City Councilor Michelle Wu told Mayor Martin J. Walsh she is running for mayor next year, Walsh said Monday, setting up a potential heavyweight political clash that would see Wu attempt something not done in 70-plus years: oust a sitting Boston mayor.
In a strange twist, Walsh broke the news of his prospective opponent’s plans when contacted by The Boston Globe, confirming rumors that Wu had notified him of her intentions during a Sunday phone call.
When asked about the conversation between Walsh and Wu, the councilor’s spokeswoman issued a statement that did not explicitly announce Wu’s candidacy but took pains not to deny it.
“Councilor Wu believes that in this moment of hardship in our city, each one of us should be asking ourselves how we can make a difference in strengthening our communities and fighting for change that matches the scale and urgency of our current challenges,” said Wu spokeswoman Jessicah Pierre in the statement.
A ballot clash between the two would pit a popular, two-term incumbent mayor against someone who topped the pool of at-large City Council candidates during the last two elections. Such a race could also serve as a referendum on Boston’s political landscape at a time when the City Council is more diverse than it has ever been.
A Chicago native, Wu, 35, graduated from Harvard Law School in 2012 and eventually settled in Roslindale. She and her husband have two young sons. She was first elected to the council in 2013 and two years later was the first woman of color to be named council president. Known as a progressive stalwart, she has criticized MBTA fare hikes and called for the abolition of the Boston Planning & Development Agency. Recently, Wu released plans for a Green New Deal for Boston that detailed how the city could combat the ramifications of climate change.
Speculation about Wu’s mayoral aspirations is not new. She has been sharply critical of Walsh in recent months, ripping his administration over the Boston Resiliency Fund, which was set up to help Boston residents hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the city’s Racial Equity Fund, which was launched to address racial inequities. Wu has rapped the former for distorting the political process and the latter for failing to bring structural change to the city. Her criticism of the Resiliency Fund drew an unusually sharp rebuke from Walsh.
She has also locked horns with the administration over appointees to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal. Some of Walsh appointments stalled for months in a City Council committee that Wu oversees, and the board has at times struggled to reach a quorum. Wu ultimately recommended the council reject a trio of active nominees, something the council did last month.
Walsh on Monday said he thanked Wu for the courtesy of informing him of her plans, while adding that he was focused on his duties as mayor and also the national election.
Walsh has not formally announced whether he will seek reelection but has signaled that he is eager for a third term. On Monday, he said he was focused on ousting President Trump and helping elect the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House.
“There’s plenty of time to talk about politics next year,” he said.
No sitting Boston mayor has been unseated since 1949, when city clerk and acting mayor John B. Hynes defeated the incumbent, James Michael Curley, who was ousted only after he had served federal prison time while in office.
According to state records, Wu’s campaign coffers had $346,000 in cash on hand at the end of August. The campaign had spent $53,000 for the month, by far its largest amount of monthly expenditures this year. The August campaign expenses included $20,000 for campaign e-mails and digital ad buys, $15,000 for campaign video production, and $6,000 on “candidate research,” in what could be interpreted as a sign her campaign was ramping up for something. Walsh’s campaign, by comparison, had $5.5 million cash on hand, according to the records.
In 2013, Walsh emerged from a crowded preliminary election field and ultimately bested then-City Councilor John R. Connolly, to become the city’s mayor. Walsh cruised to a second term in 2017, defeating his challenger, then-City Councilor Tito Jackson by more than 30 points.
Among the potential variables that would change the face of the race: Will Walsh snag a post in a Biden administration, should the Delaware Democrat defeat Trump this fall?
Lawrence S. DiCara, a former City Council president who also has run for mayor, was among those to speculate on Walsh’s prospects in a Biden administration on Sunday. He said it’s impossible to predict how next year’s mayoral contest will shake out at this point.
“Anything’s possible,” he said.
Anyone who has been elected citywide with the kind of support Wu has received has to be considered a serious mayoral candidate, he said. Another open question looms over the contest: Will other candidates enter the field?
City Councilor Andrea Campbell was mentioned by multiple City Hall observers on Monday as another potential candidate. Her office declined to comment.
Consultant Mary Anne Marsh commended Walsh’s handling of the pandemic and thought that could be a factor in the race, with a central question being, “What would Michelle Wu have done differently?”
Former city councilor Michael McCormack thought Wu was a “very good candidate” who faced an uphill race against an incumbent who has had the benefit, at least before COVID-19 struck, of being in charge of the city during an economic boom.
McCormack acknowledged the difficulties of past mayoral challenges, while noting, “It’s a different time.”
“This is not the 40s or 50s, or the 80s or 90s for that matter,” McCormack said.
Before he was mayor, Walsh served as the head of a local building and construction trades council and organized labor that helped propel the 53-year-old Dorchester native and former state representative to power. But McCormack thought Walsh, during his time at City Hall, reached out beyond his labor base.
McCormack did find the way Wu’s plans were revealed “a little odd,” with an incumbent mayor the bearer of the news.
“It takes the ’oomph’ out of the formal announcement because we already know she’s running,” he said.
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