Boston’s diversity upends old politics
Three centuries on, the city won’t be electing a white, male mayor this fall. The diversity of candidates helps raise issues beyond identity politics.
Since its founding in 1630, Boston has often been “a city upon a hill,” as John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, warned. “The eyes of all people are upon us,” he said. Now, in a mayoral election this fall, Boston will again be eyed for an important demographic transition. After being led by white men for centuries, Boston will elect a mayor from an ethnic minority, most likely a woman.
This year’s contest burst wide open earlier this year when Mayor Marty Walsh stepped down to become U.S. secretary of labor. He was succeeded by City Council President Kim Janey, a Black woman. Now she’s running alongside three other women and a Black man in a city teetering on becoming “majority minority” racially.
The wider choice has upended the usual Boston politics. Voters, for example, have a choice of two other Black candidates besides Ms. Janey. City Councilor Andrea Campbell has a compelling up-from-poverty story. And John Barros is Boston’s former economic development chief.
Mr. Barros, a lifelong Boston resident with roots in Cape Verde, told The Boston Globe that Black voters no longer need to settle on a single candidate to ensure their voices are heard. “The Black community’s not a monolith – it’s a very diverse community, particularly here in Boston,” he said. “There are going to be multiple candidates who get Black votes.”
Rounding out the field in the Sept. 14 nonpartisan primary are Annissa Essaibi George, with Arab heritage, and Michelle Wu, an Asian American. The top two vote getters will face off in the Nov. 2 general election.
With racial and gender diversity well represented among the candidates, the contest has had an opportunity to center on issues beyond identity politics. Affordable housing and education are high priorities. Voters also want answers to the city’s opioid epidemic. Police reform has garnered less interest.
On climate change, Ms. Wu has suggested a “Green New Deal” in which thousands of trees would be planted to provide shade in low-income neighborhoods. Also under her proposals, developers’ net-zero emissions projects would be expedited, as would projects that set aside a substantial number of residences as affordable housing units.
This precedent-busting election may also energize the city’s minority communities and increase overall voter turnout to levels not seen in many years. The slate of candidates reflects gradual but substantial progress over recent years as women and minorities have moved into positions of responsibility that now make them highly qualified candidates.
The Boston torn apart in the 1970s over whether to allow busing to achieve racial integration in schools now seems like a foggy memory. Now it is setting an example for diversity in action. America’s “city upon a hill” has burst with new candidates, new vitality, and new ideas suited to the 21st century.