Days after announcing her candidacy for mayor, City Councilor Michelle Wu held events in communities around Boston where she discussed issues with constituents.
If elected, Wu would be the first Boston mayor with small children in about 30 years.
“Being a mom shapes every second of my day,” she told the Gazette. “It is having a real stake in our school system, in the way that our transportation system works, in just how urgent it is for us to think about what city we’re leaving for the next generation…I am a daughter of immigrants; I grew up really seeing through my parents’ eyes the barriers that exist for various communities, and now as a mom myself just waking up and going to bed every day with the responsibility of how we are going to take the bold, urgent actions that we need so that my kids and all of our kids have the city that they deserve.”
On September 18, Wu and her supporters gathered at Jamaica Pond for a socially distanced event. Supporters held purple “Michelle for Mayor signs” and listened to Wu explain her platform for running.
“My name is Michelle Wu, and I’m running for mayor of Boston because Boston should be a city for everyone,” she announced at the beginning of her remarks.
Wu explained that as a daughter of immigrants, she never expected to run for office. “My parents actively kept me away from politics,” she said. “In my family’s multigenerational immigration history, politics meant fear.”
After finding out that her mother struggled with mental health issues, she became the caretaker for her younger sisters.
When she decided to go to Harvard Law School, Wu had a particular professor that helped to push her into a political career: Elizabeth Warren. When Warren announced her campaign for US Senate, Wu said she went to her office hours and asked to help out on the campaign in any way possible.
“She put me to work right here in our city, making phone calls, knocking on doors; my first political experience,” Wu said. “In that experience, I saw that you can have amazing people in government, you can have great ideas; but unless you are changing the politics, unless you are bringing people into the process of deciding what the vision is to begin with, we will not get to that systemic change that we need.”
She said that once Warren was elected in 2012, the next goal was to double the number of women from one to two on the Boston City Council when Wu ran in 2013.
“When I was able to join then councilor Ayanna Pressley…I saw that on the Boston City Council, we could transform how people thought about city government,” Wu said.
Wu said that while it is important for the City Council to ensure that things like potholes are fixed and trash pickup runs smoothly, “cities can lead on policy too.” She spoke about pieces of legislation that the Council has passed during her seven years as a member, including the Airbnb ordinance and a local wetlands ordinance.
Wu has been an ardent supporter of free public transportation, and when the MBTA announced that fares would be raised, “we changed the conversation,” she said. “We mobilized, protested; we were at every single MBTA station,” and “rolled back some of those fare hikes. She said that the result was no fare hikes for bus riders, seniors, or youth.
“Transportation should be fare free, accessible to all, reliable, safe, convenient, and now, more than every, when our systems are broken down to the very core of it, we need Boston to recognize that our true legacy as a city, our history, is one of investing in that common good,” Wu said.
Wu also mentioned other issues that are important to her, such as making sure every single student in Boston has a “great school” to attend, ensuring a strong public health system, and closing the racial wealth gap in Boston by investing in Black and Latinx communities.
She also believes that the conversation around housing needs to change. “Housing is a fundamental human right and in a city of tremendous wealth, where, over the last seven, eight years we have seen a building boom unlike any other,” Wu said. “The fact that people are still being displaced across every neighborhood of our city and struggling to find a safe, healthy place to lay their head at night is unconscionable. We can do better, and we are going to do that for this city.”
Wu said that “these are big ideas,” and “we can only get this done when there is partnership with community.” She said that her announcement is earlier than typical campaign announcements “because we need this time to organize.” She also stressed the importance of talking about the issues over and over again over a period of time.
After her remarks, Wu took questions from the audience. One resident wanted to know what Wu’s plans for public restrooms are, as this has become more of an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic as many places are closed tot he public.
“That issue has come up again and again,” Wu said, especially in the downtown area that drew many tourists in pre-COVID times, as well as homeless folks who need restrooms to use.
She said that “absolutely” needs to be a focus, and welcomed suggestions on how and where would be best to implement restrooms.
Another resident asked Wu about how she would tackle homelessness in the City.
“We’ve been talking about homelessness mostly in terms of secondary impacts: how do we clean up the streets, what do we do about needles, how do we push people away?” she said. “It is unacceptable that we have been using a law enforcement response as the first way that we are handling this.”
She said that she believes that this issue cannot be solved until the “underlying public health issue” and housing issue is solved first.
She added that she believes services should not all be concentrated in one area, and should be easily accessible to people across the entire city. More supportive housing is also needed, she said.
“We think about public safety and public health as two different things,” Wu said,” when in that it should be one and the same.”
She also addressed a topic of conversation that is at the forefront in many cities right now: discussions on limiting law enforcement. She said that she has received many emails from constituents saying that they would like to see their taxpayer dollars “reflect safety for everyone, health for everyone.”
Wu did not support the budget proposed by Mayor Walsh, as she felt it “did not go far enough” in reallocating in actuality $10 million of the police overtime budget to other departments. She also called this “not quite real,” as overtime must be paid no matter what the budget line says, according to collective bargaining contracts. She also said that there were “no specific commitments on what those dollars would go to,” so the “scale of it was far below what was demanded,” she said.
Violence and public safety have also been hot topics in the City recently, with an increase in shootings and other violence throughout the City.
“I am for completely rethinking and reimagining our system of public safety and public health,” Wu said. She said the first step would be to restructure systems like 911 to divert some calls away from law enforcement and direct them towards trained unarmed people who could help with certain issues.
“We put a proposal on the table for how to start restructuring government by diverting emergency crisis response calls away from law enforcement to an unarmed community response force that would be trained and have a background in social work and mental health counseling and substance use counseling to ensure that we are meeting the needs of residents in the community and doing so in a way that keeps everyone safe,” Wu told the Gazette. ”This is a moment, more important than ever, to rethink all of our systems and for our public safety system, to be grounded in public health.”
Wu has also fervently supports green energy and a sustainable future for the City. She recently released a municipal Green New Deal vision for Boston, which includes housing justice, transportation goals, green jobs, and faster decarbonization of buildings.
Wu told the Gazette that “the burden shouldn’t live on individuals or organizations to be the only ones carrying this burden. City government needs to step up and be a leader as well.”
She said that right now, most of Boston’s carbon emissions come from buildings, and 29 percent comes from transportation. She said that it is important to ensure that new buildings are decarbonized from the beginning, as they shouldn’t have to be retrofitted years later to comply.
Additionally, new subsidized housing should either meet passive house standards or be “extremely energy efficient,” Wu said, to help keep costs down for families so they will not have to worry about not being able to pay their utility bills.
“I’m so grateful for this moment that we have,” Wu said. “This is truly a once in a generation moment; a moment where everybody’s awareness is together and everybody realizes what those who have always been left out and left behind have always known: that we are strongest when we are together, and that we have the resources to make sure that we can delivery opportunity for every single one of or families.”