In Boston – a city notorious for sending white men to city hall – voters found in Michelle Wu their first woman mayor, their first mayor of color and their first mayor who is also a mother, elevating her to the city’s highest post Tuesday in a landslide victory.
The election was set to make history regardless of who won, with Wu facing her fellow at-large city councilor Annissa Essaibi George, also a woman of color and also a mother. Kim Janey, who succeeded Mayor Marty Walsh earlier this year when he joined the Biden administration as labor secretary, became the first Black person and the first woman to serve as acting mayor.
Wu, the more progressive candidate, secured an endorsement from the Bay State’s progressive darling Rep. Ayanna Pressley in the weeks leading up to Election Day. She trounced Essaibi George, a more moderate and traditional candidate for Boston. Essaibi George grew up in neighboring Dorchester and was endorsed by Walsh. Essaibi George conceded late Tuesday after Wu had garnered 64% of the vote to her own 36%.
“On this day, Boston elected your mom because from every corner of our city, Boston has spoken,” Wu said in a victory speech, describing to throngs of supporters what she told her son when he asked whether boys can be elected mayors, too. “We are ready to meet this moment. We are ready to become a Boston for everyone. We are ready to become a Boston that doesn’t push people out but welcomes all who call our city home.”
Wu, 36, is also the youngest mayor voters have elected in nearly a century, as well as the first in over a century not born and raised in Boston.
The campaign, which focused on the city’s challenges with schools, transportation and housing – including sky-high rents and increasing rates of homelessness – drew national attention for its significance in elevating a woman of color, no matter the outcome. Across the Boston area, it pitted Wu’s distinct purple yard signs against Essaibi George’s hot pink.
“I want her to show the city how mothers get it done,” Essaibi George said in a concession speech.
But Boston’s mayoral race was far from the country’s only history-making contest during the Nov. 2 off-year election.
Virginians elected their first woman of color as lieutenant governor. Garnering 51% of votes, Republican Winsome Sears, a Black woman, bested Democrat Hala Ayala, who is Afro-Latina and who nabbed 49% of the vote Tuesday.
Though their race has been overshadowed by the gubernatorial campaign – in which Republican Glen Youngkin beat out former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a race widely perceived as a referendum on Biden’s presidency – Sears is expected to play a major role in setting state policy, including potentially on vaccine mandates and abortion. The current lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin Fairfax, has cast 52 tie-breaking votes as president of the legislative body.
Meanwhile, in New York City, voters elected Alvin Bragg as Manhattan district attorney, making him the first Black person to lead the high-profile office, which is conducting an investigation into former President Donald Trump. More firsts abound: Pittsburgh voters elected their first Black mayor, voters in Cincinnati elected their first Asian American mayor, and in Durham, North Carolina, voters elected their first Black woman mayor.
In Buffalo, New York’s second-largest city, India Walton was falling well short in her bid to become the first woman and first Black woman elected as mayor, as well as the first socialist to lead a U.S. city in decades.
Walton, a registered nurse who has never held political office, stunned the primary field when she defeated four-time incumbent Bryon Brown in the Democratic primary. Brown launched a vociferous write-in campaign as an independent. And, despite the herculean task of winning as a write-in, as of Wednesday morning had 59% of the votes and had already declared victory – though the race won’t be officially decided until write-in ballots are tabulated from Erie County on Nov. 17.
The challenge by Walton, who won endorsements from progressive figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, gained national attention as a proxy battle between moderates and progressives.