Boston mayor-elect Michelle Wu and former challenger Annissa Essaibi George returned to the public arena Wednesday, taking their seats in the City Council chambers where their political careers began.
Tardy to the meeting because she forgot her City Hall pass, Wu entered a silent and seated Council chamber 15 minutes late. Essaibi George was already at her seat, a corsage of two light pink roses in plastic next to her microphone.
The two women, Wu in her trademark navy blue and Essaibi George in a carnation pink blazer, did not make eye contact during the hourlong meeting that featured comments from councilors about Tuesday’s election.
Wu addressed Essaibi George — as well as other council members — in her final meeting as a member of the council she joined in 2013 as a councilor-at-large. Essaibi George followed in 2015, also a councilor-at-large. She did not seek re-election so she could run for mayor.
“To see your example as a mom who’s just going to get it done, no matter how many things are on the plate, with the kids, with community, with your dedication to showing up in every space,” Wu said to Essaibi George. “You’ve shown up for Boston time and again.”
Essaibi George spoke during the meeting about her concerns about homelessness, but did not respond to Wu or supportive comments from other councilors who addressed to her.
Wu is scheduled to be sworn in on Nov. 16 as the first woman, the first person of color and the first Asian American to be elected mayor of Boston, a job she earned by receiving 64 percent of the vote, according to unofficial city tallies.
Wu is scheduled to be sworn in so quickly because former Mayor Martin J. Walsh left office to join the Biden administration as labor secretary. Walsh, after his election as mayor in 2013, had time for a vacation and did not take office until January.
The late Mayor Thomas M. Menino also took office on Nov. 16, 1993, but had served as acting mayor for about four months and had already installed his top advisers when he began his first four-year term.
During public events Wednesday, Wu addressed the compressed schedule now facing her by acknowledging she has yet to name a chief of staff and by offering a vague “in the days ahead” when asked when she would identify her key team members.
“The top priority is building out our team,” Wu told reporters in Roxbury. “This is about empowering a full team that is reflective of Boston, representative of the expertise in our communities, and connected to the urgency of the issues from the cabinet level all throughout the organization.”
Wu, whom analysts said was elected by progressive voters, also sounded like Menino, who was known as the “urban mechanic” for his detailed attention to all aspects of city government.
“Ensuring that we’re ready for this winter with storms that may come and be ready with all the snow plows is just as important as ensuring that we are laying the groundwork for the big issues around us,’’ she said. “City government is truly special because you can do the big things by getting the little things right.”
Mark Horan, a Democratic political consultant who lives in Jamaica Plain, saw Wu’s electoral success as a sign that progressive voters from across the city are now eclipsing more moderate and working-class residents in West Roxbury and Dorchester and other neighborhoods who historically determined the mayor’s race.
“What’s clear is that the more-educated liberal voters have now eclipsed traditional working-class voters,’’ he said. “And that’s not a surprise, given everything that we see going on around the city, but I think that’s what is at the heart of this.”
Sweeping progressive priorities may have helped lift her to City Hall’s top spot, but Wu will have to deal with the public health and safety crisis now known as Mass and Cass and address the leadership vacuum at the top of the Boston Police Department, which has operated with an acting commissioner since February, he said.
“I think that there will be issues like police commissioner, like Mass and Cass, that are going to be front and center and they may not be totally consistent with what she wants to do in the big picture,” Horan said. “It’s going to be an acid test. . . . If you don’t have a plan for that, that could be a stumbling block right out of the gate.”
Boston’s voters also chose a new City Council, where five open seats triggered an intense campaign.
But Wu’s election was the race that drew millions of dollars in outside campaign donations to the city for both her and Essaibi George and also gained national media attention as proof of major change in one of the nation’s most durable bastions of white male political power.
Wu met with Acting Mayor Kim Janey Wednesday afternoon. When Janey was named acting mayor, she became the first Black person and the first woman in charge of City Hall. But she was not successful in her bid to win a full term, losing in the preliminary election to Wu and Essaibi George.
Speaking to reporters at City Hall following their meeting, Wu and Janey said they had been preparing for the transition of power for the past couple of weeks and had a productive discussion Wednesday about hiring staff and about the issues facing the city.
“I’m completely confident that Mayor-elect Wu is prepared and ready to lead on day one,” Janey said.
Wu voiced support for expanding access to low-threshold temporary housing, which typically does not require abstinence from substance use, for homeless people and drug users who have been living in the Mass. and Cass area, speaking of the “need to ensure that we are leading with a public health approach and not furthering criminalization.”
Wu said one of her administration’s first hires will be for a cabinet-level position to help coordinate services for people dealing with mental health issues, substance use, and homelessness.
She declined to discuss specific hires or policy changes she plans to make and instead spoke broadly about the challenges she faces — and that Janey faced before her — in managing the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic while also addressing longstanding issues.
“The mandate from yesterday’s results is to pick on the big challenges facing our city and to do so in a way that truly brings everyone into the conversation,” Wu said.
Wu will end her public schedule Wednesday by virtually attending the Boston School Committee meeting at 5:20 p.m.
Wu’s victory is a testament to the shifting face of the city and its new appetite for transformative political change. Where more conservative, whiter parts of the city, such as South Boston, Dorchester, and West Roxbury, once played kingmaker, a more diverse coalition of progressive voters in neighborhoods such as Jamaica Plain and Roslindale has begun to flex its political power.
As a councilor-at-large in earlier elections, Wu has picked up support in traditional establishment communities, including Hyde Park and East Boston, and her dominance in the Sept. 14 preliminary mayoral election showed she is popular across the city.
Wu is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School and lives in Roslindale with her husband, banker Conor Pewarski, and their two young sons, Blaise and Cass. She was born in Chicago and raised in its suburbs, the eldest of four children.
Wu’s advocacy of a Green New Deal for Boston drew endorsement from Senator Edward Markey. She also was endorsed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Representative Ayanna Pressley, a high-profile member of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in the US House. All three applauded Wu’s victory Tuesday night.
Author and prominent environmental advocate Bill McKibben also welcomed Wu’s victory via Twitter. “Truly wonderful climate news from Boston, where Michelle Wu is the next mayor,” McKibben tweeted. “She’s going to show what a truly committed big-city mayor can do.”
Horan said Wu locked in the progressive vote early.
“Progressives just made up their minds and there was no movement at all,’’ he said. “Not just ones who are activists or on Twitter. I’m talking about parents in their 30s and 40s who are doctors, lawyers, and have progressive leanings. Right after the preliminary, it was Michelle. It didn’t matter at all [how] she did in the debates or anything. They just weren’t going to move.”
Milton J Valencia, Emma Platoff, and Meghan Irons of the Globe staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report. Material from earlier Globe coverage was used in this story.
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