With a commanding lead in the polls, Michelle Wu had seemed all but assured of victory in Boston’s mayoral election, and Tuesday’s results fulfilled that expectation. For those who didn’t follow the campaign closely, here are some important things to know about the newly elected mayor and the keys to her win.
Organization, as much as the issues, mattered
Wu’s victory demonstrates the power of having a strong ground game in all areas of the city. Wu led in fund-raising, polling, and landing major endorsements. City, state, and community leaders flocked to Wu in part because of her positions on the issues, but also because of the personal connections she has built through the years.
Her nearly 10 years in government — including eight as a city councilor at large — will also prove valuable as Boston’s chief executive. She spent two years in the administration of former mayor Thomas M. Menino through a Harvard Law School fellowship, helping to streamline the restaurant permitting process and enabling food trucks to operate for the first time in Boston. Menino’s widow, Angela, endorsed Wu over the weekend.
Wu’s popularity has also grown over the years. After her first campaign in 2013, Wu told the Boston Globe Magazine that her biggest challenge was name recognition. “As a first-time candidate running citywide, Boston becomes much, much larger, and everybody expects to see you and have a conversation with you face to face. It’s a lot of ground to cover,’' she said. “And the focus the whole time was on the mayor’s race. So as a council candidate, there was the extra challenge of really needing to get out there and have a strong ground game.” Things got better for Wu two years later when she ran for reelection and ended up slightly behind her then-council colleague Ayanna Pressley, who topped the ticket. Wu finished first in the 2017 and 2019 at-large council races, steadily forging a broad, citywide coalition.
With her groundbreaking victory, Wu shattered several barriers
Wu is the first woman to be elected mayor in Boston and the first Asian American — a rarity in major US cities. Wu, who was born and raised in the Midwest to Taiwanese immigrant parents, is also the first elected mayor who was not born and raised in Boston in nearly a century. Her election represents a major inflection point in Boston, whose demographics have changed dramatically in recent decades. Just 43 percent of residents of Boston were born in Massachusetts.
As mayor, police reform will be high on her agenda
Boston has been without a permanent police commissioner since Dennis White, appointed by former mayor Martin J. Walsh, was fired by Acting Mayor Kim Janey earlier this year. Wu will now be tasked with choosing a new leader of the Boston Police Department to execute her vision for reform. Wu has emphasized the need to overhaul the four primary police union contracts, which expired more than a year ago, so that officers are not “shielded from accountability.” She has also emphasized the need for major reforms to the department’s structure and culture.
“There is a clear choice in this race, about the willingness and the boldness that each of us is presenting for truly tackling police reform,” she said in a recent forum. The policing issue offered the starkest contrast between Wu and her mayoral rival, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George. David Hopkins, a Boston College political science professor, said it was consistent for Wu to emphasize that “police reform is necessary and that police funding should be scrutinized” as someone known as a progressive who draws support from the “socially liberal upscale professional class.”
Rent control is a priority
Wu has said she would support rent stabilization measures similar to those recently enacted in Oregon and California that limit annual rent hikes. A longtime critic of the Boston Planning & Development Agency, she unveiled a plan in 2019 to abolish the agency, return BPDA-owned land to city control, and create a new city planning department. She has pledged to devote $200 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to housing, expand homeownership programs, review income guidelines for affordable housing, and update zoning rules to reduce parking requirements and encourage denser developments near public transit.
How will she govern a diverse and changing city?
Wu will govern based upon data, said Larry DiCara, a mayoral candidate in 1983 and historian of city politics. “She’s the most cerebral person to be mayor since Kevin White, and Kevin was easily distracted,’’ DiCara added. He said he does not expect Wu to govern based on political connections but will instead focus on the big picture. The real question is who she will surround herself with, he said. Walsh named mostly white men to his Cabinet. Wu will likely surround herself with a more diverse group. “But the real challenge will be — are they people who really understand the city? I don’t know,’’ DiCara said.
Playing piano will be key
A mother of two young boys, Wu said she has turned to the soothing effects of playing the piano before debates or major events. “It’s a way for me to calm myself down,” she said at a forum last week. She also rewards herself with a treat from Ron’s Ice Cream in Hyde Park — her favorite flavor is caramel fudge brownie. As mayor, she will have a long list of issues and personalities to contend with. Expect more visits to Ron’s.