Boston mayor’s race looks tight
Poll shows Wu in front, with 3 bunched close behind
FOR THOSE WHO thought a new poll in the Boston mayor’s race — the first in almost two months — might clarify where the contest stands, it has. But not in a way that provides a clear picture of who is likely to advance from the September preliminary election to the one-on-one final in November.
A new Emerson College/7News poll, released Thursday night, shows City Councilor Michelle Wu in front, with support from 24 percent of likely voters. But the three other women in the race are bunched tightly behind her, with City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George pulling 18 percent, Acting Mayor Kim Janey 16 garnering percent, and City Councilor Andrea Campbell favored by 14 percent. Former city economic development chief John Barros trails far behind with 2 percent. The largest share of those polled — 25 percent of likely voters — remain undecided.
The September 14 preliminary election that will narrow the field to two is less than three weeks away, and the new poll has observers resorting to sports metaphors describing a contest that is anything but in the bag.
“I think it’s a complete jump ball,” said former city councilor Larry DiCara, a one-time practitioner and longtime student of Boston politics.
The last poll before the new Emerson survey was released on June 28 by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe. It showed Wu with 23 percent, Janey with 22 percent, Essaibi George with 14 percent, Campbell with 11 percent.
When the new Emerson poll narrowed the sample to very likely voters, the margins separating the four women candidates got even closer, with Wu at 22 percent, Essaibi George at 21 percent, Janey at 17 percent, and Campbell at 15 percent.
Wu and Campbell both announced mayoral bids last September, when it was expected that they would be vying against incumbent Marty Walsh, who would be seeking a third term. But the race was blown wide open when Walsh resigned in March to become labor secretary in President Biden’s cabinet. That catapulted Janey, a Roxbury district city councilor who was serving as City Council president, into the acting mayor’s seat, and prompted the entry of Essaibi George and Barros into the race. (State Rep. Jon Santiago also jumped in, but he quit the race in July.)
The racial and ethnic diversity of the field has been a striking departure from past races for mayor in Boston, which has only elected white men to the post over the course of its 199 years as a city. Wu is the daughter of immigrants from Taiwan, Janey, Campbell, and Barros are Black, and Essaibi George is the daughter of Tunisian and Polish immigrants.
Though the campaign has unfolded at a time of heightened attention to racism and racial justice issues, it has not yet seemed to ignite outsized interest among the electorate.
Janey has sought to capitalize on the huge advantage of the acting mayor’s perch, which has put her on TV and in newspapers on an almost daily basis, making announcements on everything from pandemic policies to development issues and funding for various programs. But she’s also been ensnared in problems left by her predecessor as well as those of her own making. Janey had to deal with Walsh’s botched appointment of a police commissioner without thorough vetting, but then created her own bad headlines when she likened the idea of requiring proof of vaccination to go into restaurants or other venues to slavery or birtherism.
In the new poll, Janey gained just 1 point from her showing in an Emerson poll conducted in April, shortly after she took the mayor’s reins. Wu gained 8 points, Essaibi George gained 4 points, and Campbell gained 3 points.
Campbell campaign manager Katie Prisco-Buxbaum said the Mattapan district city councilor’s gain from past polls is encouraging. “Andrea’s support is growing and this poll shows a dead heat for a spot in the final among these four women,” said Prisco-Buxbaum.
The contest has been characterized as a “historic” race for mayor, with no white man among the five major candidates, all of whom identify as people of color. The candidate order in the new Emerson poll, however, puts a spotlight on the possibility that none of the three Black candidates in the race could wind up in the final election.With a quarter of the likely electorate still undecided, Koczela said the available polls can only provide a limited take on the race.
“The one common feature that they all seem to share is that Michelle Wu is out front,” he said. “Beyond that there’s a cluster, and I think anything could still happen.”