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Michelle Wu makes history as first person of color and woman to be elected Boston mayor

Democrat Michelle Wu, daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, defeated fellow Democrat Annissa Essaibi George, in the Nov. 2 Boston mayoral runoff election. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Democrat Michelle Wu became the first woman and person of color to be elected mayor of Boston, winning a pathbreaking victory that promises a new era of liberal politics in the city.

Wu, 36, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, defeated fellow Democrat Annissa Essaibi George, 47, in a landslide in Tuesday’s mayoral contest.

“We are ready to meet this moment. We are ready to become a Boston for everyone,” Wu said in an election night speech to supporters Tuesday.

Essaibi George, who identifies as Arab American, acknowledged the historic nature of Wu’s win in a concession speech on Tuesday night.

“She is the first woman, first person of color, and as an Asian American, the first elected to be mayor of Boston,” George said. “I know this is no small feat.”

Wu is a liberal Democrat in the mold of her self-described mentor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) She has promised to fight for free public transportation, a citywide “Green New Deal” to tackle climate change and rent control measures to rein in the soaring cost of housing.

The sweeping nature of Wu’s win reflects Boston’s changing demographics and marks the culmination of a methodical and tenacious campaign launched by Wu more than a year ago, experts said.

Two women of color will compete to become Boston’s next mayor, marking historic shift

Non-Hispanic White residents now make up fewer than 50 percent of Boston’s population, according to the 2020 Census, and the shares of Asian and Latino residents have continued to grow.

“The old Boston is gone, and there’s a new Boston in terms of political power,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic political strategist. Wu, a long-serving city councilor, won in almost every neighborhood and did not rely on predominantly White, working-class areas that have proved key to past mayoral campaigns.

“This was her time,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. Wu’s win is a kind of “quiet revolution” for the city.

A more diverse Boston prepares for a true changing of the guard

The campaign in Boston largely focused on spiraling housing costs, improving public education and the city’s opioid crisis. One issue that was relatively absent in the election was crime: Unlike many other major American cities, Boston has not experienced a rise in gun violence and homicides this year.

Wu will get started quickly: She is scheduled to be sworn into office on Nov. 16.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said, vowing to work closely with acting Mayor Kim Janey’s team during the abbreviated transition. “We’re not going to get this done by sitting in the corner office at City Hall, but by bringing City Hall to every block in this city.”

Janey was the first person of color and woman to serve as acting mayor, assuming the post earlier this year after Marty Walsh (D) joined the Biden administration as labor secretary. However, Wu is the first to be elected.

Wu was born in Chicago but attended college and law school at Harvard University. She often talks about her mother’s struggle with mental illness, something that turned Wu into a caregiver for both her mother and her younger sisters as she was finishing college.

Her first taste of politics came as a law student, where Warren was her professor. Late Tuesday, Warren welcomed the news and described Wu as “family,” adding that she would make a “terrific mayor.”

Wu worked for former Boston mayor Thomas Menino before running for office. She served on the Boston City Council starting in 2014 and was president of the council from 2016 to 2018. She is the mother of two young sons and often brought them with her to council meetings.

Wu’s victory also marks a milestone for Asian Americans, who are the fastest-growing demographic group in the country but underrepresented in positions of political leadership. The community faced an upsurge in hate crimes during the pandemic.

Wins for Asian American politicians echoed elsewhere across the country. In Cincinnati, Aftab Pureval, 39, the son of an Indian father and a Tibetan mother, defeated former Democratic Congressman David Mann. In Seattle, Bruce Harrell, 63, who is second-generation Japanese American and Black, was ahead of current City Council President M. Lorena González, but a final winner could be days away.

Wu’s win also resonated in Taiwan, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeting its “heartiest congratulations” to Wu on winning the Boston mayoral race. “More power to her as she keeps breaking those glass ceilings!” it said.

Tim Craig and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.

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