As Boston residents woke up Wednesday morning and looked at the results of the mayoral preliminary election, they may have initially noticed an odd dynamic: The campaigns knew and were acting on vote tallies that had not been released by the city.
Specifically, even though less than half of the vote was posted by the city as of 6 a.m., City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George claimed they will face off against each other in November. All of the other candidates agree and have conceded. Later in the morning, the unofficial results were 100 percent in, with Wu and Essaibi George indeed taking the top two spots.
But behind that headline are some takeaways about what the results mean not only for Boston and what they say about the previous six months of the campaign, but also what may lay ahead in the next two months before the general election.
1. By selecting this particular pair of candidates, Bostonians may actually give themselves a clear choice.
The differences in a five-way race of self-described progressives with diverse backgrounds were subtle heading into Tuesday’s preliminary election. Tune into any forum and the candidates agreed with each other on close to 100 percent of everything, from the need to address structural racism and climate change, the rights of communities of all kinds, and the urgent need to do something about skyrocketing housing prices and a deteriorating situation at Mass and Cass.
Voters, then, largely had to base a decision on other factors: who they had heard of, who they liked, who they thought could execute best on all of the shared goals.
A Wu vs. Essaibi George contest could be a lot different. It could be an ideological contest where Wu is the progressive candidate and Essaibi George is the moderate candidate and voters will choose accordingly.
No, it probably will not really be that clean. Essaibi George repeated on election might that she doesn’t like to be put in a box, but her unique position in the race in favor of hiring more Boston police officers stood out as much as Wu’s position as the only candidate in the field to favor rent control.
2. Black candidates did rather well.
The disappointment in the Black community that there is no Black candidate in the final is understandable. Three of the five candidates were Black and they were the only candidates who didn’t move on.
That said, it is not as though Black candidates were rejected. Quite the opposite. According to the early results, a plurality of voters chose a Black candidate in this election.
3. The next mayor will be a mom with school-age children.
This pair-off also will offer something very different in the history of Boston politics: The finalists for mayor are two women with school-age children.
While a lot has been discussed about the glass ceilings women have been shattering in politics around the country, the added layer that these are women who have children in the home is something that could be an example for the rest of the country. After all, men with young children in the home (or often newborns) run for office all the time and no one thinks twice. From this general election to US Senators giving birth, the unwritten rules about women and politics are changing before our eyes.
This could, obviously, bring a lived experience to the political debate about what parenting is like in 2021 in Boston. This has never happened before.
4. Janey really is the story of the preliminary election.
The deep dive story of this election isn’t what Wu and Essaibi George did right, but what Acting Mayor Kim Janey did wrong.
By becoming the acting mayor six months ago as the pandemic appeared to be receding, Janey was handed one of the biggest political gifts in Massachusetts politics in a long time. Her presence in the top job, as the first woman and the first person of color, put her on NBC’s “Today” show and led to a lot of national and local coverage. No other candidate in the race got that attention.
Then came all the city press conferences on COVID and all the ribbon cuttings in every neighborhood. She was in a commanding position to win this fall.
And then it all came crashing down, nearly in Martha Coakley fashion. That she was the only candidate to refrain from addressing supporters Tuesday night was not a good look, but said a lot.
5. Reporting of votes must be improved.
Yes, it is true that results of the recall election in California, the nation’s largest state and three hours behind us, came in before the results of Boston’s race.
Yes, this is a huge problem given we live in an age when any delayed results have led conspiracy theorists to believe something fishy was going on.
The bottom line is that the process needs to get faster.
6. This contest could be over quickly.
Maybe before even all the results of the preliminary election are known, it is possible that the general election could be effectively over. One hypothetical poll from Public Policy Polling released Tuesday night gave Wu a 48 percent to 28 percent lead over Essaibi George.
If other candidates, particularly Campbell and Janey, quickly backed Wu, with whom they are more aligned politically, then there may be little suspense heading into November.
After all, it is easier to see how Wu can gain their supporters than Essaibi George can grow her voting base.
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.