BOSTON (AP) — When she was elected mayor of Boston in November, Michelle Wu changed the image of the city’s chief executive — until then the sole domain of white people, many of Irish descent.
Now in office, the Chicago-born daughter of Taiwanese immigrants faces challenges, including fulfilling key campaign promises, such as creating a fare-free public transportation system and reducing the city’s skyrocketing housing costs. Doing.
Wu, 37, and a mother of two children, has also faced early-morning protests outside their home and racist online taunts.
“You can’t take things personally in jobs like this,” Wu said in an interview with the Associated Press. “At the same time, it seems especially in the last few years that we have seen a normalization of behavior that is toxic and harmful and personally abusive to many.”
“Women and women of color in particular are often the most racially and gender-based versions of that intensity,” she said.
Noisy gatherings outside his home prompted Wu to push for a new city ordinance during which protesters could gather at a window in residential neighborhoods between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.
She also dismissed online chatter, which tried to cast doubts about her mental health. Wu talks openly about her mother’s struggle with mental illness.
“The most shocking thing about some of the rumors or these whisper campaigns is that in fact, I think it has the opposite effect,” Wu said. “If I need mental health help, I’ll be the first one to say it.”
She has also drawn flak from city unions over the pandemic mandate and, most recently, tried to thread a needle along the narrow streets of the city’s north end to allow restaurants to continue offering sidewalk food.
The position is still a dream job for Wu—a former Democratic city councilor and policy adviser won under the framework of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“In many ways, it feels familiar and exhilarating and enthusiastic to be able to roll up my sleeves and work on the issues I was talking about,” Wu said. “The energy of working in Boston right now is felt everywhere across the city.”
While Wu is the first woman of color to be elected mayor, she was not the first to hold the seat. After former Mayor Marty Walsh resigned to become Labor secretary to President Joe Biden, former city council chairman Kim Janney, who is black, took the position of acting mayor until 2021.
Unlike the typical Boston mayor, Wu was not born and raised in the city. She first arrived from Chicago to attend Harvard University in neighboring Cambridge.
She would eventually relocate her two younger sisters and mother to Boston as she attended Harvard Law School.
“Boston has given me everything I cherish in my life – the ability to take care of my family, to connect my mother to health care in a way that saved her life, the schools I raised my sisters in. and now my own two boys,” Wu said. “It’s a city of every possible opportunity you can think of, but it’s also a city that really needs to break down barriers, yet, for that can be felt in every part of our neighborhood.” is.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Wu is housing.
Boston is facing a hollow, driven by rapid gentrification as new apartment buildings grow in neighborhoods that have traditionally relied on three-story timber houses for a working- and middle-class home.
“We are working to throw away whatever is on housing right now,” said Wu, who has pledged to revive illegal rent controls put in place by Massachusetts voters in 1994.
Surrounded by neighboring communities and the Atlantic Ocean, Boston doesn’t have many large open spaces for new housing. One of the last – a former industrial landscape rebranded as the Port District – is filled with boxy glass-enclosed high rises.
Wu is eyeing three other parcels: a former horse track in the city’s East Boston neighborhood; the restructuring of Interstate 90 that could unlock massive Harvard-owned land; and an industrial area near the city’s South Boston neighborhood that was eyed for a stadium during the city’s aborted bid for the 2024 Olympics.
During the campaign, Wu also promised a free public transportation system.
The city has made a down payment on that pledge with three free bus lines primarily serving riders of color and low-income neighborhoods. The city is raising the tab – $8 million in federal pandemic relief funds – for the next two years.
“Bus service is the most cost-effective and the most equitable place to start, because that’s where we see some of the biggest gaps in the rider experience,” Wu said, noting that black riders get on buses in Boston. 64 hours per year. Compared to white riders.
Expanding the fare-free push to other bus lines and the subway system would require action by state lawmakers, the governor, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which oversees the public transportation system. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has banned the idea.
Wu said she hopes to change what it means to be mayor of a nearly 400-year-old city — and maybe the rest of the country looks to Boston while it’s at it.
“I promised myself early on that I would be proud of who I was in politics long after I was out of politics,” Wu said. “I was worried at first that being in this role would mean changing my family’s life in different ways. But politics is not how we see it now. Politics is what we make of it.”
“I hope, who I am – a mother with two young children, someone who didn’t grow up in the city, raised by parents who didn’t grow up in this country – that I expand the definition of what leadership is.” Looks like that,” she said.