Michelle Wu, the 36-year-old daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, made history Tuesday night when she defeated City Councilwoman Annissa Essaibi George to become the first woman and first Asian American elected mayor of Boston. For nearly 200 years, Boston has elected only white men to the top office.
“On this day, Boston chose your mother, for from every quarter of this city Boston has spoken,” Wu said. “We’re ready to be a Boston for everyone.”
Essaibi George admitted the race just after 10:20 p.m. Tuesday night, congratulating Wu on the victory and noting the story she has made.
“I know it’s not a small achievement. You know it’s not a small achievement,” Essaibi George. “I want her to show the city how mothers get it done.”
It marks the fifth-round parliamentary election, where Wu received more votes than Essaibi George throughout the city, including four major city council races, where they met since 2013. Wu also ran well ahead of Essaibi George in September’s preliminary election in a larger field of candidates. .
Essaibi George, 47, a former elementary school teacher in Boston, focused her campaign on improving the city’s schools, public safety and a pledge to address the crisis of homelessness and addiction that unfolds at the South End intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. , also known as “Mass. and Cass.” She promised to be a mayor “doing the work.”
“It’s not sexy; it’s not glamorous,” Essaibi George said in a debate last month on NBC Boston. “We need to make sure we fill gaps, repair our sidewalks, build playgrounds, pick up trash, and turn on the lights.”
Essaibi George’s back-to-basics approach to becoming mayor appealed to Nick Shumacher of Dorchester, who said Wu promised more than she could realistically elaborate.
“George’s views were a bit more concrete or grounded,” Shumacher said. “They seemed a little more realistic to me, especially since she lives right here [in Dorchester]. “
Among the most important topics for Shumacher were “Mass. And Cass.” He said it looked like George had a “much clearer plan” for the area.
Teddy Ahern of Dorcheser said he voted for Essaibi George because she grew up in Boston, unlike Wu, who grew up in Chicago.
“I do not want anyone from Chicago to come into my city and say, ‘Oh, I want to use this as a springboard,'” Ahern said. “She promises things she can’t deliver.”
But voters overwhelmingly chose Wu’s more ambitious agenda, despite Essaibi George’s claims that it is useless and expensive. Wu offered voters a progressive wish list that includes universal pre-K, affordable childcare, free public transportation and the local version of the Green New Deal, which includes more trees and electric school buses to improve the environment, but also initiatives to tackle poverty and close it racial wealth gap.
“I voted for Michelle because she understands that affordable housing is home ownership,” said Laurel Radwin, who cast her vote for Wu on Tuesday. “The only way to reduce the difference in racial wealth is through home ownership.”
Radwin said she also supports Wu’s call to make the T free in Boston.
Bob Terrell, an activist at Roxbury, said he voted for Wu because he believes her progressive vision is right for a city facing “a historic turning point, both politically and demographically.”
“As a city council member, she was really on top of all the issues and gave us assistance and support whenever we needed it,” he said.
Terrell said Wu understands how Boston residents are being displaced by rising rents and gentrification. And he was particularly impressed with her understanding of “climate change and a lot of environmental justice issues that we in this neighborhood have been raising for a few decades now.”
Wu grew up in Chicago, where she often served as an unofficial interpreter for her Chinese-speaking parents as a child. She says she had never imagined one day running for mayor.
When Wu grew up in a Taiwanese family, Wu said she was discouraged from being confrontational or talking about herself in public. And she felt that she did not have the character traits one usually associates with politicians.
“I was none of those things,” Wu told WBUR. “Not loud, masculine, angry, loud.”
In 2003, Wu moved east to attend Harvard as a bachelor. After she graduated, her mother suffered a mental health crisis, and Wu returned to Chicago to help care for her and her two younger sisters. She opened a small tea house but struggled to make it work. So she went back to Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law School, this time with her family. She also served as guardian for her younger sister, Victoria.
At Harvard, she studied contract law with Elizabeth Warren and later worked on Warren’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate, where she became a political protégé for the state’s senior senator.
Wu said her own experience, including struggling with her mother’s mental health crisis, her sisters’ schools and her own efforts to start a small business, drove her into politics. She said those experiences “burst the bubble by trying to stay away from politics and government.”
“It just meant so much, and so many other people in similar situations struggled with it,” Wu said.
With a successful mayoral campaign behind him, Wu now has only two weeks to assemble a team and take over the leadership at City Hall. She will be sworn in as mayor of Boston on November 16.
“There is little time for transition here,” said John Barros, who served as director of economic development for former mayor Marty Walsh and who unsuccessfully ran for mayor this year. “[The challenge] is to keep things running while keeping some of the campaign promises. “
Barros said it will help Wu that she has served as a city council member since 2014 and already knows herself at City Hall. But he said she and her team will be under a lot of pressure in the coming weeks.
“Time is of the essence and they have to [work] some 18-hour days to move fast and make sure Boston does not miss a beat, “Barros said.
Leslie Reid, CEO of Madison Park Development Corp., hopes Wu can live up to his promise to promote “racistly just opportunities for asset and wealth building in the city of Boston.”
But for Reid, a key challenge facing the new mayor is timing: “How fast is it? [Wu] will be able to assemble a team to respond to some of the new opportunities ahead of us? “
Wu now faces the challenge of turning an aspiration campaign into a workable plan to run the city. It’s a challenge that “every mayor inherits,” according to Michael Curry, executive director of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and former president of the Boston branch of the NAACP.
Some of Wu’s plans, including making the T free and reintroducing some form of rent control, would require state action. Other plans, such as redistributing money from the Boston Police Department to other programs, may face opposition from powerful political constituencies.
“[She will] get setbacks from the very powerful, mobilized police unions and their allies, “Curry said.” So that’s the challenge: it’s politics, it’s money that stands in the way of bold, big ideas. “