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Asian American community celebrates Wu’s election as first woman mayor, first mayor of color in Boston

Michelle Wu smiling to supporters Tuesday night following her mayoral victory. Wu is Boston’s first female mayor and its first mayor of color to be elected in the 199 years since the mayoral seat’s creation. SHANNON DAMIANO/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

For the first time in the 199 years since the mayoral seat was created, Bostonians elected Michelle Wu as their first female mayor and first mayor of color in the 2021 general election on Nov. 2.

The latest results from the City’s website as of 4:11 p.m. Wednesday indicate Wu captured 63.94% of the vote — compared to the 35.65% of ballots her opponent Annissa Essaibi George won — at 255 of 255 precincts reporting. 

“If we truly want to deliver change, we need every one of us shaping our future,” Wu said, addressing crowds at her election night watch party. “Thank you for placing your trust in me to serve as the next Mayor of Boston.”

Although the Boston Election Department only reported tallies from 100% of precincts at around 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, Essaibi George conceded in a speech to her watch party supporters around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. Only 30.59% of precincts were reported at the time. 

“I want to offer a great big congratulations to Michelle Wu,” Essaibi George said. “I know this is no small feat. You know this is no small feat. I want her to show the city how mothers get it done.” 

Congratulations then poured in on social media from endorsers and former mayoral opponents alike, such as Acting Mayor Kim Janey and Andrea Campbell — the latter of whom had not previously endorsed either candidate — offering their praise to Wu. 

Janey held a joint press conference with Wu Wednesday to address the transition of power, as Wu is set to take office in about two weeks on Nov. 16. 

“I am completely confident that mayor-elect Wu is prepared and ready to lead on day one,” Janey said. “We know there are a multitude of issues, but I am completely confident in her ability to lead our city.” 

Wu said she is working with Janey to take a deeper look at the most pressing issues affecting Boston and to “seamlessly” move forward in addressing them. 

“The priority now is to build out a team that reflects all of Boston, that includes the expertise of our communities, that is going to move with the urgency of the issues that are at hand,” Wu said. 

Diana Hwang, founder and executive director of the political leadership organization Asian American Women’s Political Initiative, said Wu’s win as an Asian American builds off of the “activation and energy” of AAPI Bostonians who voted in the election. 

“I think the real takeaways from her historic win are that our voices and our leadership are needed,” said. “Our votes can be the difference, and if we run, we can win.” 

Harris Zhao, vice president of programming for the National Association of Asian American Professionals’ Boston chapter, congratulated Wu on behalf of the organization in an interview and said he thanks her for representing the diverse AAPI community in Boston.

“Michelle Wu being elected and finally sitting in a position of power, it also says that we as an Asian community, we belong to this Boston,” he said. “And we can also trust and then we can start to participate and we can feel like our voice does matter, that it is seen.” 

Hwang said Wu’s “resounding” win was all the more “momentous” because of the large point difference she won by.

“There’s no question that the city of Boston is behind her,” she said, “that she really met this moment and inspired a multiracial, multi-generational coalition to come out to support her and that’s incredible.” 

Chair of the political science and legal studies department at Suffolk University and associate professor Rachael Cobb said Wu’s landslide victory means she has a lot of support and political capital coming out of the gate.

“I think it is a really important day to pause and honor this extraordinary achievement and really examine the city that has transformed in how it votes and who it’s voting for,” she said. 

Working with a mayor who immediately understands the stories and challenges of the AAPI community is “empowering,” Zhao said. 

“I was born and raised in Boston,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about even being a part of Boston or being a part of the U.S., that there are people who can represent my family, my community.” 

Hwang said she places Wu’s openness about her identity and the mental health struggles of her mother as reasons many AAPI voters resonated with her platform — especially young AAPI women, who have high rates of suicide and depression.

“[Mental health] is something that we don’t talk about and goes unaddressed and unseen,” she said. “The fact that [Wu] was speaking so openly about it really is important, not only for our community but for what we see as her becoming mayor and really bringing her full lived experience to running Boston.” 

Daughter of Tunisian and Polish immigrants, Essaibi George’s run for mayor put Arab American identity into the spotlight, said Mohammed Missouri, executive director of the nonprofit Jetpac, which aims to strengthen American Muslim political infrastructure. Regardless of her loss, he said her place on the ballot was an “important and historic moment” for Arab American Bostonians.

Missouri added he hopes to see Wu’s administration be intentional with reaching out to underrepresented communities in the city. 

“I’m hoping she’ll really engage with our community and be proactive in doing it,” Missouri said. “That it’s not just that we have to do the outreach ourselves, but that the mayor’s office actually does that outreach to us.” 

Samson Lee, a NAAAP board member, said he wants to see Mayor Elect Wu tackle affordable housing and gentrification of Chinatown. 

Lee highlighted the importance of minority community members — especially college-age students — in making their voices heard in local politics. 

“The importance of voting and to elect people that you want to be a part of public office is extremely important because there’s so [many] policies that are created and that is done in the lowest level,” he said. 

Wu’s progressive platform included local and national issues that voters seemed to respond to, Cobb said.

“The progressive agenda that she’s pursuing here is a progressive agenda that is being pursued in cities across the country,” she said. 

Cobb added that Wu’s big win comes in line with other mayoral wins for women of color across the country, for example in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Politics is still dominated by men,” Cobb said. “I do think this is a national transformation that is going to likely increase, slowly.”

AAWPI Chief Operating Office Darlene Vu advised young women of color hoping to enter politics or get involved with local government that it is “so possible” and to involve themselves in the community. 

“In finding your voice, you find your truth and what you’re passionate about,” Vu said. “That will then help guide and lead them into more of a position of the kind of leadership that they want to actually go into and see themselves in.” 

Looking toward the future, Lee said Wu’s win represents the possibility that people of any ethnicity or political standing can become mayor.

“We look forward to seeing what happens over the next few years and hopefully, Boston will have to grow as a great thriving city for everyone,” he said. 

Wu’s election symbolizes a changing face of leadership in Boston that is “bold,” Hwang said.

“For little Asian American girls and for Asian American women across the country, seeing Michelle become mayor and seeing ourselves reflected in her, it’s everything,” she said.

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