This election day marked another step forward for diversity in American politics. Abdullah Hammoud became the first Muslim mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, bringing long-awaited representation to the city’s middle-eastern constituency. Virginia’s lieutenant governor race was won by Winsome Sears, marking the first time a Black woman has ever done so. And Michelle Wu was elected the mayor of Boston, becoming the first person of color and woman to ever hold the position.
Born in Chicago, Wu moved to Boston in pursuit of higher education, graduating from Harvard Law School in 2012. She served as a member of the Boston City Council from 2014 to 2021, becoming the first Asian-American woman and only the second Asian-American overall to do so. This included a three-year tenure as council president.
Wu announced her intent to run for mayor in September of last year. After President Biden confirmed incumbent mayor Marty Walsh as Secretary of Labor this past March, the latter resigned, leaving the position of Boston City Mayor vacant. A preliminary election in September narrowed down a pool of five candidates, including acting mayor Kim Janey, to Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, a fellow member of the Boston City Council.
Essaibi George challenged Wu on a number of key issues. Most notably, the former lambasted Wu for not addressing “Mass. and Cass,” which refers to the rapid substance abuse that plagues Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue. The two also clashed on rent control, a process that limits the rent amount landlords can impose, and “Free the T,” Wu’s plan for free public transportation.
Ultimately, though, Wu won over the voters, garnering 62% of the vote and soundly defeating Essaibi George. In doing so, she cemented her place in Massachusetts’ history: in the position’s 200-year-long history, Wu is the first leader of Boston who is not a white man. Even more impressive, her victory has snapped an unbroken streak of Irish and Italian American men, who have dominated the office since 1925.
The 2021 Boston Mayoral race is a milestone in the political landscape. Despite Massachusetts’ progressive tendencies, Boston has largely been viewed as an antique city, one of outdated values and traditions. Commonly regarded as detached from the culture of its population, Boston, to many Americans outside of Massachusetts, represents a bygone era of history.
But today, the city is young and diverse, booming with immigrants and progressives. The decision to elect a mayor who is so unlike the city’s past leaders is a testament to the impact of these voting blocs. No longer are Bostonians content to stick with the same old traditions and ideas. Instead, they are now looking for progressive leaders, like Wu, whose platform addresses environmental protection, racial inequality, and economic opportunity. Future politicians will need to keep this in mind when considering their own careers.
After her victory, Wu thanked the crowd and her staff while speaking at South End. “[You all] have put in so much… to represent all communities, to make sure we were all part of shaping this future,” she said. “And you showed, yet again, in Boston that anything is possible when we do it together.”
On November 16, 2021, Michelle Wu was sworn in as the 56th mayor of Boston. In her victory speech, she emphasized the importance of creating an environment for all of the city’s denizens. “We are ready to meet this moment. We’re ready to become a Boston for everyone,” she said.