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Every Boston mayor has been a white man.  Will 2021 change that?

But one thing is already clear: the race will be dominated by a debate over race-related issues – and whether the city has done enough, in all aspects of its operations, to bring residents out of minority and historically marginalized communities. . The result could also be a symbol of change for a city that is slow to shed its racist image.

“Marty is leaving at a time when this whole country, this whole city, is taking stock of what we’re going to do in terms of race. I want race to be exactly where it should be at the forefront of these. conversations, “said Boston State Representative Russell Holmes, member of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said in an interview.

“Whether it’s education, transportation, anything economic development, the underlying thing that so few of us talk about is race,” he said. “It won’t be allowed at this time.”

These dynamics of the start of an election year in Boston provide a precursor to what other major cities will face this year: mayoral contests in Atlanta, Minneapolis, New York and elsewhere will fight the fallout from widespread protests for racial justice. last spring and summer, and calls for police reform, following Floyd’s death.

The past year has made the Black Lives Matter movement a permanent feature of local politics in US cities and states across the country. New York, Minnesota and Connecticut are among the states that passed major new police reform laws this year – as is Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. The debates over the city’s budget have been shaped by the desire to “defund the police”.

In Boston, Walsh said racism was a public health crisis in June and hired the city’s first diversity director. He convened a task force on police reform and ultimately signed an ordinance to create a new Police Accountability and Transparency Office in early January, establishing a civilian review committee. public complaints and strengthening the Boston Police Department’s ability to conduct internal investigations.

Yet the inequalities are glaring in the city. The net worth of a black family in the Greater Boston area was $ 8, while the net work of a white family in the same area was $ 247,500, according to a 2015 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University and the New School. And just under a quarter of Boston’s black households are part of the city’s middle class, earning between 75% and 125% of the city’s median income of $ 78,791, according to Boston Indicators, a research project from the city. The Boston Foundation nonprofit.

“I call on all of us to accept this responsibility as ours and to commit to fighting racism, our deepest moral obligation,” Walsh said in his last State of the City address this month. this. “This is our greatest opportunity for growth. No city is better prepared than Boston to meet this moment.”

And tensions are high between the police and the demonstrators. Bodycam footage recorded during George Floyd protests showed Boston cops jostle the demonstrators and spray them with pepper spray. In one video, an officer appeared to brag about hitting protesters with his cruiser.

Walsh, a former Irish-American labor leader, is leaving town at a time when the face of Boston politics is rapidly changing. In just a few years, the city has elected a record number of women of color – including Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins – and the most diverse city council in Boston history.

The city is already on track to make history long before an election is held: If confirmed as secretary of labor, Walsh’s resignation will elevate board chairman Kim Janey to interim mayor. Janey would be the first black woman and Bostonian to rule the city and plans to run for a full term. The 2021 race offers another opportunity for change, candidates say.

Boston City Council members Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell launched campaigns in the fall, before it was clear Walsh would be leaving the city. Today, more than a dozen state lawmakers, city councilors, law enforcement officials and city hall workers – many of whom are black or Latino – are also campaigning.

“Boston has a unique opportunity to face its own painful history of race and racism, and to do the hard work of eradicating systemic inequalities. But for us to do that, we need to elect leaders who not only understand inequality, but who experienced it, ”Campbell said in an interview.

“I give the voters credit,” added Campbell, who claims to have raised more money than any black mayoral candidate in the city’s history. “For electing our District Attorney and Congressman, various candidates who people didn’t think had a chance of winning their races. This momentum is only going to continue given this moment.

Boston has spent years dealing with a long history of racism. The city was the scene of protests and violent clashes in the 1970s that resulted from the desegregation of Boston public schools.

It took decades to change some of the city’s best-known landmarks. Boston renamed Yawkey Way, the famous street outside Fenway Park, to Jersey Street in 2018. The street was named after Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who had resisted the integration of the team in the 1950s. The Red Sox were the last baseball team to join.

Boston became a majority minority city two decades ago, in the year 2000, according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency. In 2015, Boston was 54.5% Hispanic or non-White. The city is also rejuvenating; the share of adults under 34 is increasing in Boston.

This demographic shift has resulted in the election of a more diverse roster of public officials in Boston over the past decade. Slowly at first, then rapidly over the last few years.

Wu, who was recently endorsed by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Recalled her 2013 campaign for city council, when the goal was to double the number of women on council from one to two.

“To see it only a few election cycles later – to go from doubling one to two to swearing in at the first-ever Majority Women and Colored Council in Boston after the 2019 election – is a remarkable and rapid change in politics. in our city, ”Wu said.

However, this kind of movement towards change can be more difficult to replicate in the mayoral race – especially during a dead year. Without a mid-term in Congress or a presidential race to energize voters, the election will likely attract a smaller and different type of electorate.

“In a mayoral election, you get a lot more traditional voters – people who work in city hall, people who have families in the police or fire department, or in the redevelopment office. They may also be older voters. hard to get these voters to think about global issues, ”said David Paleologos, a pollster from Suffolk University. “In politics we usually think of leaders as the constituent service type or the big picture, and very few do both.”

In a city where politics is a hobby, it’s not unusual for an open race for mayor to attract a crowded field of candidates, making it expensive and difficult to stand out from other candidates. Walsh ran against 11 people in 2013. This will only be the second mayoral race to open in 28 years. Walsh’s predecessor, Mayor Tom Menino, served for 20 years.

But if Janey – the city council chairwoman about to take over as interim mayor – decides to run for a full term, she will have the benefit of running as incumbent. This worked in Menino’s favor in the early 1990s. Menino became acting mayor after Mayor Ray Flynn was appointed United States Ambassador to the Holy See by President Bill Clinton. Menino ran for a full term and was in office for two decades.

“She’ll have the machines of the city under her command. It’s really a big advantage to show achievement, to show leadership, to show you can handle the job, which is all Tom Menino has done. There is a risk, however, “said Drew O’Brien of Burson Cohn & Wolfe, who worked on Menino’s 1993 campaign. “We are in a complicated political and governance situation.”

While the city’s changing demographics will attract a rich and diverse preliminary field, some political players fear it will reduce the chances of a candidate of color making it to the general election. A similar result of split votes occurred among progressives on Super Tuesday in Massachusetts, where left-center favorites Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren came in second and third ahead of Joe Biden.

This is a real concern for Eldin Villafañe of Boston Barrales public affairs, who served as director of campaign communications for very first Latin American board member Julia Mejia.

“My fear is that among the black and brown contestants who might throw their hats in the ring,” Villafañe said, “they will have a real Game of Thrones within our community.”

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