In an unprecedented moment in Boston politics, Acting Mayor Kim Janey on Saturday endorsed City Councilor Michelle Wu for mayor during a jubilant gathering in Nubian Square, where the first woman and first Black person to lead the city shared the spotlight with a candidate who could become the first woman and first person of color to attain the top job through a win at the polls.
Janey’s support gives Wu, who is Asian American, the blessing of the candidate who had the best preliminary election showing in precincts with the highest concentration of Black voters, according to the MassINC Polling Group.
Wu was the top performer in the Sept. 14 preliminary election, collecting support through all of Boston’s neighborhoods, according to a Globe analysis of election data.
Her rival, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, finished second in the preliminary election, performing well in the whiter, more conservative neighborhoods that have long put candidates into office, but trailing in Black communities. While campaigning Saturday, Essaibi George put Janey’s endorsement aside. “I got work to do,” she said.
The general election is Nov. 2.
The announcement in front of the Faces of Dudley mural was festive even before proceedings got underway, as a supporter with a bullhorn urged the crowd to cheer for Janey as she pulled up in a city SUV, arriving at about the same time as Wu, who was on foot.
Janey prefaced her endorsement by describing issues Boston’s next mayor must face, including the COVID-19 pandemic, housing, police reform, and safely reopening public schools. Wu, she said, is the best candidate to serve Black and brown Bostonians who are most affected by systemic inequities.
“We have so much more work to do. And it is why I am endorsing Michelle Wu for mayor,” Janey said.
“I believe she is the candidate with the record and the values to not only protect the progress that we have made, but to build upon that progress to create a city that is more equitable, more just, and more resilient,” she said.
Wu praised Janey’s performance as acting mayor, saying her tenure “has reshaped this city for generations to come.” She reflected on sharing a campaign office with Janey in 2019, when they were seeking reelection to the City Council, and riding the Route 28 bus with her to push for making the service free. In August, the city launched a three-month pilot program that provides free fares on that route.
“These are the steps that we will build on to blaze that next trail for all of our young people, for our families, for our residents to continue living this history, which proves what is possible when our communities come together and when Boston leads,” Wu said. “Now is the moment for all of us to be at that table. Now is the moment to continue fighting for what we know is possible in our city and what we know will truly create that equity, opportunity, and joy for generations to come.”
In an interview during a Saturday campaign stop, Essaibi George said she learned Friday evening of Janey’s plans to endorse Wu and called the acting mayor to ask her about it.
“It would have been nice to have heard it from her as we are colleagues in government, [and] as we’ve built a nice working relationship,” she said during an event in Chinatown, where she was helping to distribute food to needy families. “I’m disappointed.”
Essaibi George said her campaign presses on.
“I’m still committed to doing this work for sure,” she said. “And it is one endorsement. And the endorsement of elected officials, the endorsement of organizations are fantastic and they look good on literature. But they don’t replace the work it takes to meet every city resident, to knock on their door, to have a cup of coffee, to have a conversation, to earn their vote.”
Essaibi George’s campaign schedule for Saturday included visits to Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester.
Debbie Ho, executive director of the Chinatown Main Street program, said Essaibi George has visited the food distribution operation several times. Ho declined to say who she is supporting in the mayoral race, but said it is important for city officials to see firsthand what’s happening in Chinatown and Essaibi George has been doing that.
“She’s been here. This is not just her first time,” said Ho. “It’s not like she just showed up here because she’s running against an opponent.”
The preliminary election results delivered disappointment for many in Boston’s Black community after Janey and two other Black candidates, City Councilor Andrea Campbell and John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development, failed to advance to the November ballot. Turnout among Black voters was low, leading to questions about whether they’ll sit out the contest between Wu and Essaibi George, who is Arab American.
Janey acknowledged the disappointment among Black voters, but urged them to elect Wu.
“We cannot squander the next opportunity to make sure the voices of Black and brown people are at the center of the discussion, at the center of the policies that will move our city forward,” she said.
On the City Council, Wu and Janey are considered progressives, and Essaibi George more of a centrist.
Essaibi George has run a more moderate race than Wu, calling for the hiring of hundreds more police officers and trying to paint Wu as having unrealistic ideas that go far beyond the scope of the mayor’s office, like free public transit and rent control.
Wu has countered that voters should reject the status quo and pointed to her record of advancing policies that skeptics initially dismissed.
Campbell, the other Black, female candidate eliminated from the mayoral race, has yet to endorse anyone. In a recent Globe opinion piece, she challenged Wu and Essaibi George to detail specific plans for racial equity and promised to endorse the candidate who makes the best case.
Before Janey’s endorsement of Wu, roughly four dozen Black political leaders and advocates met Saturday morning at Morning Star Baptist Church to develop a unified set of issues — such as leadership and diversity in government, education, housing, and civic engagement — that are critical to the Black community. State Representative Russell Holmes of Mattapan said the aim is to unite the Black community on these matters, extract commitments from Wu and Essaibi George, and hold whoever is elected accountable on how she performs on those issues.
In the crowd at the Nubian Square endorsement were State Representative Liz Miranda, who represents Roxbury and Dorchester, and Alejandra St. Guillen, who served in the administration of former mayor Martin J. Walsh. The women didn’t publicly back a candidate in the preliminary election, but now support Wu.
“Michelle is the candidate, and the only candidate that will talk about transformational, urgent change,” she said.
St. Guillen said Wu would focus City Hall on equity and “building up communities of color.”
“There’s no other option,” she said.
Haywood Fennell Sr., an Army veteran from Roxbury, said he voted for Campbell in the preliminary, but now plans to back Wu. Janey’s endorsement, he said, further convinced him Wu is the right choice.
“I think she brings the ability to bring the city together,” he said.
Danny McDonald, Meghan Irons, and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.