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Michelle Wu makes history as 1st woman and person of color elected as Boston's mayor

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A popular local politician and city councilor winning a mayoral race isn't so unusual in Boston. But the election of Michelle Wu, the 36-year-old daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, is making headlines because she's the first person elected to mayor there who is not a white man.

WBUR's Anthony Brooks reports on what makes her historic victory a turning point.

ANTHONY BROOKS, BYLINE: Michelle Wu will be the first woman and the first Asian American to lead Boston since the city elected its first mayor 200 years ago. Declaring victory last night, Wu said one of her young sons asked her if boys can be elected mayor.

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MICHELLE WU: They have been, and they will again someday, but not tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHEERING AND CLAPPING)

BROOKS: Wu has been a city councilor since 2014. She grew up in Chicago and says running for mayor was never part of her plan. But when her mother suffered a mental health crisis, Wu became head of the family and a guardian of one of her sisters. She says the struggle to navigate broken health care and school systems pushed her into politics. Her campaign for mayor promised free public transportation, universal preschool and a citywide Green New Deal, which will not only plant trees but also tackle racial inequality and Boston's soaring rents.

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WU: We're ready to be a Boston that doesn't push people out but welcomes all who call our city home. And yes, Boston is ready to become a Green New Deal city.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHEERING AND CLAPPING)

BROOKS: Wu defeated fellow city councilor Annissa Essaibi George, an Arab American and a moderate Democrat. She called Wu's plans unworkable and too costly. She also made an issue of the fact that Wu came from Chicago. By contrast, Essaibi George is a local who leaned into her Boston roots and accent.

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ANNISSA ESSAIBI GEORGE: I'm going to be the teacher and the mother and the mayor to get it done.

BROOKS: That pitch worked for a core of Essaibi George's supporters, who are generally older, whiter and more conservative than Wu's. Teddy Ahern grew up in the same neighborhood as Essaibi George and refused to vote for Wu.

TEDDY AHERN: She's promising things she can't deliver - Michelle Wu is. And I don't want a person from Chicago coming into my city and saying, oh, OK, you know what? I'll come here as a stepping stone. Like, why didn't they stay in Chicago and do it?

BROOKS: Ahern was once part of a powerful voting bloc in Boston that elected white, Irish and Italian men to City Hall. But today, Boston is younger, more diverse, with a growing population of immigrants and progressives like Laurel Radwin, who embraced Wu's agenda.

LAUREL RADWIN: I'm voting for Michelle because she understands that affordable housing is housing ownership. And the only way to decrease the racial wealth gap is through homeownership.

BROOKS: In the end, Wu overwhelmed Essaibi George by more than 28 points. Now, Wu has just two weeks to assemble a team and take over City Hall. That will be her first big challenge as Boston's next mayor.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.