Is This Charles Yancey’s Last Stand?

The longest serving Boston City Councilor may be on his way out.

Charles Yancey speaking in 2013. Photo by The Boston Foundation

Charles Yancey speaking in 2013. Photo by The Boston Foundation

Charles Yancey’s days as a city councilor appear to be numbered.

The longest serving member on the Boston City Council suffered a devastating blow on Tuesday when he finished a distant second to upstart Andrea Campbell in the preliminary election for the District 4 council seat.

Campbell, an attorney and former deputy legal counsel in the Deval Patrick administration, trounced Yancey with 57 percent of the vote to Yancey’s 33 percent. While the upset was not a total shock, the scale of it did startle some longtime Boston political observers. Extremely low turnout, thought by many to benefit Yancey, actually did not matter, as 1,982 of 3,422 voters that bothered to vote backed Campbell. Just 7.07 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote yesterday, the lowest turnout for a Boston election in recent memory. 

Yancey has been a fixture on Boston’s political landscape since 1984, serving longer than any councilor by 13 years. He is often the lone no or yes vote on lopsided council decisions. Yancey’s politics and campaigning harken to an era in Boston that feels old and distant though is prominent in popular culture depictions of the city. He is the definition a throwback. Of course, while Yancey has clung to the days of yore, his district, like the city, has changed around him. He does not have any real allies or friends on the council that will come to his aid during this, his electoral time of need.

Enter Campbell: a fresh face with energy, an impressive resume, and enthusiasm for public service. She has run circles around Yancey by every measurable metric. She has outraised him and built a ground operation that Yancey does not appear capable of matching at this time. Campbell has identified supporters, knocked on a gazillion doors, made phone calls, and shown up. She’s done the thankless campaign work, but she’s done it smartly by finding voters that may not normally vote in a city council race and getting them to the polls when it matters.

On the intangible front, Campbell is being quietly cheered on by many of the city’s political class, not just because she is Not Charles Yancey but because activists and pols genuinely like her. Yancey is not likely to receive any outside political help in the next eight weeks or so before the general election on November 3. The lack of a cavalry coming to rescue Yancey is in many ways his own doing, as he has not endeared himself to many people outside his recently redrawn district. Of course, this is part of Yancey’s appeal to his supporters and fans, as he is seen as  beholden to nobody. Yancey marches to the beat of his own drum even if it is out tune and he is not afraid to raise hell even when it is freezing, but after Tuesday it’s not clear that the people of his district want that in their city councilor anymore.