With emphatic victory, Michelle Wu remakes Boston politics

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Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu made three political history Tuesday when she became the first woman, first person of color and first Asian American to be elected mayor of the city.

Wu defeated her city council colleague Annissa Essaibi George outright, garnering 63 percent of the vote against 37 percent for Essaibi George, according to the Boston Election Department.

Minutes after Essaibi George conceded, Wu addressed his cheering supporters at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End.

“The other night one of my sons asked me if the boys could be elected mayors of Boston,” Wu said. “They were and they will be one day. But not tonight. “

“From all over our city, Boston has spoken,” Wu added. “We are ready to meet this moment. We are ready to become a Boston for everyone.

Wu, a political protege of US Senator Elizabeth Warren and late Mayor Tom Menino, was the first candidate to officially enter the race. She announced her candidacy in September 2020, when then-mayor Marty Walsh still looked likely to run for a third term. She campaigned on an ambitious reform platform that Essaibi George called unrealistic.

In his victory speech, Wu reiterated his commitment to his lofty political vision, which includes the return of rent control, the free “T” and the implementation of a Green New Deal for Boston.

“We don’t have to choose between generational change and keeping streetlights on,” Wu said.

“I want to be clear – that was not my vision on the ballot,” she added. “It was ours, together. … I will never stop fighting to make our systems work for all of us.

Wu’s victory was no surprise. Polls taken before the election showed her with a solid lead, approaching or exceeding 30 percentage points. (She had also faced Essaibi George in several elections dating back to 2013, each time receiving more votes.) But Essaibi George had claimed, before election day, that the polls were wrong and that her outlook was better than many did. thought so.

Annissa Essaibi George addresses her supporters on her election night after her Boston mayoral campaign, Tuesday, November 2, 2021, in Boston.

Paul Connors / AP

In his concession speech at Fairmount Copley Plaza, Essaibi George thanked his supporters and family before saluting Wu’s victory.

“I would like to congratulate Michelle Wu very warmly,” Essaibi George said. “She is the first woman, the first person of color and, as an Asian American, the first elected mayor of Boston.

“I know this is no easy task. You know this is no small feat. I want her to show this town how mothers do it and I’m going to teach her how to say it the right way.

This last line was a reference to Essabi George’s Boston accent, which became an object of media fascination in the campaign. It was seen, by some, as a tool that Essaibi George used to highlight the fact that she grew up in Boston. In contrast, Wu graduated from high school in suburban Chicago and moved to Massachusetts to attend Harvard College. Her victory will make her the first mayor of Boston who has not been born in the city for about a century.

The question of origins became a campaign flashpoint when Essaibi George, whose parents immigrated from Tunisia and Poland, suggested to GBH’s Boston Public Radio that her local roots made her a better choice for the electors.

“I think it’s relevant to me, and I think it’s relevant to a lot of voters whether or not they were born and raised in this city, because I’ve seen this city for a very long time. many years, “said Essaibi George at the time. “All of these little experiences brought me to this moment.”

In his concession speech, however, Essaibi George sought to ease any division between Bostonians who grew up here and those who didn’t.

“When I first announced my run for mayor… I explained how Boston is a city of disjointed and hardworking people, and when we come together we can accomplish anything,” said Essaibi George . “And my time on the election campaign over those many, many months underscores that.

“Some of them were born here, like me. Some of them chose to live in this city rather than any other city in the world. Some of these disjointed and hardworking people supported the mayor-elect, [and] some of these rambling and hardworking people are in this room. We will all need hard working people to move Boston forward. “

Paul Watanabe, professor of political science at UMass Boston and director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at that school, said Wu’s election highlights fundamental changes in the political fabric of Boston.

“So much attention has been paid to her being the first woman – that’s a sign,” he said. “So much attention has been paid to her being the first person of color – that’s also a sign. But she’s probably the most progressive mayor we’ve ever had in Boston history, and less attention has been paid to this.

“We’re talking about the old Boston and the new Boston, and in some ways that’s a fair way to think about his election,” Watanabe continued. “This is no longer Tommy Menino’s town. This is not the city of [former Mayor] Kevin White, and not even Marty Walsh or the Kennedys. The main forces in Boston are the Elizabeth Warrens, the Ayanna Pressleys and now the Michelle Wus – and that’s a big change.

Wu, who was backed by both Warren and Pressley, won most of Boston’s quarters. Essaibi George, who had strong support from the powerful Boston building unions, has done well in outlying areas like West Roxbury and the Neponset branch of Dorchester, which are traditionally white, working-class neighborhoods that have experienced a declining participation in recent years.

“From what I can tell so far, Wu has expanded its territory considerably, unlike Essaibi George,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group. “She won pretty much the same places she won in the prelims.

“Wu is doing exceptionally well in the most diverse areas of Boston,” he added. “She earns 70 to 80% in some places [acting Mayor] Kim Janey wore.

While Tuesday’s result was certainly historic, whoever won it, it crowns another electoral cycle in which Boston voters chose to elect a black mayor. Three black candidates – acting mayor Kim Janey; City Councilor Andrea Campbell; and John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, failed to make it through the preliminary elections, which reduced the field to two candidates.

State Representative Russell Holmes, who hosted a discussion among black leaders about potential approvals but ultimately chose not to back either Wu or Essaibi George, said he anticipated Tuesday’s outcome.

“It’s no surprise, because obviously Michelle has been on pole since the start of this race,” said Holmes. “So the big thing tonight was just how much of a win it would be. It’s not as big as some polls have said, but it’s certainly a lot bigger than Annissa expected.

Holmes went on to note that, in the preliminary elections, 80% of her precinct had not voted for any of the finalists. In the coming weeks, he added, he hopes Wu will diversify Boston’s police, fire and emergency services; significantly increase the share of city contracts awarded to businesses belonging to minorities; and create an administration representative of Boston as a whole.

“The administration, from top to bottom, should be a reflection of this city,” Holmes said. “And his transition team should be the first place we see that.”


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