Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu announced Tuesday she is running for mayor, saying she can best lead the city through a reckoning on race and policing, an unprecedented health crisis, and the struggles that stem from the gap between the city’s rich and the poor.
Wu officially launched her campaign Tuesday morning with the release of a campaign video and a vow to unite communities across Boston to bring change.
In the two-minute video, which features a diverse array of Boston residents young and old, Wu introduces herself as a mom, a daughter of immigrants, and a candidate running “to make Boston a city for everyone.”
“The Boston we love is a city that takes care of each other, where hard work meets big dreams with grit and resilience. But for too many, during this pandemic and well before, it’s been impossible to dream when you’re fighting to hold on,” Wu said in the video, which she narrates in the three languages that she speaks: English, Mandarin, and Spanish.
In an interview with the Globe, she said the city’s current leadership — she did not identify Mayor Martin J. Walsh by name — has failed to seize on this pivotal moment in Boston’s history, arguing he has not translated the resources from an unprecedented development boom into solutions to Boston’s still widening economic and racial inequities.
“To meet this moment, we need leadership that matches the scale and urgency of our challenges,” Wu said in the interview, “and that can only happen if communities most affected are leading the way. We need leadership with a vision and conviction to act, grounded in community.”
“In this moment of crisis," she added, "it’s not only possible but necessary to reimagine our systems, because we’ve seen how business as usual has been failing Bostonians since well before the pandemic . . . we have the resources in Boston to be a city where everyone can reach their full potential. We need leadership and vision and political will.”
Her announcement ends weeks, if not years, of speculation about her political intentions, even as Walsh remains largely popular citywide ahead of the 2021 mayoral election. He has not said if he will run for a third term.
In the interview, Wu focused mostly on her broad vision for the city and why she wanted to be mayor, rather than specific policy proposals. In documents prepared for her launch, she points to her record as a city councilor since 2014 to give a sense of what her platform will be: her work to regulate the short-term rental industry, protect Boston’s dwindling affordable housing stock, and instill environmental protections in the development approval process.
She’s also called for vast reforms to the public transit system: She advocated for fare-free transit in 2019, sparking a broad conversation about the idea, even though she was criticized for failing to say how to pay for it.
Wu, 35, of Roslindale, has been one of the mayor’s fiercest critics. She’s knocked Walsh for his handling of funds that were launched to help address racial inequities and the COVID-19 pandemic. And she’s highlighted Boston’s extremely low rate of women- and minority-owned vendors.
The two have clashed over parking fee proposals, the implications of selling city-owned land, and more.
Wu was among the councilors who voted in June against the mayor’s budget in one of the most contentious debates about the city’s yearly spending plan in recent times. It passed, 8-5.
On a national reckoning over policing, she said the city has failed “to approach public safety through a public health lens” in a way that would allow police officers to concentrate on public safety measures, while addressing root problems of crime and violence.
“That means we’re not using our resources in the most effective way for our communities, or for our city employees,” she said. “We’re going to be pushing to transform our public health infrastructure to truly fund public health for safety and healing.”
Regarding the opioid epidemic that has taken over the neighborhood at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, Wu said the Walsh administration has failed to respond with a holistic solution. She downplayed Walsh’s plans to build a recovery campus on Long Island, saying the proposal fails to address the immediate crisis.
“With Mass and Cass, city government fails so many people here,” she said. “We need leadership that acts with the scale and urgency that matches our needs, and this is a very stark example of that.”
On rebuilding the city’s schools, she said the mayor has failed to bring various communities within the school system together on a common agenda.
With one of her sons in the school system, she said, she recognizes parents' frustration with what she called a lack of communication from the administration, specifically on the school reopening plan.
“I live it, every day. I’m a mom in the Boston public school system, and I face the very same anxiety our families are about what the schedule may be or when our kids may be in and out of buildings,” she said.
Wu added, “It will make a difference to have a mom in charge of the Boston public schools. Every issue is real. Every action or inaction is personal, and I live with the stakes of whether we’re meeting this moment and acting with the scale and urgency our families need.”
Wu first alerted Walsh that she plans to run in a private conversation last week, which the mayor confirmed to the Globe.
In interviews since then, Walsh has declined to say if he’s running for reelection, instead emphasizing his focus on combating the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening city schools, and helping Democrats win the White House in November
But people close to Walsh, who had $5 million in his campaign account as of August, said he plans to run. Wu had just under $345,000.
A Walsh and Wu mayoral race would illustrate the changing political landscape that has taken hold in the city, as pockets of Boston neighborhoods from East Boston to the South End to Roslindale have grown more politically active and progressive and more willing to elect leadership from outside the typical political establishment.
Wu will be looking to capitalize on the same politically progressive movement that helped propel former councilor Ayanna Pressley to Congress over established incumbent Michael Capuano in 2018 and that aided US Senator Edward J. Markey in his recent defeat of challenger Joseph P. Kennedy III.
A Chicago native and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Wu was first elected to the City Council at-large in 2013, and she has comfortably won the citywide vote in the last two elections — with large support from the newer politically active corners of the city, including Roslindale and Jamaica Plain. She lives in Roslindale with her husband, Conor, and their two young sons, Blaise and Cass.
In 2015, she was the first woman of color to be elected council president by her colleagues.
The last time a challenger unseated an incumbent mayor in Boston was in 1949, when city clerk and acting mayor John B. Hynes defeated the incumbent, James Michael Curley, after Curley had served federal prison time while in office. Curley had earlier been reelected to the seat while facing the federal indictment, an achievement that speaks to the power of incumbency.
Wu said she recognizes the challenges of running for mayor against an incumbent but will build a coalition of neighborhoods that, she said, have been neglected by the city as racial and socioeconomic inequities have grown.
“We’re continuing the same approach that we’ve always had, of building a movement that is more than just about one day’s vote totals,” she said. “This is about reimagining what Boston can do when every community is at the table. And we’ll be in every single neighborhood, every community, to fight for that citywide coalition, focusing on what we can do, what we can do together.”
Walsh, 53, still remains largely popular.
His allies said he has maintained his base of support, with Boston’s relatively low crime rate and development surge boosting the economy. Parks are clean, they say, and the city’s cultural scene was booming before the pandemic hit. While COVID-19 has changed the city’s economic and political landscape, Boston has, so far, fared better financially than most other similarly sized cities.
In his 2017 reelection bid, Walsh trounced challenger Tito Jackson by a 2-1 ratio.
To mount a serious challenge of Walsh, political analysts said, Wu would have to generate the record-breaking levels of political excitement for a local race the city only saw when Mel King became the first Black man to run in a final election bid for mayor of Boston, for the open seat in 1983. He ultimately lost to Raymond Flynn, with more than 200,000 voters heading to the polls. By contrast, 140,000 people cast a ballot in 2013, when Walsh won the open seat against then-City Councilor John Connolly.