Boston yesterday was on the cusp of narrowing its field of mayoral hopefuls for the first time to two people of color, possibly both women — a stark change from the unbroken string of white men elected mayor in the city’s first 200 years.
Voters yesterday cast ballots in a preliminary mayoral election that is to select two top contenders from a field of five main candidates, with Taiwanese-American Michelle Wu considered the favorite.
The two winners are to face off against each other on Nov. 2, ushering in a new era for a city that has wrestled with ethnic strife.
Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey, city councilors Wu, Annissa Essaibi George and Andrea Campbell, and John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, are all vying to be one of the top contenders.
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 Boston mayor Marty Walsh stepped down earlier this year to become US President Joe Biden’s labor secretary.
All of the candidates are Democrats. Mayoral races in Boston do not include party primaries.
The candidates hail from a range of backgrounds.
Wu’s parents immigrated to the US from Taiwan. Janey and Campbell are black. Essaibi George describes herself as a first generation Arab-Polish American. Barros is of Cape Verdean descent.
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-the-heels days of the 1970s, when the city found itself in the national spotlight over the turmoil brought on by school desegregation, and of the late 1980s, when the case of Charles Stuart again inflamed simmering ethnic tensions.
The latest US census showed that residents who identified as white make up 44.6 percent of the population compared to black residents (19.1 percent), Latino residents (18.7 percent) and residents of Asian descent (11.2 percent).
The city has also changed politically.
In 2018, former Boston city councilor Ayanna Pressley defeated longtime US representative Michael Capuano to become the first black woman elected to the US Congress from Massachusetts.
The same year, Rachael Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, won an 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.
Added to that are a host of other challenges that face the new mayor, from transportation woes, racial injustice and policing to schools and the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most pressing issues is the cost of housing, which is outpacing the financial means of many tenants and prospective homeowners.
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