Michelle Wu, a former aide to US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the late Mayor Thomas Menino who ran a campaign pushing a fare-free MBTA and the stabilization of rental rates, won an overwhelming, tradition-shattering victory on Tuesday that will put her in the mayor’s chair in less than two weeks.
Annissa Essaibi George, a Dorchester small business owner and former teacher elected to the City Council in 2015, conceded the race two hours after the polls closed. The final, if unofficial. tally showed Wu winning the city by 64 to 36 percent, a margin that reflected what public independent polls had shown throughout October.
Roughly 33 percent of voters turned out, below the 38 percent of the 2013 wide-open race for mayor, and closer to the 31 percent of voters who went to the polls for Menino’s last run in 2009.
As the votes were tallied, Wu, who first joined the City Council as an at-large member in 2013, showed early strength in key battleground precincts, including parts of Dorchester where her opponent needed to post big vote numbers to be competitive against her.
Essaibi George won the bellwether polling station at Savin Hill's 13-10, but only by a margin of about 20 votes, 484-424 in an early tally.
Essaibi George did win Florian Hall's 16-12 precinct, 703 to 136— the kind of lopsided margin that she needed more of as the evening wore on. But at Lower Mills Library, she suffered a major setback: Wu won that double precinct, 714 to 482, and also the Codman Square Library's triple precinct by 728 to 305. Wu also won Ward 20 in high-turnout West Roxbury.
Wu will take the oath of office as the first woman and first person of color to be elected to a full term as mayor in Boston’s history, which extends back to 1630.
The 36-year-old Roslindale resident, who grew up in Chicago, topped the Sept. 14 preliminary for mayor and quickly thereafter laid the groundwork for her general election bid with a bevy of endorsements from healthcare and service worker unions and elected officials from Capitol Hill, inside City Hall, and at the State House on Beacon Hill.
The oldest daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Wu grew up speaking Mandarin and English, and often took on the role of translator for the family. Her father learned English from chemistry books, while her mother captured the language while watching “Oprah,” Wu told supporters in 2013, when she first launched her Council run, months after helping elect Elizabeth Warren, her Harvard professor, to the US Senate. She went on to top the at-large ticket twice, in 2017 and 2019.
In the 2021 campaign, Wu pushed the idea of a fare-free MBTA — which has already come to partial fruition through a pilot involving the Route 28 bus to Mattapan Square — and slowing steep increases in the city’s apartment rental rates.
Essaibi George and her allies panned the ideas, saying those proposals are outside the mayor’s control, with City Hall needing to focus on services such as fixing sidewalks and fixing potholes.
Wu rejected their argument, saying city residents can handle both fixing problems with the sewer system as well as fighting climate change.
“We are ready for every Bostonian to know that we don’t have to choose between generational change and keeping the streetlights on,” Wu said Tuesday before a buoyant crowd inside the South End’s Cyclorama. “Between tackling big problems with bold solutions and filling our potholes. To make change at scale and at street level. We need, we deserve both. All of this is possible.”
Essaibi George and her supporters were a short walk away at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Back Bay. "Don't ever forget that I'm from Boston,” said Essaibi George, who was born and raised in Dorchester.
Essaibi George, a 47-year-old Arab American, grew up on the same street as former Mayor Marty Walsh. Her father was Tunisian, her mother is Polish. She, too, would have been the first woman and person of color elected mayor, had she won.
Essaibi George congratulated Wu and noted that they are both mothers with children in the Boston Public Schools system. “I know this is no small feat,” Essaibi George said. “I want her to show the city how mothers get it done.”
Essaibi George added jokingly, in a nod to her Boston accent: “And I'm going to teach her how to say (mothah) the right way.”
Earlier that day, Essaibi George joined her mother Barbara and Walsh’s mother Mary, when they went to vote at the Catherine “Kit” Clark Apartments in the Columbia-Savin Hill Neighborhood. Essaibi George and her mother hugged as Mrs. Walsh looked on. “Almost over, kid,” Barbara Essaibi George said. “Couple of more hours, and then we’ll start something new,” her daughter responded.
Results would later show Wu won a double-precinct at the apartment complex, too, 514 to 418.
Essaibi George told the Reporter that Secretary Walsh sent her a message on Monday, wishing her luck. Walsh did not formally endorse a candidate in the race, citing a rule prohibiting federal officials from engaging in politics.
As in 2013, the last wide-open race for mayor, outside groups poured millions of dollars into the election. Wu and Essaibi George each had TV air support from super PACs, as they’re known, with Wu’s group funded primarily by environmental advocacy groups and attorneys, and the super PACs backing Essaibi George pulling in funding from developers and a Hyde Park businessman who runs an auto repair shop. New Balance chairman Jim Davis, a top GOP donor, personally spent more than $1 million on “Real Progress Boston,” the Essaibi George super PAC helmed by William Gross, the former police commissioner.
Now the mayor-elect, Wu will have little time to catch her breath: Under the city charter provisions in effect under an acting mayor, the mayor-elect will take office on Nov. 16, accepting the reins from a Black woman, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, the City Council president who has held that seat since Walsh departed to become President Biden’s Secretary of Labor in late March.
The Wu administration will begin as the region shifts to wintertime amid an ongoing pandemic. The new mayor will also face setting up a national search to choose a new police commissioner and righting a struggling public school system.
“I’ve now had a decade in City Hall: Working for Mayor Menino first, and eight years on the City Council,” Wu told reporters on Monday. “So the structure of City Hall, the departments, the issues are not new. And we’ll be able to hit the ground running from Day One to make sure that we are prepared for what will happen and be able to respond to the immediate needs of the city.”
Wu has also pledged to abolish the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which under the Walsh administration saw an overhaul and a rebrand as the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).
“We need serious reforms to our development approvals process,” she said. “This is one of the drivers of almost every inequity we see across the city. So continuing to make sure we are moving toward a clear, predictable, sustainable, and fair development process is a high priority. And that will be reflected in the cabinet decisions that we’ll be making and the staffing we’ll roll out right away."
Wu’s personal daily life is also about to change. She is a mother to two young children in the Boston Public Schools, eschews an entourage, and is known for regularly taking the MBTA. The mayor’s office comes with a Boston police security detail and an SUV.
Grace Mayer contributed to this report. This article was updated Wednesday morning with a new version after the Elections Department released unofficial tallies.