Analysis | Mayor Wu just declared that she’s running for reelection

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu during a recent press conference in Roxbury. (Jesse Costa:WBUR)

Less than halfway through her first term, Mayor Wu this week announced she is running for another four years inside City Hall.

She didn't say those exact words while she was in press scrums, in front of business leaders, and at polling locations. But her intention became apparent over the last several days, through her statements to reporters, her speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the relentless, nightly door-knocking that helped jettison her district councillor, a former ally, in the Sept. 12 preliminary.

The question of whether she even would finish her first term had lingered in the background of the preliminary, thanks in part to a Boston Herald story on Sept. 7 headlined, “Boston Mayor Michelle Wu denies talking to Harvard about the job offer.” She had laughed off the question when asked during an unrelated press conference, and the city’s rumor mill spent the following days in overdrive mode. The mayor isn't on any ballots this year, but her next steps were on many people’s minds.

When Wu walked into the Boston Public Library’s Copley Square branch for her regular appearance on “Boston Public Radio,” hours before Tuesday's polls closed, she must have known it would come up. After talking about MCAS testing and rebuilding the Long Island Bridge, co-host Jim Braude breezily asked what people inside and outside City Hall were thinking: "How’s the job search going?"

Her response was emphatic: “OK, so I think it deserves clearing up here. There is absolutely no chance I would abandon this role for any other job at any organization, any level of government."

The Herald story had recorded her denials “but in the middle it was like, ‘and here’s when the special election would be,’ and this and that,” Wu added.

Noting that she started her political career working for the late Tom Menino, who stayed in the top job for 20 years and stood for five elections, she said, “Boston deserves a mayor who’s not eyeing the next big thing. This is the big thing. This is the most important work we could be doing really anywhere across the country.”

Wu then ticked through what the administration was working on: “Long Island Bridge, 2027; White Stadium, 2026; rebuilding and reshaping some of the supports for our schools and school buildings years into the future. So, I love my job, I think it’s the best job in the world. I hope to be able to stay and have impact and I think we’re already making a difference.”

Menino’s time echoes in Wu's City Hall, but there are differences. It's hard to imagine Menino, someone who disliked things like voicemail, dropping into a shared Google document that city employees are working on, as Wu has done.

It's also hard to picture Menino, who, like Wu, lived in District 5, hitting the doors to knock out an incumbent. Menino typically operated by proxy.

Leading up to this week’s preliminary, city employees flooded District 5, which has Hyde Park, Roslindale, and parts of Mattapan. The Birch Street offices of the Muncey Group, a real estate company in Roslindale, became a City Hall annex in the effort to elect Enrique Pepen, the former executive director of the Office of Neighborhood Services, and knock out the scandal-beset incumbent, Ricardo Arroyo. City workers joined old Wu campaign hands and members of the union UNITE HERE Local 26. There were proxies, but Wu, a Roslindale resident, was out there on the doors herself at night, talking to voters.

On election day, Roslindale came out in a big way for Pepen. He topped the ticket, won Wu’s home precinct, and Jose Ruiz, a retired police officer endorsed by former mayor Marty Walsh, placed second. Arroyo, first elected in 2019, became one of two incumbents to lose a preliminary election in at least 40 years, as progressive voters found an alternative, backed by the mayor herself. Kendra Lara, who represents District 6's Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, was the other on Tuesday, as Wu-supported attorney Ben Weber and IT director William King pushed her out of the running. The winners now head to the Nov. 7 preliminary.

The morning after the preliminary, a crowd more focused on business than politics gathered at a Copley Square hotel. A strong economy is key to any mayor’s reelection hopes, and Wu sought to underscore the state of the city in her speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, saying, “If nothing else, I’d like to reinforce today what I’m hearing from so many of you. On an even broader scale, the rhythms of our city and economy are returning. Boston’s recovery is going strong,” she said.

Logan Airport saw more international passengers pass through its gates in June 2023 than in June 2019, and the MBTA’s Fairmount Line, which runs through Dorchester and Mattapan, has seen an all-time ridership high this year. On the public safety side, the city had the lowest number of shootings in more than 10 years this year.

There was also a bevy of policy announcements: Fast-track permitting at the Inspectional Services Department, which she talked about on the 2021 campaign trail. Reforming the thicket that passes for a zoning code. Incentivizing more housing construction.

If there was any grumbling within the business community, which in some corners has had a wary eye on Wu when she entered the mayor’s office, it was drowned out by the standing ovation she received as she took the stage at the Fairmont Copley Hotel’s ballroom. Five years ago in the same room, then-Councillor Wu stood behind her mentor, Elizabeth Warren, as the newly re-elected senator worked the rope line.

Wu has one other difference with Menino: While he also came from the City Council, serving as the first District 5 representative when political boundaries were reworked in 1983, Menino compared councillors to kindergartners even as he raided some of their ideas.

Wu feels differently. When January arrives, with new faces on the City Council and the departure of Michael Flaherty and Frank Baker, Wu will be the longest-tenured elected official in City Hall, having first been elected at-large in 2013. The next after Wu, who turns 39 that same month, is Ed Flynn of District 2 (South Boston), who was elected in 2017. She enjoyed her eight years on the Council and views it as a “direct form” of representation. She is, after all, seeking to hand them more oversight of development through her reforms.

While on stage at the Fairmont this week, she flashed back to her election in 2013. “Comparing what the kind of feeling of politics and government was then to today, there are a whole lot of external challenges that make it very difficult for anyone with a public platform to be in this moment,” she said. “Whether it's climate events that come out of nowhere or earthquakes or floods or storms or economic challenges that feel outside of our control.”

But, she added in a hopeful note, “the focus really has to be how do we marshal a focus on achievement and progress and accomplishment. We’re not going to fix everything overnight, we're not going to achieve perfection. But even the steps that Boston will be able to take, in some ways, are steps that other cities are dreaming of.”

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