Mayor-elect Michelle Wu said Thursday that the appointment of a Cabinet chief to oversee the opioid epidemic at Mass. and Cass will be one of her first priorities, and that she will roll up her sleeves to fix Boston public schools, as she reflected on her new reality as the city’s chief executive in her first sit-down interview since her historic victory Tuesday.
“I haven’t quite processed [it] yet,” she said, in a rare moment of pause since the whirlwind of Tuesday night’s victory party, followed by a briefing with Acting Mayor Kim Janey and a City Council hearing — her last — the very next day.
In a half-hour interview with the Globe, she laid out her administration’s immediate priorities and considered the gravity of her new status as mayor-elect — which comes with her own police security detail and a private elevator. She also reflected on the wave of purple support she saw across the city on Tuesday.
“I grew up never imagining that I could be in politics or government because those spaces always seemed so far away,” she said. “And so, in this transition and in my administration, the focus is on getting City Hall out of City Hall and into the neighborhoods, and connecting every part of our communities with city government.”
Wu said she expects to name leaders of her transition team in the coming days. And on Thursday, she launched an official transition website, AllAboardBoston.com, recruiting residents to be part of her administration.
“Our team should reflect Boston’s diversity,” she said. “It should represent all of Boston’s expertise and move with urgency on the issues that our families are facing. But it’s really important that we are engaging the community on this.”
Wu sat with the Globe only minutes after she met with officials from Janey’s administration for a briefing on the homeless camps at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, which has become the center of the city’s opioid epidemic. It was the first of roughly two dozen briefings on different policy areas that are scheduled through Nov. 16, when she will be formally sworn in as mayor.
Wu said that the focus of her first briefing reflects her sense of urgency about conditions there and her aim to immediately concentrate attention on the area. Appointing a Cabinet chief to oversee the opioid epidemic will be one of her first decisions, she said, though she has not named anyone yet.
“This is the urgent priority to address,” she said. “The needs are so dire on the ground and it’s the most urgent crisis to get a hold of. . . . People want to see action and they want to see residents who are struggling connected with services, treated with dignity, and accessing housing before it gets cold.”
Wu also said that she will focus attention on Boston Public Schools, and committed Thursday to keeping School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius in that post, saying the department needs stability. Cassellius was the fifth superintendent in seven years when she was appointed in 2019, Wu noted.
“Our public schools are an area where I will be rolling up my sleeves and spending a lot of my time, pushing for political will,” she said. “It’s what I think about every morning when I wake up, because the first task is to get the kids dressed and out the door for school. It’s also the foundation for our city’s future in so many ways.”
Wu said stability in the school system is an urgent priority, in light of the challenges and disruptions delivered by the pandemic, and the high turnover of leadership over the past few years. “So I will be digging in more and having lots of conversations on where that goes,” she said.
Of Cassellius, she said, “We need stability, we need to ensure that our schools and school communities have supports.” She expects to meet with the superintendent and school staff soon.
As the Nov. 16 transition to power approaches, Wu said she will also focus her efforts on bringing gender and racial diversity and equity to the city’s procurement process, following up on her work on the City Council that found that an embarrassingly low rate of city contracts — less than 1 percent — went to businesses run by women and people of color.
She will also focus on the everyday workings of city government, what she called the “sweet spot of city government,” particularly as cold weather arrives and with it the possibility of snowstorms. Also, she said, “We have to continue being vigilant and proactive when it comes to the pandemic.”
At the same time she signaled she would not rush to make decisions, saying she wanted to take the proper steps to put a final team in place. Boston may not see a full Wu administration in place until January, during the official inauguration of city councilors.
“We’ll take the time to get this right,” she said. “And that means transitioning into the mayor’s office while continuing the public engagement . . . and policy planning that’s necessary through the end of the year.”
Wu said that voters gave her a mandate for action with her election Tuesday, by delivering her a nearly 30 percentage point victory margin, and that will be her focus in the coming months.
“Boston delivered a mandate to take on our biggest challenges, and to do so with every single community at the table,” she said. “We saw in neighborhoods all across Boston that people are ready to push for big ideas and to see our city step up, to meet this moment.”
She added, “Even in neighborhoods where people had told me I shouldn’t bother organizing or trying, we ran on the bold vision of what’s possible in Boston, and organized for over a year to keep bringing more people into this movement.”
And still, the moment seems surreal, she said, as the quick transition to power hits full speed.
It wasn’t until someone text messaged her on Wednesday during one of her planning conversations, with the title “mayor,” that things started to settle in.
“It just jolted me,” she said. “It took me a second to be reminded of where we are now, and all that’s happened.”
As she left her City Council office Thursday for a brief walk through City Hall, her police detail jumped to attention — a sudden reminder of her new life.
Acting Mayor Janey showed her the layout of the mayor’s office on the fifth floor, equipped with her own private elevator. The late mayor Thomas M. Menino let her ride in it with him once after an event more than a decade ago, Wu recalled; now it’s her own. She almost asked Janey for a ride, she joked, but, “I restrained myself.”
On Thursday, after one of her briefings on the sixth floor, she remembered she knew a shortcut back to her office, down the backstairs.
“It just reminded me,” she said, “that I know this building inside out, I know where the stairs are. I know where the departments are, and I know what’s possible if we really empower everyone inside this building to believe that we could do more and, and bring community in.”