Metro

Boston’s six women councilors discuss their historic election in special conversation

Boston’s six female city councilors gathered together for the first time Monday at an open forum. From left, Ayanna Pressley, Andrea Campbell, Michelle Wu, moderator Yvonne Abraham, Annissa Essaibi George, Lydia Edwards, and Kim Janey.
Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
Boston’s six female city councilors gathered together for the first time Monday at an open forum. From left, Ayanna Pressley, Andrea Campbell, Michelle Wu, moderator Yvonne Abraham, Annissa Essaibi George, Lydia Edwards, and Kim Janey.

Before 2013, just 10 women had been elected to the Boston City Council.

But in November, six women of color won seats on the board, a milestone political achievement.

On Monday, the six councilors gathered for the first time publicly before a crowd of about 150 people at Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre, where they discussed their historic wins, their goals, and their appreciation for the increasing influence of women in local government.

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“Why are we here? It’s really not a big secret, or surprise,” said Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who in 2009 became the first woman of color elected to the council. “We’re here because we worked hard and we’re damn good. We’re no fluke and we’re here to stay.”

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The event, sponsored by The Boston Globe and The Novus Group, was moderated by Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham, who asked councilors to reflect on their elections, including whether it was part of a national movement of women disappointed with Hillary Clinton’s loss in last year’s presidential election.

Pressley was credited as a pioneer for women in Boston politics (“43 and a pioneer?” she said bashfully.) Michelle Wu was elected two years ago to serve as the council’s first woman president of color. Andrea Campbell will succeed her as the next president, and Annissa Essaibi-George has taken a leading role to combat homelessness and the city’s opioid crisis. Lydia Edwards was recently elected to represent District 1, which stretches from East Boston to the North End, becoming the first person not of Italian descent elected to that seat since the 1980s. Kim Janey, who comes from a family of community activists, became the first woman to represent District 7 since the early 1980s.

Janey, a longtime advocate for improved education programs, said she recalled the days when community activists focused on encouraging women to vote. Now “the movement is to run,” she said.

Campbell told the crowd that the six women owed their election not only to their own work, but to a growing recognition in the community that they can serve. Maybe it had to do with Clinton’s loss, or maybe someone in their neighborhood knows they can help to get a street light fixed, she said.

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Either way, “We’re here because folks in our community stood up, said: ‘Enough is enough, we want to do something different,’ ” she said.

Edwards said the council is beginning to reflect the demographics of the city.

“It’s sad that we’re surprised, but that the City Council would look like that is great for the year 2017,” she said. Residents will see that women, several of them mothers, can serve in leadership roles. On the current council, she has more women she can turn to for guidance than at her past workplaces or boardrooms she’s sat in, she said.

Campbell, the incoming president, said she hopes to build off Wu’s work in making the council more transparent and accessible to residents who have not always had an equal stake in government.

“People on the ground do not feel like they are part of what’s coming out of City Hall,” she said. “We cannot do this work alone . . . we have to do it in partnership. If we’re truly going to move the needle on major issues in the city of Boston and challenge the status quo, every person needs to be part of that conversation.”

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One person in the crowd asked whether Mayor Martin J. Walsh should be nervous about a challenge from one of them. Could one of those six be the next mayor of Boston, the city’s first woman mayor?

“Yes, and yes,” Essaibi-George said quickly.

“Why not,” Campbell said.

Janey added, “I certainly believe the next mayor of Boston will be a woman of color.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.