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For The 1st Time, Boston's Next Mayor Will Not Be A White Man

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Voters in Boston made history this week when they selected two women as the top candidates in the city's preliminary mayoral election. Those two candidates will now face each other in November, and that means that Boston's next elected mayor will be, for the first time, somebody other than a white man. Here to tell us more is reporter Saraya Wintersmith from member station GBH in Boston. Saraya, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

SARAYA WINTERSMITH, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, first of all, I think this result might surprise a lot of people who may still think of Boston as basically a bastion of Irish American or Italian American political leadership. So how did Boston get here?

WINTERSMITH: The demographic makeup of the city has been changing for a while. It's actually a city with a majority of people of color and has been for at least the last 10 years. That demographic shift is also reflected in our city council, which is a grooming ground for Boston's political leadership.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley got her start in 2009 on the council, and since then, it's become one that's predominantly women and predominantly people of color. That includes the current acting mayor, who is a Black woman. She took over the job when former Mayor Marty Walsh left to join the Biden administration. And so now both of the candidates competing to be mayor have been part of that shift, and in a lot of ways, it makes sense that Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George are who we're seeing compete to lead the city.

MARTIN: So what's the reaction been to this development in the city? I mean, I'll just say it - it's not the kind of thing you normally expect people to come right out and complain about. But I'm just wondering what's the reaction to how this election has turned out, and is anybody upset about it?

WINTERSMITH: Yeah. Well, I haven't heard anybody say, where's the white man? I have not heard that, but I have heard from people who do see this cycle as sort of a missed opportunity to finally elect a Black mayor. I talked to one supporter of Kim Janey, who was running for a full term. His name was Armani White, and he was really upset as we were waiting for results on election night.

ARMANI WHITE: I think it's sad, in a city where we have three Black candidates, when the early results don't show that any of them make the top two. It just speaks to the nature of the city.

WINTERSMITH: And you hear him there expressing this idea that's connected to the city's history of racism. The animosity felt through forced desegregation hasn't really dissipated. I found on the campaign trail it lives with a lot of the Black residents who recall what it was like for their buses to be pelted with rocks or to be chased out of predominantly white neighborhoods.

MARTIN: But Saraya, there were three of the five contenders were African American. So could it be that they split the vote?

WINTERSMITH: I think that it could be that. But when I think about what the turnout was for this election - and only about a quarter of all the city's voters cast ballots this time around, and turnout was particularly low in those precincts. And so I'm not even sure that this election is really a measure of where all Black voters wanted to be.

MARTIN: So now that we know who the two candidates are going to be on the November ballot, what can you tell us about them as briefly as you can? You know, we often talk about lanes in politics, so what's each of their lane?

WINTERSMITH: So the race is being described most popularly right now as old-school Boston versus new-school Boston. That's because Michelle Wu represents younger transplant Bostonians who maybe went to college and then put down roots. Annissa Essaibi George is a Boston native whose parents immigrated and put down roots in the generation before. And then politically, Wu is described as a progressive darling. That's because she champions things like addressing climate change with a local Green New Deal. Annissa Essaibi George is more moderate, and she's more concerned with things like adding more officers and resources to the police department and working with unions for economic justice and workers' rights.

MARTIN: OK, interesting race to watch for sure. That's Saraya Wintersmith, who covers Boston City Hall for GBH news. Saraya, thank you so much.

WINTERSMITH: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TODD TERJE'S "PREBEN GOES TO ACAPULCO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.