City Councilor Michelle Wu was the top vote getter in Tuesday’s preliminary election for Boston’s next mayor, claiming one of two spots in November’s general election.
“I’m overjoyed that we are confident we’ve made the top two and are moving on to the final election,” Wu told her supporters late Tuesday evening. “We already know what the choice is for the city of Boston — this is about a choice for our future.”
Wu, a Democrat and daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, anchored her campaign around sweeping progressive policies that include action on climate change and affordable housing. She also proposed making public transportation in the city free and introduced the first city-level “Green New Deal” in the country.
The second-place finisher was another Democratic city councilor, Annissa Essaibi George, who will now face Wu in November. The winner of that contest will become Boston’s first elected female mayor.
“I am so grateful to you for showing up, not just tonight, but showing up for the last eight months,” George told supporters late Tuesday.
George, a moderate whose father emigrated from Tunisia and whose mother was born to Polish parents in Germany, received support from the city’s former police commissioner and its firefighters’ union.
Heading into Tuesday’s showdown, the top four candidates were all women of color.
The other two top candidates — acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councilor Andrea Campbell, two Black women — both conceded defeat late Tuesday. In March, Janey made history as the first woman and first Black acting mayor of Boston after her predecessor, Marty Walsh, moved to Washington, D.C., to become secretary of labor in the Biden administration.
“I want to congratulate Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George on their victories this evening,” Janey said in a statement late Tuesday. “This was a spirited and historic race, and I wish them both luck in the final election.”
Julia Mejia, one of four Boston City Council members at large, spoke to Yahoo News in March about the significance of Janey’s ascension to mayor. Boston’s politics had long been dominated by a succession of Irish- and Italian-American mayors, an era that abruptly ended when Walsh accepted his Cabinet post.
“Boston is a city with a small-town mentality. Boston politics are brutal,” Mejia said. “[Change] takes a long time because the political will is not here or the lived experience is not as evident as it needs to be. … They usually invite you to the table, but they give you a limit to what you can and can’t do.”
The mayoral race marks a turning point for Boston, which has a history of fraught race relations. In the 1970s, battles over busing and school integration in the city made national headlines and sometimes turned violent.
“It’s critical that the faces change, but to me, it’s not only about the faces changing,” former City Councilor Tito Jackson told the Washington Post. “We need true advocacy, people who will take on the real fight.”
The city has also struggled with a pronounced racial wealth gap that extended well beyond the civil rights era. According to a 2015 study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, Duke University and the New School, the median net worth for Black Bostonians is just $8, compared with $247,000 for white residents.
Before Walsh stepped down as mayor, he declared racism in the city a “public health crisis” and diverted $3 million of the city’s police budget to address the issue. He also laid out an ambitious plan to “produce lasting, systemic change and to eliminate all the ways that racism and inequality harm our residents.”
“One of the root causes of the perception that Boston is uniquely racist is the common misperception that Black and Latinx people don’t have any real representation in the region,” journalist Dart Adams wrote for Boston magazine earlier this month. “Boston isn’t exactly known for centering or promoting its residents of color. This is a major contributor to the longstanding perception that the city, and Massachusetts as a whole, must not have a thriving, sizable population of non-whites.”
But in recent years, people of color have become markedly more prominent in the city’s politics.
In 2018, Ayanna Pressley, a Black woman and former Boston City Council member, beat out incumbent Michael E. Capuano in the Democratic primary for the state’s Seventh Congressional District, which includes a large part of Boston. And late last year, Justice Kimberly S. Budd became the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the first Black woman to lead the state’s high bench.
Bostonians will now choose between two women of color in November’s mayoral election.
“So much of what we celebrate in Boston started as visions that might have seemed ‘pie in the sky’ initially, but were exactly what we needed and deserved,” Wu said Tuesday. “And people fought for them.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images, Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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