Is Boston ready to vote out a white male incumbent, Mayor Marty Walsh, for a relatively young Asian American woman?
When City Councilor Michelle Wu formally announced Tuesday that she will be running for mayor, residents rushed to express support. Many Bostonians have been hoping Wu would run for mayor for years now.
But it would be an impressive feat to unseat the two-term incumbent and put a dent in the trend line of Boston’s history.
It has been decades since a Boston mayor was voted out of office — they have commonly left on their own accord, and after multiple terms of service. A most notable example was former mayor Thomas Menino, who left office after serving for two decades.
Asian Americans are greatly underrepresented in U.S. politics, but it is unclear how racial bias will affect this particular election. Since Boston’s municipal elections are non-partisan, race can actually play a larger role than it would on the federal level — voters will see a name instead of a party. This, coupled with Wu being a woman, might make it difficult for her to beat Walsh if voters are not looking for a progessive ticket.
First, it’s important to note that voters shouldn’t choose candidates based solely on the diversity they bring to the ticket. While it is important to diversify government seats, the appeal of diversity cannot eclipse the actual policies of a candidate.
An identity or background that brings diversity can influence the allure of a candidate, of course, but making this the deciding factor risks placing a candidate who is otherwise overall less desirable on the ticket. Just ask Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who received a wave of backlash from progressive voters after choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate.
Wu told The Boston Globe that Boston’s current leadership has failed to effectively take action during this grueling time in history. She recognizes the economic and racial inequalities that devastate the city’s communities, and has disagreed with Walsh on several policy items.
However, if Walsh’s administration is not controversial enough, there might not be reason to vote him out. As history has shown, Boston picks a man and sticks with him. Despite his downfalls, the majority seems to be comfortable with his administration.
One major mishandling of Walsh’s revolves around the Black Lives Matter movement. Even as he declared racism a public health crisis in Boston, he selected to reallocate less than 1 percent of the Boston Police Department’s annual budget of $414 million.
If he does seek reelection, Walsh’s handling of police brutality, education disparities and other issues plaguing Boston, such as the Methadone Mile, will leave stains on his campaign.
Will civic turmoil be enough to unseat Walsh? Maybe not.
Although the election is in 2021, the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly play a role in the outcome. The full power to manage a city does not lie in municipal government, as state action often overrides mayoral decisions, but Walsh’s handling of COVID-19 will be a forethought for voters.
It may not be an accurate way to form political judgments, but voters often look at things such as the economy or political climate and credit or blame the current administration. So even if Walsh has made erroneous decisions in the past, these won’t be the deciding factors if his handling of the pandemic shines brighter.
Depending on how things change throughout the next several months, Bostonians will either find enough reason to vote Walsh out or enough to keep him in. However, if Wu keeps up her momentum, she might just get Bostonians excited enough about her to vote her in, regardless of their opinion on Walsh.
Mayoral elections are much more personal, and allow candidates to meet the electorate in Boston through door-to-door campaigns and local events — albeit in limited capacities due to the pandemic. It seems Wu is already taking these opportunities.
Wu is the first woman of color to serve as City Council president, and remains one of the most well-liked figures in Boston. If anyone has a shot at unseating Walsh, Wu may be it.