Michelle Wu declared victory in the Boston mayoral election on Tuesday, opening her speech -- following a concession from her opponent, fellow City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George -- with a nod to the history she made by winning.
"One of my sons asked me the other night if boys can be elected mayor of Boston. They have been, and they will again some day, but not tonight," Wu told a crowd of cheering supporters. "On this day, Boston elected your mom, because from every corner of our city, Boston has spoken."
With most precincts reporting by about midnight and Wu winning by nearly 2 to 1, she is set to be the first woman and person of color elected to lead Boston. She'll take office on Nov. 16, replacing Kim Janey, who endorsed Wu after missing the cutoff to progress from the primary election in September.
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The 36-year-old Wu, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, grew up in Chicago and moved to Boston to attend Harvard University and Harvard Law School. She was first elected in 2013 at age 28, becoming the first Asian American woman to serve on the council. In 2016, she became the first woman of color to serve as its president.
She ran on her progressive record -- she campaigned extensively with her former Harvard Law School professor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. -- and alluded to critics of that vision in her victory speech.
"We don't have to choose between generational change and keeping the street lights on," Wu said.
She thanked her supporters, and Essaibi George as well. Both are at-large members of the Boston City Council.
At her own Election Night event Tuesday night, Essaibi George offered a "great big congratulations" to Wu for winning the election, and noted the history she made.
"I know this is no small feat, you know this is no small feat," Essaibi George said. "I want her to show the city how mothers get it done."
Gov. Charlie Baker congratulated Wu as well, tweeting, "It was a historic election in Boston and our Administration looks forward to working with you and your team to address the most pressing issues facing the city and the Commonwealth."
No matter who won, the election served as the latest marker of how much the Boston of not-so-long-ago — known for its ethnic neighborhoods, glad-handing politicians and mayors with Irish surnames — is giving way to a new city.
Each of the five main mayoral candidates in the primary — all Democrats — had identified as a person of color.
But that wasn't what the candidates were focusing on in the run-up to Election Day, tending to discuss it only when reporters brought it up. On Tuesday, they crisscrossed the city, making their final arguments to voters.
"It's a day that you want, I think in many ways, to last forever, but also a day that you want to get to closing," Essaibi George said.
Several recent polls said she had lots of ground to make up, down double-digits on Wu. But Essaibi George said she thought she'd made up ground.
"Certainly, it took us a little bit more to get our name recognition up," she said.
Her priorities, if she's elected, were continuing to address the homelessness and addiction crisis at Mass. and Cass, finding a new police commissioner and focusing on schools.
At Santarpio's Pizza on Tuesday, Wu outlined some similar priorities for the start of her administration: "Responding right away to the crises at Mass. and Cass and continuing to support our school system, preparing for the winter and building out the team."
Despite the groundbreaking nature of the candidates, the campaign turned on familiar themes for the city’s 675,000 residents, including public education, policing, public transportation and the skyrocketing cost of housing. Among the newer issues facing Boston residents was the effect of climate change on the costal metropolis.
Two of Wu’s most ambitious pledges focus on housing and public transportation, familiar themes for the city’s 675,000 residents.
To help push back against soaring housing costs that have forced some former residents out of the city, Wu has promised to pursue rent stabilization or rent control. The biggest hurdle to that proposal is the fact that Massachusetts voters narrowly approved a 1994 ballot question banning rent control statewide.
Another of Wu’s top campaign promises is to create a “fare free” public transit system. Wu has said the proposal would strengthen the city’s economy, address climate change and help those who take the bus or subway to school or work.
Like the rent control pledge, Wu can’t as mayor unilaterally do away with fares on the public transit system, which is under the control of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Wu said she would try to work with partners in state government to make each proposal a reality.
“We don’t have to choose between generational change and keeping the streetlights on, between tackling big problems with bold solutions and filling our potholes," she said.
Other challenges that Wu will have to grapple with as mayor include public education, policing, the city’s ongoing struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the long-term effects of climate change on the coastal metropolis.
Nearly 40,000 ballots were cast in early voting. Democratic Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin told reporters Monday he estimated about 135,000 ballots would be cast in Boston — about 30% of the city’s 442,000 registered voters.
The contest was also a measure of whether voters in a city long dominated by parochial neighborhood politics are ready to tap someone not born and raised in the city like Wu, who grew up in Chicago.
The candidates reflect an increasingly diverse Boston -- both are children of immigrants.
Essaibi George, 47, a lifelong Boston resident and former public school teacher, describes herself as a first-generation Arab-Polish American. Her father was a Muslim immigrant from Tunisia. Her mother, a Catholic, immigrated from Poland.
The latest U.S. Census statistics show Boston residents who identify as white make up 44.6% of the population compared to Black residents (19.1%), Latino residents (18.7%) and residents of Asian descent (11.2%).
The city’s previous elected mayor — Democrat Marty Walsh — stepped down earlier this year to become U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Joe Biden. Walsh was replaced on an acting basis by Janey, sworn in March 24 as Boston’s first female and first Black mayor.
Other Massachusetts Election Results
Sixty other communities in Massachusetts also had elections on Tuesday. Several featured significant races, such as North Adams, which is also poised to elect its first female mayor.
Already Tuesday night, several mayors were reelected, including Worcester's Jospeh Petty and Newton's Ruthanne Fuller. But incumbent Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer conceded to opponent Charlie Sisitsky, while Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez conceded to Brian DePeña.
Lynn voters backed Jared C. Nicholson, from the School Committee, for mayor, while in Everett, incumbent Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr. was reelected, The Boston Globe reported.
In Somerville, Will Mbah conceded to Katjana Ballantyne in the race to succeed longtime Mayor Joseph Curtatone.
"While I had hoped for a different result, the people of Somerville have spoken and I respect their decision," Mbah said in a statement. "I want to congratulate Councilor Katjana Ballantyne on her victory and on the honor of being selected to represent the great city of Somerville."
Voters in Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rowley, Topsfield and Wenham also weighed in on a special primary election for the 4th Essex House seat, which former Republican Rep. Brad Hill vacated when he resigned to take a position on the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.