Michelle Wu discusses history-defining election, having just weeks to prepare to take reins

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Michelle Wu smiles as she speaks to supporters after winning the election to be Mayor of Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Michelle Wu smiles as she speaks to supporters after winning the election to be Mayor of Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Michelle Wu made history this week when she became the first woman and first person of color to be elected to serve as mayor of Boston.

While most mayor-elects typically have a couple months to prepare for the office, Wu has just two weeks.

Wu joined WBUR's Morning Edition host Rupa Shenoy live to discuss what's ahead.

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On having just two weeks to prepare to take office

Well, we jumped right in, and in some ways it's wonderful because the issues are very, very urgent and pressing, and so to have the opportunity to roll up our sleeves immediately has been incredibly meaningful. We celebrated election night and then the next day came right back to city hall for a city council meeting, my first official transition meeting with Mayor Janey, and we've been having a series of briefings with the administration since starting with [Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.]

On being the first woman, first person of color and first millennial to be elected to the office

I grew up never imagining that I would be anywhere involved with politics or government because as the daughter of immigrants, it seems so far away and my family seems so invisible in so many of the systems.

But I now have a decade of experience working in city hall, working for former Mayor [Thomas] Menino, working on the city council, and I know the power to make change if we can get city government out of these big buildings and into our neighborhoods. So my focus is going to be on connecting every single person into government and taking on the big challenges that our residents are facing.

On her first priority in office

We're building out our team. No person can do this alone, and there are so many issues that we are going to be tackling urgently and so we'll build out a cabinet and workforce throughout city hall that reflects the diversity of Boston. That represents every bit of the expertise in our communities and will move with the urgency that's facing our families.

On her thoughts on the crisis at a tent encampment near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard

Well, I want to be clear that in terms of support and what will happen next, we need to ensure that we are leading with a public health lens. So I support the emphasis on avoiding any sort of criminalization of people who are seeking treatment and in need of services and moving quickly so that we are connecting residents with those resources.

We need to establish more low-threshold, stable, supportive housing — whether that is through city-owned buildings that are quickly retrofitted or vacant hotel rooms that can be repurposed and wrapped around with services when we can get support for someone into transitional housing off the streets. It is then much more likely that people can connect with stable housing.

What what we're facing now is a countdown against the clock. Every day that goes by, we are closer to winter and freezing temperatures. So we need to act quickly to establish those connections to treatment and to housing. We cannot have a criminalization of these crises: opiates, mental health and homelessness. It only destabilizes everyone in the community and perpetuates the inequities that got us here in the first place.

On whether she thinks it's possible for the Suffolk County jail special court session to be effective

You know, we need to have changes within our criminal legal system that ensure diversion and ensure a recognition of what the root causes are here, which is the lack of stable housing, the trauma that has led to mental health and substance use challenges. And so we need to keep tweaking and pushing for the court system to move in the right direction. But from the city's perspective, I'll move right away for leadership and accountability when it comes to coordinating our services, establishing that stable housing, and doing so quickly before it gets cold outside.

On her plans to make housing more affordable

Step one is seizing on this moment of opportunity. We are in an unprecedented time with federal funding and state funding from our recovery funds to be able to direct that and prioritize that for housing stability. The areas where we'll dig in on right away are first ensuring that we are directing those capital funds to create more affordable housing that is truly affordable for our residents, to use the city property and buildings that we have as part of that will speed up our processes so that affordable housing proposal can move through more quickly and then work to boost home ownership. This is the core of Boston's racial wealth gap. And so as we're directing these funds, we need to be very intentional about leading with equity and moving quickly to close gaps across our city.

On how she plans to respond to the pandemic

Well, we are now seeing imminent and continued approvals for the vaccination when it comes to younger children, and we can close that vaccination gap if we use every bit of our city organization that touches people's lives, whether it's through the Boston Public Schools or the Boston Housing Authority or the libraries or community centers. We need to ensure that we're making that available so that there are no barriers to getting vaccinated. And then again, as we head into the colder months, really following the data and the science closely so that we will be prepared and heading off any potential situations as more people are going indoors and gathering inside.

On whether she plans to continue taking the T

Oh, I'm taking the T actually every day since the election, so I've been on the Orange Line several times now. It's the usual routine and it'll stay that way.

This article was originally published on November 05, 2021.

This segment aired on November 5, 2021.


Headshot of Rupa Shenoy

Rupa Shenoy Morning Edition Host
Rupa Shenoy hosts WBUR's Morning Edition.



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