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Women top vote-getters in Boston at-large city council election

Martin Desmarais
Women top vote-getters in Boston at-large city council election
Michelle Wu was elected to the Boston City Council in last week’s election. She is the First Asian-American women elected to citywide office in Boston.

When Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley and City Councilor-Elect Michelle Wu topped the ballot for two of the four at-large council seats in the election last week, the prevailing political wind was one of change with two women of color leading the way and drawing the most votes.

Pressley’s reelection was no surprise, nor was her spot as the top vote-getter — she has now won her third term and topped the tickets in her last run as well. However, political rookie Wu’s strong campaign and victory is one that has many considering the implications about Boston’s voting public.

The 28-year-old Wu, who is the Chicago-born daughter of Taiwanese parents, is the first Asian-American woman elected to citywide office in Boston history. She moved to Boston less than a decade ago after graduating from Harvard University and made waves on the Boston political scene when she nabbed fourth place in an at-large city council preliminary in September that had 19 candidates — and did so with an impressive 13,000 votes more than the fifth place finisher.

She bested that in the primary election by moving up to the second spot behind the popular Pressley.

More impressive is that Wu has no prior political experience, beyond working in the administration of Mayor Thomas Menino — helping create the city’s food truck program and streamlining the process for permitting the trucks and restaurants by switching from paper to electronic submissions.

Her success shows that voters responded to her highly visible campaign efforts and her message of the greater need for city government to support healthy communities and stable families.

Priti Rao, executive director of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, said that the results in the city council at-large election, with women leading the way, are a great thing for the advancement of women in politics.

“This is a huge day for us. We have been wanting this for years,” Rao said. “The fact that in Boston you have two women of color topping the ticket is a huge thing.”

The women’s caucus has been working for over four decades to increase the participation of women in the political progress and to increase the number of women appointed to elected public office, so Rao said the organization feels Pressley’s and Wu’s success as their own.

In fact, both Pressley and Wu have been previously involved in the women’s caucus. Pressley served on the board and Wu as a member of the young professionals committee.

According to Rao, the success of the women in the city council election shows that the wants of the voters are changing. She says that more and more voters want to see women in government – they want to see representatives that look like them, and focus on the issues that impact their daily lives.

Rao also points out that this is reflected at the highest level of politics with some women politicians playing big roles on the national scene with the federal government. She also says that as more and more women’s issues rise to the forefront, more voters will want women in office because they feel that they will address these issues more effectively than their male counterparts.

Looking at the votes tallied by Pressley and Wu, Rao cautions thinking that they received more votes just because more women came out to vote for women candidates. While she admits there may be some element of that in the recent city council election, she believes it is more likely that the diversity of the candidates attracted more ethnic voters and voters from communities of color.

“They are inspiring a whole new demographic of voters to come out,” Rao said.

In addition, Rao points to how close former Boston Public Schools principal Suzanne Lee came to unseating incumbent Bill Linehan, who has represented District 2 on the council since 2007, in the city council elections as another sign of the changing voter tide. Lee lost by fewer than 1,000 votes and her campaign charged forward against Linehan for the second election in a row riding a surge of support for better representation of an increasingly diverse Boston.

And Rao said it is not just about Pressley, Wu and Lee being women and candidates of color — their success is also about their message resonating with the voters.

For an organization that is dedicated to increasing the participation of women in the political process, the women’s caucus is thrilled to now have Wu as a shining example of the possibility of public office.

“The greater message of her success is that it shows it is possible for a young woman, like Michelle, to get in early and be successful,” Rao said. “We need to encourage more women to run. The success Michelle had with her campaign is a sign to other women it can be done.”

Speaking to gathered supporters on her election night, Wu acknowledged how thrilled she was to be soon working alongside Pressley and the other veteran and newly elected city councilors.

She also acknowledged the efforts of her campaign to gather the diverse elements of Boston together in support of her bid for office.

“I am very proud of the coalition that we put together over the course of the campaign across the entire city. The immigrant communities, the community of color, flavor, the LGBT community, parks advocates, tech startups, parents, teachers, small business owners, students — it has been an incredible outpouring of support in every single neighborhood across the city and I have so much hope for the future of Boston, just based on this incredible coalition we pulled together and the work that we are going to do together,” she said.

Wu also stressed that she intends to continue to consider all of Boston’s different communities with her work in City Hall and spoke of her vision of the future of the city that is based on “opportunity and access for every single person, every single family.”

Wu told the Banner about the notion that the runaway success of two women of color in the at-large city council race was a reflection of the changing face of the city’s voters.

“Voters are looking for new energy and ideas that include all of Boston. I’m excited to represent the entire city and all Boston residents — that includes the Asian American community but also wider communities of color, seniors, the disability community, immigrant communities, LGBT — all of Boston’s diversity,” Wu said. “I look forward to working hard in every neighborhood in the city to ensure that the voices of all residents are heard.”

Pressley also warming welcomed Wu to the city council.

“I am thrilled Michelle Wu will be joining the council,” Pressley said. “This is an exciting time for our city. I am humbled and grateful that residents have entrusted me with the awesome honor of representing them for a third term. Michelle will most certainly bring about a new perspective, one that will benefit the council and our city. I am really looking forward to having her as a partner in my continued work to stabilize all our families, to break cycles of poverty and to end violence in all forms.”