Councilor’s rise to head of pack is historic
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Michelle Wu's big moment came early Monday morning, as the at-large councilor led her colleagues to the Faneuil Hall stage for their inauguration ceremony.
There, they raised their right hands and pledged to serve the residents of Boston.
A few hours later, cheers rained down on Wu as she stood on a dais at City Hall and marked her historic ascendancy to the presidency of the Boston City Council.
Wu's presidency is a turning point for the council, the city, and Wu, who in 2013 became the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the council. As she takes the helm, she also will serve as the first woman of color to be called council president.
Only two other women have held the post — Louise Day Hicks in 1976 and Maureen Feeney, 2007 to 2008.
"This is a seminal moment for our community, not just for Michelle, but for what it can begat for our community,'' said Leverett Wing, a close friend of Wu's and longtime Asian-American political activist. "It shows that an Asian-American can achieve leadership status, not only as an Asian-American, but as a woman and a woman of color."
In her inauguration speech, Wu welcomed the two newest members of the council, Annissa Essaibi George, who won an at-large seat, and Andrea Joy Campbell, who now represents District 4, before outlining a bold agenda. She urged her colleagues to work to reduce income inequality, reform the criminal justice system, and improve educational opportunities.
Wu, who lives in Roslindale with her husband, Conor, and son, Blaise, said she was grateful for the opportunity to serve and was ready to start addressing issues critical to the city.
"I'm just so excited for the council," Wu said, pausing for photos Monday. "I've had the chance to sit down with everyone over the last couple of weeks. [There were] great ideas [and a] lot of energy to get things done this term."
Geoff Why, a partner at Mintz Levin, said he met Wu when she was a first-year Harvard Law School student. He was overcome with emotion at her election, he said. Why, a fourth-generation Chinese-American, had moved to Boston in 1984 and served in the administration of former governor Deval Patrick. On arrival in Boston, he said, he saw few Asian-Americans. Now they are everywhere, he said.
That demographic shift was not lost on him as he watched Wu step into her new leadership role, he said.
"I never envisioned what I saw . . . which was the election of an Asian-American woman as a city council president," he said. "It's easy to say it was a historic occasion . . . but it really, to me, is a mirror of the emergence of the Asian-American and diverse populations of this city."
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a mentor to Wu and her former law professor, was also in City Hall to share the big day with Wu. She said knew there was something special about Wu the first time she met her.
"She's not just a woman full of good ideas and a passionate heart," Warren gushed, "but a woman who gets out and does what needs to be done."
"I'm proud of you, Michelle," Warren said, and hugged Wu.
Wu, a 30-year-old attorney, a new mother, and a community advocate, was raised in suburban Chicago to parents who had immigrated from Taiwan. She came to Boston to attend Harvard College and Harvard Law School. She has been a restaurant owner, legal services attorney, and legal guardian of her younger sister. She also held stints in the administration of Mayor Thomas M. Menino and was the constituency director for Warren's Senate campaign.
In her first term in office, Wu pushed a law providing some city workers six weeks of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The measure caught the attention of President Obama, who said in a Labor Day speech in Boston the city should be "proud of what you're doing for working families."
She also worked on a measure that guarantees that transgender municipal employees and their dependents have access to gender reassignment surgery, hormone therapy, and mental health services.
But Wu also took heat for voting for Bill Linehan as council president two years ago. Although she said she does not regret the vote, some progressives have not forgiven her for it.
At the council meeting, Linehan — the oldest councilor currently serving — handed her the gavel. The room erupted in hoots, cheers, and a standing ovation, as Wu beamed.
"Thank you so much to my fellow Boston City Councilors," Wu said. "Thank you for putting your trust in me."
Afterward, a crowd swarmed her, each group wanting to snap pictures with her.
"Michelle, Michelle," they said.
Wu, smiling widely, obliged.