Posted on July 23, 2021

Boston Has a Long History of Racism; Now Its Top Mayoral Candidates Are Women of Color

Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2021

The voters of Boston, a city with a notorious history of racism, face a once-unimaginable political tableau in the mayor’s race this year. For the first time, the four top candidates are all women of color.

Boston is an unlikely pioneer in a change that is inching into electoral politics across the nation: A growing number of women of color are running for the highest offices. Enough are running that they are increasingly vying against each other in Virginia, North Carolina and New York.

In Boston, Kim Janey this year became the first Black person and first woman to helm the city when she was appointed acting mayor to succeed Marty Walsh, who is white and is now President Joe Biden’s secretary of labor.

Now Janey, seeking a full term as Walsh’s successor, is competing with three other women, all Boston city councilors: Andrea Campbell, who is Black; Michelle Wu, who is Asian American; and Annissa Essaibi George, whose father is Tunisian and mother is Polish, and who identifies as a woman of color.

Boston has always been known as a liberal stronghold, but its reputation as a bastion of 20th century racial tensions in the North was established in the national psyche by the tumult and tensions surrounding desegregation and school busing in the 1970s.

The 2021 mayoral race marks the first time in the city’s history that no white men are in serious contention.


The campaign is also grabbing the attention of women like Sarah Muncey, who brought her two young daughters to canvass for Campbell one hot Sunday morning in the working-class neighborhood of Mattapan.

“Boston is ready to be led by a woman of color,” said Muncey, who is white and the co-founder of a nonprofit dedicated to improving early child care. “It’s time for a different kind of leadership.”

Many candidates have been inspired by Stacey Abrams, who was part of a wave of Black women running for office in 2018. Although Abrams narrowly lost her bid for Georgia governor that year, she later led a voter-registration drive that contributed to Democrats’ breakthrough victories in the traditionally red state’s 2020 presidential and Senate elections, delivering Biden’s win and flipping the Senate.

By far the highest-profile breaker of barriers has been Kamala Harris, first as a presidential candidate and then as the first woman, first Black American and first Asian American to become vice president.


{snip} A record number of Black women ran for Congress in 2020 — 130, up from 87 in 2018, according to the nonpartisan Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Fewer Latinas and Asian American/Pacific Islander women ran — 75 and 41, respectively — but they too hit their highest levels ever.

The Democratic Party has long relied on Black women to sway tight races. An especially dramatic illustration came in 2017, when party leaders and national media spotlighted the role of Black women as voters and activists in delivering a surprise victory to Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama’s special Senate election. In the 2020 presidential election — as in 2016 — Black women were the most reliable Democratic voting bloc: 90% voted for Biden, according to exit polls.


One glaring void: There are no Black women senators. After Harris became vice president, California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla, a first-generation Mexican American, to replace her and has since pledged to appoint a Black woman if Sen. Dianne Feinstein retires before the end of her term.

Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, an organization promoting women of color in politics, argues that Democratic leaders have not done enough and is urging them to endorse Black women candidates in key Senate races in 2022. Two are running for an open Senate seat in North Carolina; another is running in Florida.

“I want them to get behind Black women in the primary, just like they got behind establishment, white-guy Democrats in the past,” Allison said. “I want them to champion Black women.”


Another big void: No Black woman has been elected governor. Two tried this year in Virginia, but both were crushed in the Democratic primary by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a white man.


{snip} Among the nation’s 100 largest cities, eight have Black women as mayor — up from two in 2014. Three have Latina mayors, and three are run by Asian American women, according to the Rutgers center.


The Boston mayor’s office has been an especially durable bastion of white male power. Even after white residents became a minority in the city in 2000, Boston’s reputation for racism endured. A 2017 national survey of Blacks Americans commissioned by The Boston Globe found that, among eight major cities, Boston was ranked as the least welcoming to people of color. At a Boston Celtics game in May, a visiting Black player was heckled and nearly hit by a bottle tossed by an angry fan.

In a breakthrough that drew national attention in 2018, Ayanna Pressley, a Boston city councilor, unseated 10-term U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in the primary to become the state’s first Black female member of Congress.

But the groundwork for 2021’s extraordinary field of candidates for mayor was laid in the transformation of Boston’s 13-member City Council, which gradually shifted to reflect the racial diversity of the city. When Pressley in 2010 became the first Black woman elected to the City Council, 10 members were white. By 2019, council members of color were in the majority, including the four women now running for mayor.