IN THE CLOSING weeks of the Boston mayor’s race, Michelle Wu was name-checking her one-time boss, Tom Menino, a lot more than her former law professor, Elizabeth Warren. It was smart politics to remind voters that she wasn’t just a protege of the Senate lefty firebrand but was also very much a product of Tom Menino’s City Hall, where she cut her teeth as a law student intern looking at small business licensing issues and school bus route logistics.
As much as the city’s Harvard-educated incoming mayor and its often tongue-tied longest-serving one seemed cut from very different cloths, they shared an interest in the nitty-gritty of how city government affects residents’ lives. When it comes to their political prowess, they now also share something else: An almost identical winning margin and map in rolling to dominant victories in their first mayoral runs.
In unofficial results from Tuesday’s election, Wu captured 64 percent of the vote to Annissa Essaibi George’s 36 percent. That’s exactly the same margin by which Menino beat Dorchester state rep Jim Brett in the 1993 race. What’s more, Wu dominated the city geographically in a way nearly identical to Menino. She actually did him one better when measuring victories at the ward level, winning 19 of the city’s 22 wards to Menino’s 18 ward-level wins in 1993.
Essaibi George, a Dorchester resident, only won South Boston’s Wards 6 and 7 and Ward 16 in Dorchester. In 1993, Brett won those three wards plus Dorchester’s Ward 13, where he lived. This time, Ward 13, where Essaibi George and former mayor Marty Walsh both grew up and which has seen a big influx of new residents over the last three decades, went to Wu.
Voter power in the city, where white sections of Dorchester and South Boston once held great sway, has shifted to a swath of high-voting precincts running from Jamaica Plain south through Wu’s Roslindale home neighborhood and into West Roxbury. The neighborhoods include all or some of Wards 18, 19, and 20, and are sometimes referred to by Boston political hands as the “high-numbered wards.”
“She replicated Tom Menino’s path to victory,” said Carter Wilkie, a Roslindale resident who served as an advisor to Menino and backed Wu this year. “She spent 10 years building up a base in the high wards of Boston, which is where the votes are.”
By Wilkie’s calculation, the precincts making up Roslindale, which is divided between several wards, delivered more votes on Tuesday than any ward in Boston and more than Southie’s two wards combined.
“What Wu represents is the coming of age of Roslindale as a new center of political gravity in Boston,” said Wilkie. “It’s the closest thing Boston has to a melting pot neighborhood, where no single tribe can claim it as their turf. It’s the kind of neighborhood where anybody can fit in.”
That may also describe another Wu parallel with Menino, who was the first Italian-American mayor elected in Boston. While that hardly seems pathbreaking today, Menino’s election marked a break with the stranglehold Irish American pols had for decades on City Hall.
Wu has clearly taken the city much farther beyond its insular ways by becoming the first woman and first person of color elected mayor. But she and Menino, a lifelong son of Hyde Park, both successfully ran as candidates pledging to be mayors for all residents. Like Menino, she decisively carried predominantly Black precincts after African American candidates vied but lost in the preliminary.
Essaibi George, meanwhile, suffered from the same problem that Brett encountered 28 years ago. After relying heavily on the same political base of predominantly white neighborhoods along the coast in Dorchester and South Boston to squeeze into the final in a multi-candidate preliminary race, neither of them was able to expand their reach in the November general election.
“Brett had no place to go,” said Ed Jesser, a longtime Menino confidante, adding that Essaibi George faced the same limitation.
One big difference was that Menino had the enormous advantage of serving for several months before the election as acting mayor, having taken the reins when Ray Flynn left for an ambassador’s post in the same way Kim Janey did when Walsh left to become US labor secretary in March. He deftly used the time to build a strong head of steam going into the election.
The Wu train, by contrast, generated the power to match the Menino margin and map on its own.