Boston mayoral race narrows to Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, two women of color, for the city’s top job

Boston mayoral candidates Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, both Democratic city councilors, will advance to the November general election, CNN projects, setting up a historic contest that will for the first time in the city’s history end with a person of color voted into its highest office.

For two centuries, Boston has elected only White men as mayor. That will change in this fall. Wu took a clear lead once the reporting of the votes in Tuesday’s nonpartisan preliminary election sped up overnight. She is Asian American and Essaibi George, who emerged to claim the second slot, is a first-generation American whose father emigrated from Tunisia and whose mother was born in Germany to Polish parents.

Despite their breakthroughs, there will be disappointment among supporters of Acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who saw in this campaign an opportunity for Boston to elect its first-ever Black mayor. Janey took over the role on a temporary basis after former Mayor Marty Walsh left office earlier this year to join President Joe Biden’s administration, but, like Campbell, has been shut out of the general election.

As of Wednesday morning, Wu has a strong lead with more than 33% of the vote, while George follows with about 22%. The winner in November will serve a full, four-year term.

The only man in the upper tier, John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development under Walsh, was considered a heavy underdog. He trails well behind the other major candidates.

“It’s been an honor to be part of this historic field,” Wu told reporters early Wednesday morning. “For the last year, we have seen an incredible conversation all across every neighborhood, across every community, so I am humbled to be part of this moment in Boston and so excited to make sure we keep up the work, keep up the energy of getting out to every single voter, knocking on doors and having the conversations about what’s possible in this city.”

On Tuesday night, Essaibi George — before the race had been called but with results shaping up in her favor — projected confidence as she addressed supporters.

“Bostonians deserve results, real change and real progress,” she said, after praising the “sisters in service” who became her campaign rivals. “I will be the teacher and the mother and the mayor to get it done.”

In the final stretch of the campaign, Wu, the first woman of color to lead the city council when she took over as its president in 2016, emerged as the clear favorite to finish atop the pack. Campbell, Janey and Essaibi George were bunched together, separated by only a few percentage points, according to a recent Suffolk University and Boston Globe poll.

“The race for second place will not only be determined by undecided voters and the respective get-out-the-vote efforts by the candidates, but also by soft Wu voters who may opt to vote for their second choice instead in order to control the selection of both finalists,” Suffolk University Political Research Center Director David Paleologos wrote with the poll’s release.

That survey was conducted before back-to-back debate nights last week, two mostly tame affairs following weeks of intensifying clashes, most notably between Campbell and Janey. Ultimately, though, it appears that Essaibi George benefited most, as she successfully staked out the moderate lane with a more police-friendly platform. Others, like Wu and Campbell, are pushing for deeper structural changes to the department. Essaibi George, meanwhile, won the support of former Boston police commissioner William Gross, the first Black person to hold that job.

Janey, who as a young child took part in the city’s school busing program, an initiative designed to integrate Boston schools that was met with fierce backlash in some predominantly White neighborhoods, assumed office in March following Walsh’s confirmation to Biden’s Cabinet as labor secretary. In April, she announced she would run for a full term.

“To think that we would have a Black mayor in my lifetime, even though we’ve had a Black president, still kind of felt out of reach,” Janey told CNN in April. “That we have one and that it’s actually me is kind of mind-blowing.”

Turnout tends to be low in preliminary elections, which lent further uncertainty to the race as it entered its final days. Some operatives believed the state’s new no-excuse, vote-by-mail option could lead to a slight uptick in the numbers, but early indications from Tuesday night suggest the swell never materialized.

Though Walsh did not endorse in the preliminary, the state’s highest-profile Democratic elected official, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is backing Wu, one of her former students at Harvard Law School. Wu volunteered for Warren’s Senate run in 2012 and was first elected to the city council a year later.

“Michelle has always been a fighter — as one of my students, as a Boston city councilor, and now as a candidate for Mayor,” Warren said in a statement announcing her endorsement in January. “She is a tireless advocate for families and communities who feel unseen and unheard.”

The Sunrise Movement in Boston is also backing Wu, along with other leading environmental groups and unions, including Teamsters Local 25 and the United Auto Workers Region 9A. But the race for labor support has been largely split. AFSCME Council 93, along with the firefighters union and IBEW Local 2222, all supported Essaibi George, while SEIU Local 888 and 32BJ SEIU endorsed Janey.

Campbell was the choice of the Boston Globe’s Editorial Board, which made her case earlier this month.

“She radiates a sense of urgency, a palpable hunger to confront Boston’s hardest, most politically fraught challenges — its uneven schools and a law enforcement system that has lost the trust of too many residents,” the board wrote. “That drive, paired with her nuanced thinking about what can make the city more vibrant and equitable, is what distinguishes her from her opponents in this year’s mayoral election.”

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