This mayoral election represents the best opportunity Boston has ever had to elect a Black mayor — a cherished dream of the city’s Black professional and political class for decades.
But will a Black candidate make it into the final? That isn’t the certainty some might assume.
This is, of course, a historic field: for the first time in the city’s history, every significant candidate identifies as a person of color. That would have seemed wildly unlikely even four years ago.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey is the first Black person and first woman to occupy the office, and this remains her job to lose. But where does the race really stand a month before voters make their voices heard?
Janey had been a reasonably effective acting mayor, passing a city budget, managing the newest phase of the pandemic, and handling a Police Department crisis left to her by her predecessor Mayor Martin J. Walsh. I wouldn’t say she has handled the disorder in the Police Department anywhere close to perfectly, though. She was indecisive about how to replace former police commissioner Dennis White, and her handling of the case of Patrick Rose, the former police union head accused of molesting children, hasn’t inspired confidence.
Janey also deserves credit for getting some of the city’s key unions to buying into vaccinations or testing, though she stumbled at the outset, invoking slavery and birtherism to explain her opposition to vaccine passports.
In the most interesting subplot of this race, Janey has been relentlessly hammered by City Councilor Andrea Campbell, the other Black woman in the field. Campbell has repeatedly called out Janey for weak and indecisive leadership, in persuasive terms.
Floating above the fray have been Councilors Michelle Wu, quietly nailing down her support among the city’s progressives, and Annissa Essaibi George, who’s working to solidify her status as the candidate of voters who want nothing to do with progressives.
With former city economic development chief John Barros seemingly languishing in fifth place, Janey and Campbell appear to be the only Black candidates with a real shot at making the final.
Though Janey got a huge (if predictable) boost from her accidental standing as acting mayor, her momentum seems to have stalled, if trends in recent polls are to be credited. Campbell’s punches have landed, and white progressives, in particular, appear to have slowed their march onto the Janey bandwagon.
Campbell offers a compelling personal narrative and great skills on the campaign trail. She’s also proved to be a very effective fundraiser, which has translated into heavy TV advertising down the stretch of the campaign.
Campbell’s attacks are hurting Janey, but are they drawing voters to her? That’s a harder question to answer. Unless she can make a big dent in Janey’s support among Black voters, she could still struggle to make the final. I have a hard time seeing how Janey and Campbell — reliant on so many of the same voters — both make it.
Essaibi George has been trailing the front-runners in most polling. But she still has a good chance of making the final. The formula for her involves running strong in her native Dorchester and Southie, and garnering substantial support in West Roxbury and Charlestown.
As I mentioned, she’s pursuing that strategy by running as the who-needs-reform candidate. For example, the former schoolteacher says she wants to “fix the schools” but opposes most things that might actually fix them. (Especially changing the admissions formula for Boston Latin School, an issue dear to the hearts of West Roxbury voters.) As for the Police Department, she doesn’t even pretend to want to change anything. If she makes it into the final, I suspect either Janey or Campbell won’t.
Which leaves Wu. “Front-runner” might be too strong a term in a race this amorphous, but she has the clearest path to the final, having both a loyal base and a field organization honed over four prior citywide campaigns. Some argue that her campaign could be more dynamic in terms of making headlines, but she seems content to watch her opponents slug it out while she works to solidify her base.
I think Wu makes the final. Who will join her in making history is anyone’s guess.