Marking historic firsts, Wu sworn in as Boston mayor
Vows to lead on issues big and small
REACHING BACK TO Boston’s revolutionary roots, Michelle Wu took office on Tuesday as the city’s new mayor, saying bold action that challenges the status quo is at the heart of the city’s identity.
“Boston was founded on a revolutionary promise: that things don’t have to be as they always were,” Wu said in remarks following her swearing-in. “That we can chart a new path for families now, and for generations to come, grounded in justice and opportunity.”
The 36-year-old Roslindale resident, who said she felt invisible when she first stepped into City Hall as an intern 11 years ago, made international headlines earlier this month when she became the first woman and first person of color elected to lead Boston.
Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, has vowed to pay attention to the most basic city service needs while also thinking big and bold about the change she says is needed to make Boston work for all residents.
“We are the level closest to the people, so we must do the big and the small,” she said to a packed crowd in the City Council chambers. “Every streetlight, every pothole, every park, and every classroom lays the foundation for greater change. Not only is it possible for Boston to deliver basic city services and generational change — it is absolutely necessary in this moment. We’ll tackle our biggest challenges by getting the small things right, and by getting City Hall out of City Hall and into our neighborhoods, block by block, street by street.”
The swearing-in drew a cast of the state’s leading political figures, led by Gov. Charlie Baker and US Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren. Also in attendance were US Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Secretary of State William Galvin.
Championing a progressive agenda that includes aggressive action to combat climate change, an affordable housing platform that includes rent control, and reform of police practices and contracts, Wu placed first in the five-way preliminary election in September and went on to trounce fellow at-large City Councilor Annissa Essabi George by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in the November final election.
Markey, the co-sponsor of sweeping congressional legislation dubbed the Green New Deal, said Wu’s vow to pursue a similarly ambitious climate and energy agenda at the city level would make her tenure stand out here and abroad. “She is going to be a historic mayor because this is going to be the Green New Deal city for the United States and for the whole world,” Markey said, addressing reporters after the swearing-in. “She is going to be the leader that shows you can have enormous economic prosperity and economic justice at the same time” and “environmental justice at the same time.”
Former state representative Byron Rushing said Wu’s barrier-breaking milestones when it comes to race and gender are noteworthy. “But I think most significant for the total city of Boston is having a progressive run this city,” said Rushing. “The other thing about having somebody who’s known as a progressive is, progressives of course are going to beat her up more than they would beat up a conservative – and that’s good,” Rushing said of the pressure activists will put on Wu to deliver on campaign promises.
Wu, who grew up outside Chicago and came to Massachusetts to attend Harvard and later Harvard Law School, was elected to an at-large city council seat in 2013. She went on to become the first woman of color elected to serve as City Council president.
Janey ran for the seat this fall, but finished fourth in the September preliminary. She was the first woman and first African American to serve in the mayor’s seat, and Wu has consistently paid tribute to her.
Janey spoke briefly before Wu was sworn-in, and in her remarks the new mayor thanked Janey for her “trailblazing leadership.”
A newly-elected mayor normally takes office in January, but because the seat was occupied by an acting mayor, Wu was sworn in two weeks after the November 2 election, giving time for the results to be certified.
Wu’s election has been heralded as a moment of great possibility for the city, but the new mayor was short on specifics of any big new initiatives she plans to launch. She spoke for just over 8 minutes after being administered the oath of office by Boston Municipal Court Judge Myong J. Joun.
Wu hinted after the ceremony that a broad vision for her term in office may have to wait for her more formal inauguration in January. When asked in a press briefing following the swearing-in about her goals for her first 100 days in office, Wu said she wasn’t going to begin that 100-day count until January.
Earlier on Tuesday, Wu announced several top appointments to her new City Hall team. Mary Lou Akai-Ferguson, who served as Wu’s campaign manager, will serve as interim chief of staff. Mike Firestone, who previously served as chief of staff to Attorney General Maura Healey, will serve as chief of policy and strategic planning.
Four people who held roles in Wu’s campaign or City Council office – Brianna Millor, Tali Robbins, Mariangely Solis Cervera, and Dave Vittorini – will all serve as senior advisors.
This year’s mayoral race featured a line-up of candidates that would have been unimaginable throughout Boston’s long history – until now. All five of the major candidates were people of color and four of them were women. Just eight years ago, in the race for an open seat when Tom Menino did not seek reelection, Charlotte Richie, a Black former state representative and housing chief under Menino, was the only woman in the 10-way preliminary election and the only person of color among the top four finishers.“Those are like ancient times now,” Richie said following the swearing-in. “We’ve just seen serious barriers rammed through by these wonderful, talented, accomplished women,” she said, referring to both Janey and Wu.
Richie, who is serving as co-chair of Wu’s transition committee, said the new mayor has set expectations high with an ambitious agenda. “She taught us not to low-ball our expectations and not to play it safe,” she said. “How are we going to reach higher heights if we don’t dream a little bigger?”