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‘The first time I set foot in Boston City Hall, I felt invisible’: But now, the outsiders have come into City Hall

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu spoke to reporters after her swearing-in at City Hall.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Tuesday will go down as the day the City Hall outsiders came inside.

Yes, it was the day Michelle Wu became mayor of Boston, trailing an impressive string of firsts behind her as a woman, person of color, and Asian American elected to the post.

As Wu took the oath of office, becoming mayor at 12:34 p.m., political luminaries looked on, as well as the members — current and newly elected — of the City Council., the body where Wu learned the craft of politics.

But a better sense of the change she represents may have come from the Black and brown faces that lined up for a seat in the chamber, packed the third-floor mezzanine to watch a live feed, and milled around the building before and after history was made.

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Because these were not the faces of the regulars who do business at City Hall. They were people who felt, for the first time perhaps, invited in.

In her remarks after being sworn in, Wu made a pointed reference to having once felt like an outsider in the concrete behemoth on City Hall Plaza that’s become her second home.

“The first time I set foot in Boston City Hall, I felt invisible — swallowed up by the maze of echoing concrete hallways, intimidated by the checkpoints and looming counters, reminded that my immigrant family tried to stay away from spaces like these,” Wu said. “Today I know City Hall’s passageways and stairwells like my own home. And this space is most special.”

Being inaugurated just two weeks after winning election, Wu enters a transition like none in memory.

She freely admits that this hugely consequential interim stage will last until January — even that may be optimistic — and that her fledgling administration faces daunting challenges to become fully functional.

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Wu becomes the third Boston mayor in less than a year, and in the midst of a pandemic that isn’t over. She doesn’t have a permanent police commissioner. Labor problems probably await as well.

But all is not gloom — far from it. Wu was elected by a landslide, and the support she enjoys was clearly evident as she took office. She knows city government inside out. And she has spent years pondering what she would do if she ever got a chance to steer the ship.

That knowledge, and that planning, will ease the transition considerably.

For my money, the biggest break Wu represents from the past isn’t about gender or ethnicity, important as those are. It’s generational.

Having a 36-year-old mayor — the youngest since the Great Depression — is going to be different in ways people have barely begun to ponder.

“I’m 33, so I think it’s great,” quipped Segun Idowu, CEO of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts. “It’s a change of ideas and vision for the city, and a lot of us are excited about that. She reflects the trajectory of the city.”

It’s already plain that Wu’s administration will be led by a younger and more diverse group than the inner circle that usually surrounds a mayor. With that should come a flood of new ideas. And, let us hope, boldness.

For her part, Wu sees her ascendancy as a chance to help attract new voices to public service.

“Boston is a city that for many, many years has been built up and full of young people, homegrown in our families and in our neighborhoods and coming to Boston for a chance at opportunity and education,” she said. “I can’t wait to be that millennial mom mayor who will continue trying to draw ever more people into the work of shaping our future.”

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Wu has always believed that city government was long designed to work best for a favored few.

As her runaway win proved, the city has changed. If Tuesday was any indication, the faces of City Hall are about to change, too.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.