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Wu will be Boston's first millennial mayor, part of a growing wave nationally03:40
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Mayor-Elect Michelle Wu departs after visiting The Underground Cafe and Lounge in Roxbury on Nov. 03. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Mayor-Elect Michelle Wu departs after visiting The Underground Cafe and Lounge in Roxbury on Nov. 03. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Boston Mayor-elect Michelle Wu is making history on several fronts. She is the first woman and first person of color elected to lead the city. But at 36, she is also about to become Boston's first millennial mayor.

Wu's relative youth comes with opportunities and challenges.

"There's always a few people that say the wrong thing or say something kind of insensitive or call you 'Blondie' or, you know, call you 'Sweetie,' " said Mattie Parker, who was elected mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, in June at 37.

When Wu assumes office Tuesday, she'll take from Parker the distinction of youngest mayor among America's 25 largest cities.

Parker says occasional patronizing comments are outweighed by the mostly respectful reception she's gotten from her city's power brokers, many of whom are two or three decades her senior.

She adds skeptics — from Fort Worth to Boston and beyond — will just have to get used to the idea of being governed by a new generation.

"I was the first millennial mayor elected of a big city, and I love that in the last three or four months, you've seen additional representation of our generation pop up," Parker said. "The proverbial torch has been passed in some of these major American cities, which is very exciting."

Cleveland elected 34-year-old Justin Bibb on the same day Boston voted in Wu. And  U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who campaigned for president as Mayor Pete, was just 29 when he became mayor of South Bend, Indiana a decade ago. He's now the youngest cabinet member at 39. Both Bibb and Buttigieg are also millennials.

Boston has had young mayors from past generations as well. Josiah Quincy VI was 36 when he took office. So was Maurice Tobin. Kevin White was 38.

But numbers don't tell the whole story, said Larry DiCara, an elder statesman of Boston politics who was once a 22-year-old city councilor.

"Kevin, even though he was 38 when he got elected, he'd been secretary of state for seven years," DiCara noted.

That gave White experience running a large government agency — something Wu doesn't have, though she's served on the City Council for nearly eight years, including two as council president, and briefly ran a tea shop between college and law school.

DiCara adds White had something else going for him.

"His father, Joe White, as well as his grandfather, were both presidents of city council," DiCara said. "So, it was in his blood."

Quincy, too, benefitted from a legacy. He was the third member of his family to be mayor of Boston.

While young white men often see people like themselves in positions of power — perhaps even members of their own families — Wu had a very different experience, as she told WBUR's "Morning Edition" recently.

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

Wu's parents are from Taiwan, and they raised her in the Chicago area. Some of her opponents in the mayoral race emphasized their Boston roots, but voters ultimately picked a candidate who is unlike the city's previous mayors in many ways.

Wu's differences afford her freedom to redefine the job, DiCara says, and he argues what Wu shares with her predecessors is the only thing that really matters: the title.

"She's the mayor of Boston, and whenever the mayor of Boston walks in the room, people are going to acknowledge her," he said. "By the way, she's wicked smart."

Wu, the first millennial mayor of Boston, is also the first Harvard grad to lead the city in almost a century.

This segment aired on November 12, 2021.

Related:

Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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