It was not supposed to end this way. But as Tuesday night came to a close, the harsh reality that many people in the Black community had hoped they would not face became crystal clear. There will be no Black candidate in the general election.
According to results gathered by the campaigns, City Councilor Andrea Campbell and Acting Mayor Kim Janey did not seem to have enough votes to make it to the final. City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George laid claim to the two top spots, and Campbell and Janey ultimately conceded.
“It’s a shame. Boston should be ashamed of itself,’’ said Barbara Gibbs, 71, of Hyde Park. “I just think Boston is a racist city.”
“I think the story here today is who does Boston want to be,” said former state representative Marie St. Fleur. “It’s not the story about two Black women. It’s the story about all of Boston and the fact that in the state of Massachusetts, the city of Boston, we cannot move the white community to really come out overall to support a Black candidate as mayor.”
The mood at Janey’s South End election night party began hopeful, but quickly shifted to trepidation and then to gloom. “I’m NOT in an emotional state [to talk],” a Janey supporter said as the first returns were reported.
Three hours after the polls closed, a campaign staffer told the crowd to go home. “We have a lot of outstanding ballots and so we are allowing people to go home,’’ she said.
Janey did not show up, although state Representative Jon Santiago and former city councilor Tito Jackson, who endorsed her were in attendance. She conceded around midnight.
The election had been framed as a pivotal moment in Boston’s Black history that would end a 50-year odyssey that has escaped Black Bostonians. They saw a path forward after Janey vaulted into the acting mayor’s post when former mayor Martin J. Walsh departed for Washington to serve as labor secretary. The race featured three viable Black candidates, including Janey, Campbell, and John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development.
But as the night wore on with campaigns collecting vote tallies from individual precincts, Wu said she felt confident she’d be moving on to the final and Essaibi George appeared to claim second.
At about 11:30 p.m., Campbell conceded: “The real winner tonight was actually Black women,’' she told her supporters in Grove Hall. “Collectively, our vote share surpassed all others. And what that shows is that there is an appetite indeed in this city for change and I know my candidacy helped ignite it, and I’m proud of it.”
Byron Rushing, who is Black and a former state representative, said he believes Black voters were divided among the three Black candidates. To triumph, he said, the Black candidates should have rallied behind one person.
“All three Black candidates were [operating as though we are] in a post-racial Boston. I don’t believe that exists. And it’s going to hurt them,” Rushing, who supported Wu, said before the polls closed.
In the past half-century, more than a dozen Black Bostonians have launched campaigns to lead the city, most of them barely registering in the history books. A dozen candidates competed in the last open election in 2013, but despite every effort, the lone Black woman did not advance to the general election. Instead, Walsh, the former state representative, went on to defeat former city councilor John Connolly that November.
Black Bostonians spent the day worried about outcome, though they held on to hope.
“You wouldn’t be a Black person raised in America if you didn’t have this dose of fear or caution in your pocket at all times,” said Imari Paris Jefferies, executive director of King Boston, the organization building the King memorial, and a Hyde Park resident.
While he was encouraged by what he saw personally on the ground Tuesday after voting, he said he and his friends had been watching the polls with worry.
“It hit us in a way and many of us have a very sinking feeling in our stomach,’’ said Jeffries. “I think there’s going to be a sense of unarticulated grief that may manifest itself . . . in the event that there is not a Black candidate [advancing].”
But Donnell Graves, a Black retired correction officer who said he voted for Janey, said Boston needs to turn a corner.
“We need to change that narrative,” Graves said. “We need to show the city that we deserve the services this city has to offer.”
St. Fleur, the first Haitian American to be elected state representative in Massachusetts, said the election was bigger than any one candidate, adding that whoever advances will need to reconnect with voters.
“[This is] not simply about what this means for Black Boston. It is who we are as Bostonians‚’’ said St. Fleur, noting that for too long the city has not been able to move past the issue of race to elect the most qualified candidate. “We haven’t been able to pivot.”
Malia Lazu, an MIT lecturer and founder of MassVote who is Afro Latina, said that whatever the results, the Black community should feel a sense of accomplishment after Tuesday, given the slate of candidates.
But she faulted Campbell for her relentless attack on Janey. “My question would be to Andrea was it worth making Kim the candidate you are trying to get out of the race,’' Lazu said.
She said Janey ran a strong race, but also came in with a lot of targets on her back. “That’s what happens when you are the incumbent. I think there is a lot for us to be proud of,” Lazu added.
On the night that was supposed to be a triumph for Black women in Boston, all that was left of the Janey campaign were orange and purple tablecloths blowing in the wind of an empty parking lot.
Tiana Woodard, Janelle Nanos, and Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report.