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.

The candidates running for Boston mayor: John Barros, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, Kim Janey and Michelle Wu.

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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Boston’s diversity upends old politics
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today