Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell announced Thursday that she is running for mayor in next year’s election, citing the need to make the city a more equitable and just place and saying it is time to address its history of racism.
Standing in front of a public housing complex near the South End/Roxbury line where she spent part of her childhood, she recalled stark realities of growing up poor in Boston, a story that served as the backbone of her initial pitch to voters as she entered the 2021 contest that already features her council colleague, Michelle Wu. Mayor Martin J. Walsh has yet to say whether he will seek a third term.
Campbell said that when she was 8 months old, her mother was killed in a car crash on the way to visiting Campbell’s father, who was incarcerated. After that, she lived with her grandmother, who struggled with alcoholism, and other relatives, and in foster care. In later years, both of her brothers would cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.
The message was clear: Campbell has firsthand experience with the structural inequities that riddle Boston, inequities she said she is uniquely equipped to tackle.
“Plain and simple, Boston does not work for everyone equitably,” she said.
Campbell said the average life expectancy of a Back Bay resident is 92, while in Roxbury, it’s 59. She referenced the profound wealth gap in Greater Boston, and noted that Black people are disproportionately policed in the city. Boston, she said, is facing a crucial moment.
“We can and must confront our own history of exclusion, segregation, marginalization,” she said.
Campbell said that in Boston, inequities in health care, jobs, education, and access to green space exist, and the pandemic has exacerbated them. She said that while by some metrics Boston is handling the pandemic well, “if you come into Dorchester, Mattapan, or Roxbury or other communities of color, you will see we have a lot more work to do.”
“I know the pride and the pain of being from the city of Boston,” she said.
Currently in her third term on the council, Campbell was first elected in 2015, when she defeated 32-year incumbent Charles C. Yancey. At the start of her second term, she became the first Black woman to serve as City Council president.
As a councilor, Campbell has been a consistent voice calling out racial disparities in Boston, and a steadfast proponent of police reform, spearheading a recent push to establish a civilian review board that would have real teeth in independent probes of police misconduct.
On Thursday, a day after news broke that a Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville police for the killing of Breonna Taylor during a drug raid gone wrong, Campbell said, “Those officers should be charged with murder, it’s as simple as that.”
She has publicly split with Walsh on various issues in recent months amid the nationwide reckoning on race, calling the mayor’s June announcement that he would reallocate a portion of the police budget “not good enough.” In a contentious vote over Walsh’s operating budget proposal in July, Campbell was among those who said the plan did not do enough to fight economic and racial inequalities and help communities of color. Campbell voted against the budget but it passed, 8-5.
Earlier in the year, she called on school officials to make public a host of data that would expose the depth of the digital divide that exists among students in their homes and to reveal what steps the school system is taking to ensure all students have the opportunity to learn during the pandemic.
A recent GBH poll of Boston voters found that 46 percent of respondents were most likely to support a Walsh bid for reelection, 23 percent were most likely to support Wu, and 4 percent were most likely to support Campbell.
According to state records, Campbell’s campaign had $285,000 cash on hand at the end of August, compared to $5.5 million in Walsh’s campaign coffers and $346,000 in Wu’s.
“The million dollar question is how Wu and Campbell divide the vote,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Campbell said Thursday that she respects Wu “tremendously,” adding that the two councilors have different stories and backgrounds. She also said she has worked in partnership with Walsh as a councilor.
O’Brien said Campbell makes a compelling candidate, and is not afraid to take tough positions.
Campbell and Wu, she said, are not interchangeable as candidates, but they are looking to draw similar voters.
“I don’t think either of them relish the idea of having to campaign against one another,” said O’Brien.
About 55 percent of the city’s population are people of color, but Boston has never had a mayor who is not a white man.
Should Walsh decide to run again, both Wu and Campbell would be attempting something not done in more than 70 years: oust a sitting Boston mayor. The last time voters gave the boot to an incumbent mayor was James Michael Curley in 1949 and it came after he did federal prison time earlier in that term for mail fraud.
Campbell grew up in Roxbury and the South End, graduating from Boston Latin School before moving on to Princeton and UCLA Law School. She lives in Mattapan with her two sons, 3-year-old Alexander and 9-month-old Aiden, and her husband, Matthew Scheier, a project manager at an electric construction company. Before her stint on the council, she worked as a deputy legal counsel for then-Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.
In a statement announcing her campaign, Campbell cited the pain and suffering caused by the death of her twin brother, Andre, as a driving force for her public service. He died in state custody at age 29 while he was awaiting trial on home invasion and other charges. Andre, she said, like other young Black men “was overdisciplined and undersupported by adults who failed to recognize his potential.” She said Boston is a “city divided by access to opportunity.”
Another sibling also significantly diverged from Campbell’s path. Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Alvin Campbell Jr., Campbell’s older brother, with raping a woman he picked up outside a Boston bar. Months later, prosecutors alleged he sexually assaulted seven other women between 2017 and 2019. He faces life in prison if convicted.
During the summer, Campbell said she was “shocked and devastated" by the new slate of charges, adding that her thoughts and prayers “go to the victims of these horrendous crimes and all victims of sexual abuse.”
“I pray for their safety and healing," she said at the time. "I trust that justice will be served.”
On Wednesday night, responding to a question about her brother’s ongoing case, Campbell said she viewed her mayoral candidacy as a way to demonstrate that she has broken “generational cycles of poverty, of trauma, of criminalization, of mediocrity.”
“This story that I share, I know is relatable to so many families in the city of Boston,” she said in an interview.
Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.