Michelle Wu’s personal path to politics

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu confirmed earlier this month what had been widely speculated for more than a year — she will run for mayor next year.

Wu has, in very short order, become a political force to be reckoned with in the city. She placed second in the at-large council race in her first run for office, in 2013, a feat she repeated two years later before going on to top the at-large ticket in the last two city elections.

The 35-year-old city councilor has become a leading voice for systemic change — whether it’s her call for a comprehensive restructuring of the city’s approach to planning and development or battling a recent MBTA fare hike by advancing the idea of free transit, an idea that only recently seemed fanciful but has begun to gain traction and spur important discussion of transit policy.

Wu is, by conventional standards, an unlikely figure to be challenging a sitting Boston mayor (though incumbent Mayor Marty Walsh has yet to declare his candidacy, he is widely expected to seek a third term next year). She is shy by temperament, and when she entered Harvard as an undergraduate in 2004, according to an Atlantic magazine profile last year, politics was so removed from Wu’s upbringing that she considered herself neither a Democrat nor a Republican.

Our conversation this week with Wu on The Codcast focused more on getting to know her than on details of campaign policy points she’ll be advancing. The picture that emerges reveals how various strands of her family history, childhood, and college years, even if removed from formal involvement in politics, connect in ways that make a future in public service not that unlikely after all.

“We never discussed politics at the dinner table, barely talked about current events,” Wu said of her childhood in suburban Chicago. “I realized later on that this was an intentional decision by my parents in a lot of ways.”

Wu is the daughter of immigrants who arrived in the US in the early 1980s from Taiwan, and they, too, were children of immigrants — their parents having fled civil war in mainland China. “And so in our family tree, politics was fear and famine and corruption, and so they very much wanted to shield all of us from that as kids,” said Wu, the eldest of four children. She said “there’s a moment in each of our lives” when whatever bubbles constructed by our parents as a shield against the outside world burst. For her, that happened as her mother descended into severe mental illness, a situation that left Wu, whose parents had divorced, then in her early 20s, raising her two younger sisters and caring for her mother.

Wu said she learned quickly “just how much government mattered and how much politics mattered on top of that.”

While the experience made clear the important role of public policy issues like health care and mental health services, Wu had already felt the strong pull of community service.

While lots of her classmates at Harvard spent their time cloistered in and around the Cambridge campus, Wu immediately began heading into Boston.

“I would come to Chinatown every single weekend as a student — take the Red Line over the Charles River — and teach classes to seniors in Chinatown who were seeking to become naturalized US citizens. And that was my home. That was my home away from home. That feeling of being surrounded by amazing people who had given up so much to come to this country for their families, and I’m getting to help them a little bit in navigating a very important part of their life.”

After classes, she said, some of the seniors would pull out letters and ask her for help understanding an overdue electric bill and who they should call. “It’s all connected when you realize there are so many resources around, the services are there, the point of our government in such a well-resourced city is to provide that support and yet the disconnect when people most need that help is huge,” she said.

The summer before she started at Harvard Law School, Wu worked at a legal services clinic in Jamaica Plain, where she learned more about the barriers faced by those who are “unseen and unheard.” The large Hispanic client base at the clinic also motivated her to learn Spanish, and Wu cut versions of her mayoral campaign kickoff video in which she speaks to the camera in English, Mandarin (her first language growing up), and Spanish.

As for her run for mayor, Wu said, we are at “a truly once in a generation moment in our city and beyond as well, where in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and an economic crisis, our continuing climate crisis, a national reckoning on systemic racism, we are seeing that the issues community members were always lifting up are now life and death.”

Wu said her time in office has shown her “when you dig in and start to reimagine what’s possible for our city…we can get things done pretty quickly in Boston.”

“What we need to just connect all the dots is leadership that has that sense of bold aspiration, urgent action, and community-based vision,” she said.

Asked if that vision has been missing under Walsh, Wu ticks off a list of things she has have worsened over the last seven years, from growing inequality to a development process geared toward those with “insider connections” and the many “missed opportunities for Boston to connect our resources with the scale and the urgency of our challenges.”




Critics say the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home has been chronically underfunded relative to its counterpart in Chelsea, but a close examination of the numbers suggests that claim is hard to verify.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins releases a so-called Brady List of 136 police officers with potential credibility issues.

Attorney General Maura Healey brought criminal charges against two former officials of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Also, President Trump calls Gov. Charlie Baker a RINO.

Opinion: Retired juvenile court judge Jay Blitzman says it’s time to address the school-to-prison pipeline….John Puma of Places for Less urges lawmakers to do away with real estate broker fees….Craig S. Altemose of 350 Massachusetts for a Better Future urges lawmakers to quickly update the state’s climate change policies….My bet is Martha’s Vineyard casino gaming is coming, says Paul DeBole of Lasell College….Sen. Ed Markey didn’t reinvent himself, he was just rediscovered, says George Bachrach, a Markey supporter.

FROM AROUND THE WEB             



Calls to slow down and reconsider police reform bills under negotiation on Beacon Hill are outnumbering those in support by a margin of about 5-1, said a group of activists Sunday pushing for more outreach to state lawmakers. (Boston Herald) Advocates for police reform rallied virtually on Sunday. (MassLive) Former governor Deval Patrick says he’s tired of white people being complacent.


The town of Richmond approves a $240,000 residential placement for a special needs student. About $50,000 will be paid by the town and the rest by the state. (Berkshire Eagle)

The Springfield City Council is moving closer to filing suit against Mayor Domenic Sarno for ignoring a law requiring the establishment of a police commission. (Western Mass Politics & Insight)

After a decade of being closed because of an arson fire, a refurbished Taunton City Hall is scheduled to reopen in October. (Taunton Gazette)

Boston officials shut down a newly opened restaurant called Nusr-Et Boston for failing to adhere to  COVID-19 safety standards. (Boston Globe)


In the second of a three-part series, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team examines the Baker administration’s slow realization that nursing homes, not hospitals, were the real ground zero in the fight against COVID-19. Gov. Charlie Baker himself refused to be interviewed for the series. The Baker administration is also failing to comply with a law requiring the release of detailed information on nursing home deaths.

South Shore hospice providers have had to adapt to continue their work with challenges accessing care facilities and providing care in a way that minimizes the spread of the coronavirus. (The Enterprise)


President Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, and another $750 in 2017. He paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years, according to The New York Times. The paper examined decades of the personal and corporate tax records of Trump and his businesses. Dean Baquet, the Times executive editor, says the records showa significant gap between what the president has said to the public and what he disclosed to tax authorities. He also claims that Trump’s businesses appear to have benefited from his position.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can’t seem to make up its mind about the airborne transmission of COVID-19. (NPR)

Military suicides have increased by as much as 20 percent this year compared to the same period in 2019, and some incidents of violent behavior have spiked as service members struggle under COVID-19, war-zone deployments, national disasters and civil unrest. (Associated Press)


The Boston Planning & Development Agency’s board approved the redevelopment of the 161-acre Suffolk Downs racetrack site, giving the go-ahead after the clock changed over to midnight Friday. (Boston Herald)

Unable to host any events since March because of COVID-19, the city-owned DCU Center in Worcester is on track to rack up a $915,000 deficit through the end of December, according to city officials. (Telegram & Gazette)


Braintree voters approved tax increases for the first time in town history, agreeing to pay for a new South Middle School and improvements to other school buildings. It’s the town’s first new school in 50 years. (Patriot Ledger)

A cluster of 13 UMass Amherst students living off campus tests positive for COVID-19. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)


Plymouth & Brockton bus line defends holding on to federal Paycheck Protection Program loan monies instead of opening back up and spending on payroll. (Cape Cod Times) 

With the federal government out, the city of Boston is scrambling to find funding for a $30 million bus lane project on Blue Hill Avenue. (Boston Globe)

How ventilation systems work on buses and subways. (WBUR)


An audit of Worcester’s fiscal 2019 budget that included reviews of police detail assignments, police overtime, parking garage receipts, and other departments said there needed to be policy changes within the police department concerning overtime and details. (MassLive) 

Twin sisters Kayla and Kaitlyn Balbuena are suing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Enrollment Committee in Tribal Court after the committee removed them from the tribal roll about a month ago. (Cape Cod Times)

Connecticut State Police are asking for help to track down at least three men who are suspects in the double homicide of a 20-year-old woman and a 24-year-old man who lived in Western Massachusetts. (MassLive)