Why Boston is going to make history Tuesday night
But this election promises something very different. Of the top five applicants, four are women of color and the fifth is a black man. Which means no matter what happens in the voting booth on Tuesday, Boston will elect its first non-white mayor in city history in November.
Cillizza: Let’s talk about the obvious first. Four of the top five nominees are women of color. Was this a surprise to veteran Boston politicians?
Pindell: This is a good place to start. If people in the United States wanted to sound smart about Boston’s mayoral race and only use one word to describe it, that word would be “historic.” Boston has been holding mayoral elections since 1822, even before half of America’s states were states. A white man has won all the elections.
In 2021, the four favorites of the mayor of Boston are four women of color. A black is in fifth place.
Even before Walsh was hired by Biden, two women on the council of color (both had previously served as council chairmen) were already running for mayor. Boston is a majority minority city that last elected a Republican mayor 95 years ago and the city craves a diverse mayor. And a white person at that [stage] is expected to enter a contest against two women of color who already have stature and a black woman who was acting mayor and a few weeks away from entering the contest herself.
Cillizza: Is there a liberal versus moderate dynamic playing out here? Or another divide or dynamic that differentiates the field?
Pindell: Not really. There are ideological differences, but they are subtle. For example, affordable housing is one of the main issues in elections. A study found that Boston is the second most expensive city to buy a home in the United States, behind San Francisco, but ahead of New York. Before the pandemic, it was the third most expensive city to rent, but apparently it fell to the fifth last year. There is a good portion of Boston residents who spend half of their income on housing.
I mention this because it’s probably the backdrop for the biggest difference in candidates: the woman at the top of the polls Councilor Michelle Wu, a protégé of Elizabeth Warren, wants rent control, while the others reject it for one reason or another.
Note that we do not vehemently debate other issues that fit perfectly on the Moderate / Liberal scale, such as police funding, tax cuts, repairs, Covid warrants, or anything else you see debated in other municipal elections this year.
Some media have tried to infer that Councilor Annissa Essaibi George is a moderate given her strong support for law enforcement. And its pitch is “Common Sense for Boston”. At the same time, she doesn’t really make a difference on issues except for the need to hire more cops, but even that is not the main focus of her campaign. She is no [New York City Democratic mayoral nominee] Eric Adams. She also notes that she is the only candidate running to support Ed Markey in the Senate against Joe Kennedy last year.
Cillizza: A lot of these candidates rose through the ranks of Boston’s political class as a sort of team. Did this affect the course of the campaign?
Pindell: Totally. The four leading women are all members of the municipal council. Three have served as council chairmen. The fifth, John Barros, was also part of the system as an assistant to the Walsh administration. The point is, none of them are outsiders and none of them can really blame any particular person. This is all the more true since the elements discussed during the electoral campaign are systemic (schools, racial justice, drug addiction, gentrification, climate resilience) that all the candidates are, in a way, to blame for not having corrected.
In tone, the race had some “nudges” between candidates and Super PAC, but no punches. The fact that they have all worked together for years is probably the main reason.
Cillizza: What’s the general vibe in Boston? Are voters happy with the way things are going? Or is this an election that shakes up the status quo?
Pindell: Despite the systemic issues mentioned above, this is not the classic definition of an election for change.
Still, no one is in the mood to throw the bums out (though, again, no outsider even offers that choice).
Cillizza: Complete this sentence: “The two MOST likely candidates to qualify for the November general election are __________. Now explain.
Pindell: Given the state of the polling industry, I am very hesitant to come here. But the trend lines of several polls are clear in two ways.
First, Wu appears to have secured one of the two spots that will qualify for the November second round.
Second, there is a three way race for the other slot which is really too close to follow. Contestants are Essaibi George, Acting Mayor Kim Janey and Councilor Andrea Campbell.