Even if you take an active interest in local politics, you might be tempted to tune out when Boston voters head to the polls for the city’s preliminary elections Tuesday. After all, it’s still technically summer, and the prelims themselves won’t actually yield winners in the various races on the ballot.

A few key City Council contests will winnow larger fields down to two finalists who’ll face each other in November.

What’s more, several races aren’t on the preliminary ballot at all because there simply aren’t enough candidates. (A preliminary contest only occurs when three or more candidates seek a single seat, or when nine or more candidates run for the four citywide at-large City Council seats.)

But this year’s prelims are worth watching. They boast an unusual amount of drama and intrigue — and, perhaps, some telling takeaways about the way politics work right now, in Boston and elsewhere.

Here are a few subplots to keep an eye on:

How vulnerable are the progressive incumbents?

Three of the incumbent councilors facing challengers in the prelims — District 5’s Ricardo Arroyo, District 6’s Kendra Lara, and District 7’s Tania Fernandes Anderson — are part of a progressive bloc that’s consistently tried to push Mayor Michelle Wu further to the left on various issues, including Boston Police Department funding and bringing back an elected school committee. They’re also all pathbreakers: Arroyo and Lara are the first people of color to represent their districts, while Fernandes Anderson is the first African immigrant and first Muslim American on the body.

They have something else in common too: In this election, each brings some baggage to his or her reelection bid.

Ricardo Arroyo speaks into microphones animatedly as reporters hold them
FILE - Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo responds to calls for his resignation after campaign-related messages between him and embattled U.S. Attorney of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins were revealed.
Saraya Wintersmith GBH News

During Arroyo’s unsuccessful 2022 run for Suffolk County district attorney, the Boston Globe reported on allegations of sexual assault that dated to Arroyo’s teenage years and for which he was never charged. This year, federal investigations that forced the resignation of then-U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins revealed that, during that DA’s race, Arroyo urged Rollins to take steps aimed at damaging his opponent, Kevin Hayden. And in June, Arroyo acknowledged violating the state’s conflict of interest law and paid a $3,000 fine for representing his brother in a lawsuit involving the city after joining the council.

Lara, meanwhile, is currently facing multiple criminal charges linked to a car crash in Jamaica Plain, including driving without a license, driving an unregistered vehicle, and operating negligently in a manner that could endanger the public. After initially apologizing and promising to accept accountability, she’s pleaded not guilty.

Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara leaves West Roxbury District Court
Boston City Coucilor Kendra Lara exits West Roxbury District Court with her staff after appearing on several charges related to a car crash
Alexi Cohan GBH News

And earlier this year, Fernandes Anderson acknowledged an ethics violation of her own and paid a fine of $5,000 for hiring her sister and son as council staffers.

For each of these incumbents, the prelim will be — among other things — a test of whether supporters who embrace their politics are willing to overlook behavior that some might find troubling. Fernandes Anderson may have particular reason for optimism here, since her transgression elicited relatively little outrage. But for Arroyo and Lara, whose missteps have attracted widespread media attention, the picture is murkier. Several influential progressive groups are supporting them anyway, or seem poised to do so.

Yet both Lara and Arroyo have been struggling to raise money as Election Day approaches. Lara’s financial picture looks especially precarious: in August, the month after her accident, she raised less than $1,500, a strikingly low amount heading into a campaign stretch drive.

Who’ll win the battle of mayoral clout?

To answer this question, look to District 5, where Arroyo is seeking reelection. In that race, both Mayor Wu and her predecessor, Marty Walsh, are enthusiastically supporting other candidates. Wu has endorsed Enrique Pepén, her former head of neighborhood services. Walsh — who resigned as mayor to become President Joe Biden’s labor secretary and now heads the NHL player’s union — is throwing his political weight behind José Ruiz, who spent three decades as a Boston police officer and worked on the police department's dignitary protection unit during the Walsh wdministration.

When Wu, then an at-large city councilor, announced her mayoral candidacy in 2020, it looked like she and Walsh might go head-to-head in the mayor’s race. Walsh’s decision to join the Biden administration kept that from happening. Now they’ll be competing via surrogates whose policies echo their own — Pepén is a Wu-style progressive while Ruiz is a more moderate Democrat — in a district that happens to include Wu’s Roslindale home. (The fourth candidate in the race, community activist Jean-Claude Sanon, has no powerful patron.)

The District 5 race isn’t the only test of Walsh’s clout this year. He’s also taken an active rooting interest in District 3, where volatile conservative firebrand Frank Baker is stepping down. In that crowded contest, which features seven candidates, Walsh is backing Boston Planning and Development Agency staffer John FitzGerald, who previously worked for the Walsh administration and whose father, the late Kevin Fitzgerald, mentored Walsh in the Massachusetts Legislature. A few weeks back, Walsh toldthe Dorchester Reporter he plans to do “as much as [he] can” for FitzGerald’s campaign. If both FitzGerald and Ruiz advance to the final, it’ll be strong evidence that the former mayor still has plenty of political pull two and a half years after leaving City Hall.

Will dysfunction depress turnout or boost it?

The baggage carried by the incumbents on the prelim ballot represents just part of the dysfunction that’s marked the Boston City Council for months. Think of Baker accusing his colleague Liz Breadon of anti-Catholic animus during the council’s recent redistricting fight — or of recent allegations of bullying from a council staffer, which leaked to the media in a suspicious manner and led one of the accused, at-large councilor Julia Mejia, to suggest that racial animus was behind the complaint.

A man speaks emphatically, motioning with his hands, while the man seated next to him is hunched over and looking off into the distance
Frank Baker, Boston City Councilor, speaks during an explosive council meeting Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Councilor Ricardo Arroyo sits next to him.
Saraya Wintersmith GBH News

Put simply, there’s been a lot of ugliness on the council lately. It’s possible that, as a result, even more Boston voters will sit out this election than usual. (In the last preliminary election that didn’t involve a mayoral race, just 11% of Boston voters showed up.)

But dysfunction can also drive engagement. Witness the record-setting 2020 U.S. presidential election, or Boston’s mayoral contests circa 1970 when racial tensions ran especially high and nearly two-thirds of voters cast ballots. Higher-than-expected turnout won’t mean that Boston’s civic climate is healthy, exactly, but it would be a silver lining of sorts in what’s become a somber time for city politics.

Will dark money make a difference?

Back to District 5 for a moment. In mid-August, a super PAC dubbed Enough Is Enough filed paperwork with the state, with the stated aim of opposing Arroyo’s reelection and supporting the election of his opponents.

It’s still not clear who’s funding it, how much money they’ve already given, or how they plan to spend it — and under state campaign finance law, we might not learn any of those things until just before the election. (If Enough Is Enough does spend money in the next few days, they’ll have to disclose all that information within 24 hours.)

Another super PAC is already active in the prelims: this week, Forward Boston Independent Expenditure PAC had spent nearly $80,000 (as of Thursday afternoon) on advertising and campaign communications for Ruiz, FitzGerald, and both of Lara’s opponents, IT director William King and labor attorney Ben Weber.

Forward Boston’s primary funder is New Balance chairman Jim Davis of Newton, a prolific Republican donor who supported former mayors Walsh and Tom Menino. In the 2021 Boston mayor’s race, Davis spent heavily in an attempt to boost then-councilor Annissa Essaibi George, and a recent campaign filing shows he’s pumped $150,000 into Forward Boston to date.

Whether voters will mind this exertion of outside influence is unclear. Wu also benefited from super PAC support in the 2021 race, and some Boston voters may simply conclude that external intervention has become a reality of municipal politics today. But others may balk at the prospect of deep-pocketed donors making last-minute, potentially decisive interventions, especially if they’re aimed at taking down one particular candidate. If enough people have misgivings, the same candidates these super PACs are targeting could actually end up benefiting from their efforts.