A TOP CONTENDER for one of Boston’s four City Council at-large seats is drawing heat for stating Black Lives Matter set race relations back 50 years.

Bridget Nee-Walsh, a union ironworker from South Boston who is one of eight candidates running for the four seats, made the comments at a Dorchester forum on October 12 put together by members of the Caribbean-American community.

Asked to weigh in on the phrase Black Lives Matter, Nee-Walsh, who is White, said, “I think that whole thing came out of just a very racially divisive time that we had. We had Covid going on. We had things going on globally, across America. And it brought us back. It brought us back 50 years.”

She added: “It divided a lot of communities across the city, when everybody matters.”

The comments landed during a sleepy election season that features just the City Council races on the Boston ballot, and as the city prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the federal court order to desegregate the Boston public schools. Racial tension roiled the city following the 1974 decision, which led to violent protests, particularly in South Boston, as students were bused to schools outside their neighborhoods.

Nee-Walsh’s comments drew a rebuke from City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, the first Haitian-American person to serve on the 13-member body. “It’s backwards thinking and it’s just tired,” Louijeune said.

She was not present at the forum when the remarks were made and expressed shock when the comments were relayed to her by a reporter. CommonWealth obtained an audio recording of Nee-Walsh’s remarks.

The decision by longtime Councilor Michael Flaherty not to seek reelection has opened up one of the four at-large seats. Nee-Walsh, along with Henry Santana, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and former Wu administration aide who is backed by the mayor, are  considered top contenders for it.

“That is someone who is not interested in helping the city move forward,” Louijeune said, referring to Nee-Walsh.

Nee-Walsh stood by her comments on Tuesday. “I think it just really highly intensified and separated communities,” she said of Black Lives Matter.

On the campaign trail, Nee-Walsh has described herself as “right of center but open-minded.” When she isn’t casting for votes, she’s working on the tower going up above South Station.

Nee-Walsh previously ran for an at-large seat in 2021, and came in seventh place out of eight candidates. This time around, the South Boston-based ironworkers union formed a super PAC to support her candidacy. Super PACs are outside groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, but they are prohibited from coordinating with the candidate they support.

The election is November 7, but mail-in balloting is underway, and early in-person voting starts this weekend across the city. 

Black Lives Matter hit the 10-year mark this year, having started after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Black 17-year-old, in Florida and the acquittal of his shooter. The phrase and accompanying movement, as well as an organization of the same name, came into the spotlight in 2020 as part of protests following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

A Pew Research Center survey this year found 51 percent of US adults expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, down from 56 percent a year earlier.

Black Lives Matter, to Louijeune, is a “call to action to the many ways in which Black communities have been harmed and excluded by our policies and systems,” the incumbent at-large councilor said.

Fatima Ali-Salaam, who chairs the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council, a civic group, and is an executive committee member of the NAACP’s Boston branch, also pushed back on Nee-Walsh’s comments.

“It’s not against anyone,” Ali-Salaam said of the Black Lives Matter slogan. “You can be for your own rights and not taking away from anyone else. Just as being for the right for women to vote, that was never meant to take away from someone else.”