+Representative Ayanna Pressley, one of the state’s most high-profile political figures, endorsed City Councilor Michelle Wu in the Boston mayoral race Friday, a show of support that could carry significant weight, especially among the city’s Black voters.
“Michelle has a passion for service and a vision for our city that is grounded in her own lived experience and belief in the transformative potential of policy,” Pressley said in a statement in which she called Wu her “friend and sister in service.”
“At this pivotal moment in our city’s history, we need bold leadership.”
The Wu campaign seized on the endorsement, sending out a fund-raising e-mail featuring Pressley.
“I’m so honored and excited to be building our coalition,” Wu said Friday at a campaign event in Dorchester. “I had the chance to work alongside our congresswoman for many years, starting on the City Council and now to partnering on issues that affect the day-to-day lives of Boston residents across the city. She represents bold, fearless leadership — always focused on people.”
Pressley’s backing is a major prize in the hard-fought contest between Wu and fellow City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George. Campaigning in Dorchester Friday, Essaibi George said she had asked Pressley for her support, but then went on to repeat a common campaign refrain that the only endorsement that matters will come on Election Day.
“I’ve always been grateful to have the opportunity to work with Ayanna in her capacity certainly as a city councilor [and ] . . . now as a congresswoman,” Essaibi George said. “I understand that there are several places where we differ in policy and in work, [and I am] disappointed to not have her endorsement in this race. But as mayor of this city, I look forward to working with her and the rest of our congressional delegation.”
Pressley’s endorsement capped a week in which another prominent Black female politician, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, also threw her support behind Wu. It also followed remarks Essaibi George made during a radio interview that critics said implied that only someone born and raised in Boston could serve as mayor. On Friday, Essaibi George dismissed the controversy as “a silly thing” on Twitter.
But the decision by Pressley, who has emerged as a national figure as one of the most progressive voices in Congress, to support Wu may take the campaign to a new level.
“Members of Congress do not ordinarily endorse” mayoral candidates, said Larry DiCara, a 1983 mayoral candidate and former Boston city councilor. “I think it’s very significant.”
Both Pressley and Wu were raised in Chicago, moved to Boston as adults for higher education, and began their political careers on the Boston City Council.
Both were pioneers: Pressley was the first Black woman elected city councilor, and the state’s first Black congresswoman; Wu was the first Asian woman on the council, and the first woman of color to serve as council president.
That alliance should help Wu as the two finalists compete for a share of the city’s Black voters. All three of the Black mayoral candidates — Janey, City Councilor Andrea Campbell, and former economic development chief John Barros — were eliminated in the Sept. 14 preliminary election.
“Where that bloc of voters lands between the two remaining candidates is one of the things that may really matter in terms of who wins,” said David Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College. “So if you’re Michelle Wu, you’re happy to receive the endorsement” of both Janey and Pressley.
A Globe analysis of the city’s 25 precincts with the most Black residents found that Janey, who lives in Roxbury, dominated those precincts, while Campbell, of Mattapan, followed with 26 percent, and Wu, of Roslindale, took third with 14 percent. Support for Essaibi George hovered in the single digits in those precincts, followed by Barros, both of whom live in Dorchester.
Essaibi George is pressing on with what she calls her “Listen & Learn” tour, to inform her agenda on equity, inclusion, and justice issues. But some community residents say she should have started that years ago and not four weeks before a big election.
On Wednesday, she appeared at the weekly Violence Reduction Task Force meeting at the Ella J. Baker House, in a predominantly Black section of Dorchester. There, she promised that if elected she will commit to devoting $100 million of federal relief money to address extreme disadvantage in the Black community.
But the next day, she came under fire after she attempted to distinguish leadership style, presence in the neighborhoods, and homegrown bona fides in an interview on Boston Public Radio.
Asked whether Wu’s Chicago roots should be relevant to voters, Essaibi George said: “It’s relevant to me, and I think it’s relevant to a lot of voters whether or not they’re born and raised in the city.”
Essaibi George appeared to shrug off the controversy, pointing to long-running “Old Boston versus New Boston” tensions, which she said “is such a silly debate.” She said she was speaking about her own lived experience growing up in Boston and how that shaped the person she is today, and that her response did not have anything to do with Wu or where Wu was born and raised.
“This is a great city and I am grateful for anyone who comes to Boston 10 years ago, 20 years ago [or] two weeks ago,” Essaibi George said. “This city is great because of everyone who has chosen to call Boston home. My experiences growing up in this city have informed me and have made me the person that I am today.”
But Wu, who was raised in the Midwest and has been living in Boston since 2009, took issue with Essaibi George’s remarks.
“We need every single voice, every single community represented at a table,” Wu said Friday. “Identifying others by birthplace — or defining others identities by birthplace — can reinforce exclusion and barriers that make community members feel shut out of the political process.”
All but two of the city’s 45 mayors in the past 100 years were born and raised in Boston, and many were children of immigrants, including former mayor Martin J. Walsh. Other candidates — Janey, Campbell, and Barros — highlighted their Boston roots in their campaigns and were noted for their deep connections to the city.
Hopkins, the BC professor, said Essaibi George started the race trailing Wu and needs “to go on the offensive” and take risks by making “the case aggressively for herself as a preferable choice” to her opponent.
“Strategically, she needs to find issues that distinguish her from Wu,” he added. “Boston is historically a city that has had a certain parochial streak. . . . And so it’s not necessarily a huge mistake to try to play on that.”
The aim is not to play to her base, but to pick up voters who backed candidates in the preliminary election other than Wu. There are many native Bostonians, including those in the Black community, who will relate to that message, he said.
On Friday, Essaibi George stood outside after meeting with Bostonians who are disabled and their allies. She wore two chains around her neck. On one dangled an image of her late father. The other was a Blessed Mother medal. The councilor sounded upbeat, saying she finished the week “strong,” noting her efforts to take her case to voters in every neighborhood.
The Blessed Mother medal was gifted to her on the eve of the preliminary election by the grandmother of one of her team members, who had been praying for her, Essaibi George said. She came in second in that race. “I’ve been wearing it ever since,” she said.
John R. Ellement and Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff contributed to this report.