Four powerful women — two old, two new — are taking charge at Boston City Hall
When Ayanna Pressley won election in 2009, she became one of just two women serving on the thirteen-member Boston City Council. She stood alone two years later, when veteran councilor Maureen Feeney resigned to become City Clerk.
Combined, the two women running for the vacant seat earned less than a tenth of the vote. Feeney was eventually replaced by Frank Baker, a dedicated city employee from Dorchester who has proven more than capable — but he was still another man.
Just ten women have joined the Council throughout its 106-year history, and only two have ever served as president. That changed Monday, when Michelle Wu won the unanimous support of her colleagues to become the next President of the Boston City Council. The first Asian-American and woman of color to lead the body, President Wu will serve a two year term from now through the end of 2017.
“Thank you for putting your trust in me,” she told the Council in her inaugural address. “Boston has a long history of showing that ordinary citizens can make a difference. Democracy started here, and we can further that legacy knowing that the key to progress is getting people involved.”
The new president went on to outline a slate of ambitious policy goals designed to utilize each each councilor’s specific strengths and interests. She promised to refocus their work away from the Olympics and salary disputes of 2015 toward neighborhood concerns like wage stagnation, sustainable development, and substantive education reform. “Every debate in this chamber is informed by our own families’ lives and those of our constituents,” said Wu. “We don’t just think and talk about policy, we feel the challenges and impacts.”
Though she has only served one term on the City Council, Wu has already made her mark on a wide array of key concerns. She forged strong and productive partnerships with like-minded councilors pushing innovative new policies for family leave and business regulation. Boston has always led the nation, and Wu seems determined to keep her city on the cutting edge.
She was joined at the podium by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a rare sight in the Council chamber who pledged a new spirit of cooperation at City Hall. Next came U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom Wu learned from at Harvard Law School and worked for during her 2012 Senate campaign. Addressing the hundreds gathered on Monday, Warren praised her former student as a beacon for modern progressives to follow.
“I knew there was something special about her,” she said to thunderous applause. “What I learned over time is that she’s not just a woman full of good ideas and a passionate heart, but a woman who gets out and does the hard work that needs to be done to make a difference.”
But Wu wasn’t the only woman making waves at City Hall. Monday also saw the inauguration of Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi-George, political newcomers who ousted veterans Charles Yancey and Stephen Murphy last November. Each offers an impressive résumé, with Princeton-educated Campbell having served as deputy legal counsel for Governor Deval Patrick and Essaibi-George boasting more than a decade of teaching and small business experience.
“These next couple of weeks are focused on just getting settled,” said Campbell, who represents much of Dorchester and Mattapan. “Initially we want to deliver constituent services, then we’ll roll out some more long-term plans in the coming weeks.”
At-Large Councilor Essaibi-George agreed. “[Monday] was an incredible day. An incredibly special day, in particular, because I could share it with my family and friends. I’m incredibly anxious to get to work… And take off these heels,” she told reporters, laughing.
Their election brings the total number of female councilors to four, the greatest number of women serving on the body since 1997. The Council has never reached full gender parity — Boston is 52% female — but women are voting more reliably and in greater numbers than ever before. Their votes proved decisive last Election Day, and incumbents can only ignore that clout at their own personal peril.
“Where are the women?” a frustrated Pressley once asked the portraits of powerful men lining the walls outside the Council chambers.
It seems she finally has her answer.