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Michelle Wu makes history as City Council president

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The Boston City Council was sworn in Monday at Faneuil Hall.
The Boston City Council was sworn in Monday at Faneuil Hall.

The Boston City Council voted unanimously Monday to elect Michelle Wu as its president, making her the first Asian-American and the first woman of color in history to lead the body.

The 30-year-old Roslindale lawyer ascended to the rostrum after serving a single term on the City Council and will be the youngest president in decades. Wu outmaneuvered several of her more-experienced colleagues as she secured votes to lead the body for the next two years.

In an eight-minute speech, Wu's voice quivered slightly with what sounded like nervousness as she addressed a standing-room-only crowd that included her mentor and former Harvard Law School professor, US Senator Elizabeth Warren. But a touch of nerves did not diminish Wu's message: She outlined an ambitious agenda for the term ahead, vowing to tackle what she described as "historic inequality and uneven opportunity."

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"In too many parts of our city, we see skyrocketing housing costs, nightly gunshots, devastating opioid addiction, insufficient mental health supports, imbalanced schools, and stagnant wages that haven't kept pace with the costs of supporting a family," Wu said. "Against this backdrop, the work of city government is more vital than ever."

Wu said the council would work with Mayor Martin J. Walsh to reduce income inequality, reform the criminal justice system, improve schools, and prepare the city for climate change.

To accomplish her goals, Wu said the council would launch a new committee to focus on homelessness, mental health, and addiction. Another new committee will tackle jobs, wages, and workforce development. She vowed to expand the Public Safety Committee to include criminal justice.

Wu also pledged to increase transparency and accessibility by revamping the council's website to make it easier to track and understand legislation and hearings. Councilors will hold town meetings in Boston neighborhoods, she said, to hone the focus of City Council committees.

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The City Council presidency is a largely ceremonial post that does not include strict control over the council's legislative agenda the way the speaker rules the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The position does come with some additional power, a larger staff budget, and duties that include serving as mayor if the job becomes vacant or if the mayor is unable to serve.

Wu used the platform Monday to defend the reputation of the City Council, which came under attack last term after a protracted fight over their own pay raise. The Globe reported that some councilors had poor attendance records at hearings, golfed during the workweek, and appeared to spend long stretches away from City Hall, sometimes in Florida. On Monday, Wu said she was "proud to be a member of the Boston City Council."

"To all my colleagues: Your willingness to subject yourselves to spotlight and scrutiny — sometimes fair, often unfair — testifies to character and integrity in each of you," Wu said. "It's easy to give up and be cynical or critical from the sidelines, but you all have the courage to put yourselves forward. That says something special about each of you."

As mayor, Walsh made a rare appearance Monday before the City Council to congratulate Wu on her election.

"The council president outlined an aggressive agenda," Walsh told the crowd. "Those are the agendas that are important for us to make sure we move forward. She's absolutely right when she talks about how a lot of people are doing well in our city, but not enough."

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Earlier in the day, Walsh administered the oath of office to the 13-member body, which included newcomers Annissa Essaibi George and Andrea Joy Campbell. Councilors took the oath during a brief ceremony at Faneuil Hall, where family members and political supporters cheered.

"These next couple of weeks are focused on just getting settled," said Campbell, who represents District 4, which includes parts of Mattapan, Dorchester, and other neighborhoods. "Initially we want to deliver constituent services, then we'll roll out some more long-term plans in the coming weeks."

Essaibi George, who won an at-large seat representing the entire city, kept one eye on her four boys as she stood for media interviews.

"I'm incredibly anxious to get to work," Essaibi George said. "It's been an overwhelming day. It's exciting. Like I said, I'm just ready to get to work. And take off these heels."


Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.