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Michelle Wu brings the promise of fresh ideas

Michelle Wu is the first Asian-American and the first woman of color to oversee the Boston City Council. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Michelle Wu’s election Monday as Boston City Council president was assured — she had previously secured the backing of other councilors — but her formal ascension to the position is nonetheless historic, with an aura of generational change and the promise of fresh ideas. Wu is the first Asian-American and the first woman of color to oversee the 13-member body. At just 30 years old, she falls into the same age range as many of the young professionals who are helping to drive Boston’s population surge. And, with the addition of newcomers Andrea Joy Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George, she leads a council with four women members — the most ever.

A City Council whose makeup more closely mirrors Boston’s evolving demographics is essential to its effectiveness. It’s up to Wu to make the most of the opportunity, which comes during a critical period. Boston is in the midst of a growth spurt that will define it for years to come. The new City Council president needs to be innovative and inclusive, collaborative and decisive, aspirational and pragmatic.

While councilors do not hold the sweeping power of the mayor’s office, the council can play a major civic role by engaging residents, many of whom consider City Hall irrelevant to their daily lives. Wu seems to understand that. She says she wants to connect more residents to city services by “doubling down on access and transparency,” a strategy that will include regular neighborhood meetings and an improved City Council website. She’s aware of the need to strike a balance between building more glass condo towers and preserving affordable middle-class homes. She worries about “nightly gunshots, devastating opioid addiction, insufficient mental-health supports, imbalanced schools, and stagnant wages.”

To that end, Wu says, she is creating two new committees that reflect some of Boston’s “most pressing challenges.” One will focus on homelessness and mental-health issues, the other will be dedicated to “jobs, wages, and workforce development.” Existing committees that deal with matters such as transportation, environmental sustainability, and criminal justice will be revamped. Adding more committees that require more meetings carries the risk of adding more bureaucracy without producing action, but Wu insists she has the “energy and motivation to get things done.” Plenty of politicians have made similar statements — some of them have run the Boston City Council. But on the afternoon after being named City Council president, Wu sounded more assured and relaxed than she did as a smart but naive freshman councilor of two years ago. She appears savvy enough to avoid becoming tangled in the petty political maneuvering that has paralyzed some previous City Council lineups.


Making history was a good start. Now she has to make a difference.