One vote. One lousy vote.
Days after the conclusion of the closest Boston City Council election imaginable, both Julia Mejia and Alejandra St. Guillen were still in a bit of a state of shock over the outcome, which Mejia won by one vote after a recount.
“It’s still sinking in for me,” Mejia said last week. “I feel like any moment, someone will say ‘Psych! I was just joking!’ It doesn’t feel real yet.”
It’s no less jarring for St. Guillen, who made the surprising decision not to challenge the result in court.
“It’s disappointing, and I’m not going to lie, I’ve had my share of tearful moments,” St. Guillen told me. “But I’m at peace with my decision. It was time to move on and I’m excited about where the city is headed.”
There have been close City Council races before, elections decided by less than 100 votes out of thousands cast. But never had an election been decided by one voter. Never anything like 22,492 to 22,491.
St. Guillen placed fourth in the preliminary — by a narrow margin — before being edged out in the final.
How excruciating is it to lose that way?
“I’ve often heard from other candidates that when it’s close it’s harder, because you feel if you’d just knocked [on] one more door or made one more call, you might have won,“ St. Guillen said. “But I don’t feel like that.
“I believe that we had two really strong candidates that a lot of the same people were excited about. It just says a lot about who people want to see on the City Council. More diverse, more women, people who have lived the experiences of everyday people.”
St. Guillen said it wasn’t a hard decision to skip a legal appeal of the final tally. In truth, when she talks about it, she sounds spent.
“It was so close and an appeal could have gone our way, for sure, or could have not gone our way,” she said. “For me, it was time to move on. There’s not a lot of time between now and January, and I owed it to the community and to my fellow candidate to have the time she needed to be successful on day one. If we were to drag it out longer, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
For the hard-charging Mejia, the victory was the culmination of a big push to close the gap down between the preliminary and the final. She said she had a St. Guillen lawn sign in her yard — along with her own, of course — and hoped they could somehow both win.
“I feel a sense of survivor’s guilt,” Mejia said. “I told everyone they could vote for me and Alejandra. I was hoping people could pick both of us. But what has been incredibly beautiful and reaffirming is the people I see on the street who hadn’t voted before who say, ‘My one vote made a difference.’ The power of one — that has been the most incredible gift of all.”
This may not have been the most robust election in terms of voter participation — let’s face it, turnout was terrible — but it will go down among the most consequential, producing a City Council the likes of which Boston has never seen. That is a testament to a field with an unusual degree of political firepower, capped by a photo finish at the end.
St. Guillen, who resigned a city post to run, says she doesn’t know what her political future holds. But she says she is excited for the city and the new council, even though she will be viewing from a distance.
For Mejia, the activist-turned-councilor-elect, this is all about the power in a single vote.
“I just really want to make civic engagement sexy again,” she said. “This election had to end this way to be a springboard for that.”Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.