
  2. Vigo County, Ind.
  3. Bremer County, Iowa
  4. Washington County, Maine
  5. Shiawassee County, Mich.
  6. Van Buren County, Mich.
  7. Hidalgo County, N.M.
  8. Valencia County, N.M.
  9. Cortland County, N.Y.
  10. Otsego County, N.Y.
  11. Ottawa County, Ohio
  12. Wood County, Ohio
  13. Essex County, Vt.
  14. Westmoreland County, Va.
  15. Juneau County, Wis.
  16. Marquette County, Wis.
  17. Richland County, Wis.
  18. Sawyer County, Wis.

Until the 2020 election, Valencia County, N.M., held the record for the longest streak of selecting the winning presidential candidate, going back to 1952. Vigo County, Ind. began selecting the winning presidential candidate in 1956. Ottawa County, Ohio, Westmoreland County, Va., Juneau County, Wis., and Sawyer County, Wis., started their streak in 1964.

Clallam County is holding municipal elections in its three cities—Port Angeles, Sequim, and Forks—in 2021. Twenty-six offices are up for election in those cities.

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Recent state court actions suspend state-level universal school mask requirement bans in Florida and Tennessee, uphold a ban in South Carolina

As schools have begun reopening for the 2021-2022 academic year, several states have enacted policies on mask requirements in schools. As of Sept. 9, four states banned school mask requirements, seventeen states required masks in schools, and twenty-nine states left school mask decisions up to local authorities.

Recent legal actions have affected these policies in Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina. In Florida, Second Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled on Sept. 8 that the state Department of Education could not enforce Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) order prohibiting mask requirements without an opt-out option for parents in public schools. Cooper had ruled against DeSantis’ order on Aug. 27, but the ruling had not gone into effect as DeSantis appealed the decision. Following a Sept. 8 hearing on the status of the order pending appeal, Cooper said the government did not present a compelling case for blocking his order. The ban on enforcement will remain in effect until the First District Court of Appeals hears DeSantis’ appeal.

In Tennessee, United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Sheryl H. Lipman ruled on Sept. 3 in favor of two students who sued Gov. Bill Lee (R) after he issued an order requiring schools to allow students to opt-out of school mask mandates. Lipman ruled Lee’s order violated the students’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In South Carolina, the state Supreme Court rejected the city of Columbia’s challenge to the state’s school mask requirement ban. The court found that the mask requirement ban, which was established in an amendment to the state’s budget, was related to budgetary concerns and therefore did not violate a South Carolina rule requiring state laws address a single primary subject.

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Redistricting Roundup: Colorado redistricting commission releases new proposed congressional maps

Here’s a summary of the week’s noteworthy redistricting news from Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, and Texas.

Colorado: The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission staff released a proposed congressional district map on Sept. 3. This is the first proposed map the commission released since the U.S. Census Bureau distributed block-level data from the 2020 census to states on Aug. 12. The commission is holding public hearings about the newly released maps during the week of Sept. 7.

The Colorado Supreme Court previously ordered on July 26 that the Commission submit final congressional redistricting plans for approval no later than Oct. 1. Colorado was apportioned eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census—a net gain of one seat for the state.

Connecticut: The Connecticut General Assembly Reapportionment Committee will not create congressional and state legislative district maps by the state’s constitutional deadline of Sept. 15, according to The CT Mirror. If the deadline is not met, redistricting in Connecticut will be decided by a nine-member backup commission consisting of eight members appointed by the majority and minority leaders of each chamber of the legislature and a ninth member selected by the eight appointed commission members. Maps determined by the backup commission are not subject to legislative approval. Connecticut previously used this process in 2011 after the committee did not meet the deadline that year.

Iowa: The Iowa Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission announced it would release the first draft of proposed state legislative district maps on Sept. 16. The Iowa Constitution states that the Iowa Supreme Court is responsible for legislative redistricting if the general assembly doesn’t enact new maps before Sept. 15. In April, the Iowa Supreme Court released a statement saying that “the supreme court tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework…to proceed after September 15.”

Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced on Sept. 7 that he was calling a special session of the state legislature to address redistricting and other issues beginning Sept. 20.

Two Democratic state senators filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Sept. 1 arguing that the legislature cannot legally redraw district maps during a special session since the Texas Constitution requires lawmakers to begin the process after the “first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census.” The lawsuit asks the court to draw interim maps until the state’s next regular legislative session in January 2023.

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Boston holds mayoral primary on Sept. 14

On Sept. 14, Boston voters will decide which two of seven mayoral candidates advance to the Nov. 2 general election. 

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who succeeded former incumbent Marty Walsh after his appointment to President Joe Biden’s (D) Cabinet, is seeking election to a full four-year term. Janey also serves on the city council. Three other councilors—Andrea Campbell (District 4), Annissa Essaibi George (at-large), and Michelle Wu (at-large)—are running for mayor. Local media have described Essaibi George as more moderate and the other three candidates as more progressive.

Three independent polls in recent weeks have shown Wu leading the field and Campbell, Essaibi George, and Janey within a few percentage points of one another for second place. 

The candidates’ personal backgrounds have been a key theme of the race, which is expected to produce the city’s first non-white, male mayor. All leading candidates are women. Campbell and Janey are Black, Essaibi George is Arab American, and Michelle Wu is Asian American.

  1. Campbell, a lawyer, said the story of her and her brother, who died in prison at 29, was the story of two Bostons divided by access to opportunity. Campbell’s campaign website said, “Andrea’s career has been driven by the pain of Andre’s loss and a fundamental question: How can two twins born and raised in Boston have such different life outcomes?”
  2. Essaibi George is the daughter of a Tunisian father and Polish mother. She emphasizes her background as a teacher—she taught at East Boston High School for 13 years. Essaibi George’s campaign website says this “gave her a front-row seat to the challenges and inequities that Boston families face.”
  3. Janey has discussed her experience as a student during the second phase of busing desegregation in Boston and as one of two Black students in her graduating class. She said her work has “centered around making sure every child has the opportunity to learn and succeed in a more just city than the one I grew up in.” Janey worked for Massachusetts Advocates for Children from 2001 and 2017.
  4. Wu is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants. She discusses her experience caring for her sisters when her mother experienced mental illness, saying, “it felt like we were alone, invisible, and powerless.” She said her time on the city council has taught her “what’s possible through city government in Boston.”

Satellite groups have reported spending more than $2 million in the race. Among the highest spenders are the Better Boston PAC, which has spent $1.4 million supporting Campbell; the Real Progress Boston PAC, which spent $425,000 supporting Essaibi George; the Hospitality Workers PAC, which spent $380,000 supporting Janey and opposing Campbell; and the Boston Turnout Project PAC, which spent $334,000 supporting Wu.

Boston will also vote on all 13 city council seats—nine elected by district and four, citywide.

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