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Boston’s preliminary mayoral election is set to usher in a new era

Boston mayoral candidates
Boston mayoral candidates John Barros, left, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, Kim Janey and Michelle Wu.
(Associated Press)

Boston was narrowing its field of mayoral hopefuls for the first time to two people of color, and possibly to two women of color — a stark change from the unbroken string of white men elected mayor in the city’s first 200 years.

On Tuesday, voters cast ballots in a preliminary mayoral election that will select two top contenders from a field of five main candidates, all of whom are people of color, four of them women. The two winners will face each other in a Nov. 2 runoff, ushering in a new era for a city that has wrestled with racial and ethnic strife.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, City Council members Annissa Essaibi George, Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, and John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, are all vying to be one of the two finalists.

Wu and Essaibi George told supporters Tuesday night they were the top two vote-getters, despite less than 1% of votes officially tallied, and both Janey and Campbell conceded defeat. The Associated Press has not yet called the winners because only a tiny amount of the vote has been counted.

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Janey has already made history, becoming the first Black Bostonian and first woman to occupy the city’s top office in an acting capacity after former Mayor Marty Walsh stepped down earlier this year to become President Biden’s Labor secretary.

“I want to congratulate Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi-George on their victories this evening,” Janey said in a statement. “This was a spirited and historic race, and I wish them both luck in the final election.”

All of the candidates are Democrats. Mayoral races in Boston do not include party primaries.

The candidates hail from a variety of backgrounds. Wu’s parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan. Janey and Campbell are Black. Essaibi George describes herself as a first generation Arab Polish American. Barros is of Cape Verdean descent.

Women of color in growing numbers are running for political office; obstacles remain, but in the race for mayor of Boston, these candidates dominate the field.

Wu has held a lead over the other top four candidates in a number of recent polls, setting up a scramble among the other contenders for the second spot if Wu’s lead holds.

Boston has changed radically since its down-at-heel days of the 1970s, when the city found itself in the national spotlight over the turmoil brought on by school desegregation, and the late 1980s, when the case of Charles Stuart again inflamed simmering racial tensions. Stuart was a white man who authorities say murdered his wife but who falsely claimed that she was killed by a Black assailant.

The latest U.S. Census statistics show residents who identify as white make up 44.6% of Boston’s population, Black residents 19.1%, Latino residents 18.7% and residents of Asian descent 11.2%.

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The city has also changed politically.

Boston is facing a historic shift with the expected departure of its white male mayor, who will be succeeded, at least temporarily, by a Black woman.

In 2018, former Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeated longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano to become the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. That same year, Rachael Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, won election to become Boston’s first female district attorney and the first woman of color to hold such a job anywhere in Massachusetts. In July, she was nominated by Biden to become the state’s top federal prosecutor.

Among the challenges facing the city are those brought on by gentrification, which has forced out many long-term residents, including those in historically Black neighborhoods. The cost of housing is outpacing the financial means of many tenants and prospective homeowners.

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Added to that are transportation woes, alleged racial injustice in policing and the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There have been moments of controversy during the campaign.

Janey was faulted for invoking slavery and former President Trump’s lies about former President Obama’s citizenship when she discussed New York’s effort to require people to prove they’ve been vaccinated before entering indoor public settings. She later walked back the comparisons, saying: “I wish I had not used those analogies.”

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Essaibi George has also found herself under scrutiny after the Boston Globe reported that her City Council office tried to undermine a building project that would have blocked the view of a luxury condominium building owned by her husband. Essaibi George later said that her husband’s name never came up in the municipal hearings and that she became aware of his involvement only after being quizzed by reporters.

The contest is also the first preliminary election in the city’s history to allow mail-in voting. The contest also allowed early voting last week.


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