Janae Pierre: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Janae Pierre, in for Melissa Harris-Perry. Today, we're getting off to a running start, with our 23 Mayors in 2023 series.
Mayor Michelle Wu: Mark my words, will be an example of what it looks like to lead with intention.
Speaker 1: When the mayor has swagger, the city has swagger.
Speaker 2: To everyone who will join our mission to move LA in a new direction-- Mark my words, we will get big things done.
Speaker 3: I was born and raised here, I love this city, and I walk with the city in my soul and in my heart.
Speaker 4: Who's ready to move normal in a new direction?
Janae Pierre: On your mark, ready, set, and we're off to the races. We're heading to Boston, Massachusetts, where the Boston Marathon took place, on Monday.
Speaker 5: Evans Chebet of Kenya takes the 127th Boston Marathon title.
Mayor Michelle Wu: This is the World's Greatest Race. We welcome tens of thousands of runners, the best athletes from across the globe, and the visitors who come to celebrate the human spirit. When you're at the finish line, watching people from every background cheer their hearts out to help those runners get those final few paces past the finish line, you really feel what's possible when we all believe in each other and come together.
Janae Pierre: That's Michelle Wu. Wu was elected mayor of Boston in 2021, at the age of 36, making her the youngest mayor amongst America's largest 25 cities.
Mayor Michelle Wu: One of my sons asked me the other night if boys can be elected mayor in Boston. They have been, and they will again someday, but not tonight.
Janae Pierre: The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, she's also the first woman and the first person of color to be elected mayor of Boston. Boston is the 23rd largest city in the country, with a population of almost 700,000, and it's also one of the youngest and most diverse big cities in America. I spoke with Mayor Wu last Friday, just a few days before the race. This year was a somber remembrance. It's been 10 years since the tragic Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, which killed three people and injured hundreds more.
Mayor Michelle Wu: The tragedy that occurred 10 years ago shook our city to the core, but also shone a light on the response that happened, and we as a city, in the 10 years since, have worked very closely to ensure that we could not only reflect on and support those who are forever impacted, especially the families who lost loved ones and were forever changed, but to take that sense of strength and resilience, push it into doing good for the future, and creating opportunities that will last for generations to come.
Janae Pierre: You have said in previous interviews that you don't have the traits typical of a politician, and I love this quote, ''Not tall, male, angry, loud.'' Tell us about the ways your identity has been an advantage in your job, so far.
Mayor Michelle Wu: It's been a little bit of a learning curve. I grew up in a family where I was told to behave, to keep out of trouble, and, where possible, to just stay out of any sort of attention.
Janae Pierre: Yes. How's that going?
Mayor Michelle Wu: [laughs] I've had to learn to come out a little bit more. When you take on issues that have so deeply impacted families like mine, and families who haven't had as much connection, or access to influence, power, wealth, you realize that the power really is in ensuring we can do this work outside of City Hall. The decision-making tables and the rooms that are often far away from our neighborhoods, from the solutions that are actively happening in community, our key is to connect them both.
I am in this role as someone who has lived many of the challenges. I'm a working mom, with two kids in our public schools, a caregiver for my own mom, and have seen just about every facet of what our families are living out there. I bring that urgency every single day, to not only try to make a difference, but to bring everyone into the process of governance and decision-making.
Janae Pierre: Now, I'm thinking about the reverse of that question. I mean, have there been ways in which your identity has been a disadvantage in your job?
Mayor Michelle Wu: You do see, not infrequently, the additional scrutiny or harassment that can come when people are not necessarily used to seeing women in power. I have grown used to walking into spaces where I might be the only, or on the younger side, or the first in a certain community, and I try to just channel that energy into ensuring that even more representation is possible, wherever we can make it happen.
Janae Pierre: Yes. If we take a look at America's largest 25 cities, Boston ranks number six as the most diverse, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't also have a reputation for racism and racial inequality. Right now, I want to play a clip from a segment Roy Wood Jr of The Daily Show did, back in 2021, the year that you were elected. Here, he is talking with a reporter from The Boston Globe Spotlight Team.
Reporter from The Boston Globe Spotlight Team: One study we found showed that the median net worth of white families in Boston was $247,500. Compare that to the median net worth of Black families in Boston, which was $8.
Roy Wood Jr: Counting in thousands? Like $8,000?
Reporter from The Boston Globe Spotlight Team: No, just $8.
Roy Wood Jr: $8, that's not even a grande soy latte.
Reporter from The Boston Globe Spotlight Team: In essence, net worth is what you own, minus what you owe. Black folks in Boston don't own a lot.
Roy Wood Jr: That's not even enough for a foot long.
Janae Pierre: Tell us, how do you go about addressing these huge racial inequities in your city?
Mayor Michelle Wu: We are working every day to change the systems that, over decades, have gotten us to a point where there's still very much the residual impacts of redlining, of segregation, of injustices throughout the legal system and banking system, and policies that were in place. Our goal is to build a city that is for everyone, and that means being very clear about where the gaps are, directing resources, and not just putting band-aids on situations, but getting to the underlying foundations.
For example, we are working to create more housing that people can afford, using every tool that we have, from updating the zoning code and putting city land on the table for affordable housing, and creating grant programs to work with community partners who are building that. We've also had a big focus on home ownership, because, as that clip highlighted, in order to truly build and retain wealth in communities, we need to focus on ownership, to build that for the generations to come, not just this current moment.
Janae Pierre: Now, you campaigned on a Boston Green New Deal. What does climate justice in Boston look like in the future, and what progress has been made in regards to the Green New Deal?
Mayor Michelle Wu: This is an area that is so fundamental to everything that we are doing. How can we think about where people will live, or how they get around in the future, if vast parts of our city will be unlivable, as a coastal community, where sea levels are rising, storms are intensifying, and heat is growing more extreme every summer? The urgency that we are taking on in Boston has been to, again, get at the foundations and systems that need to be changed.
Most of our missions here come from buildings in the city, and then the transportation sector next. Just yesterday, I was proud to sign our new building code, that will ensure we are setting the appropriate standards to electrify and put in place the changes that will make sure not only are we satisfying our climate goals, but our residents are living in healthier, safer, more comfortable housing.
We're starting with a big commitment to make our public housing fossil fuel free over the course of this decade so that affordability and community stability go hand in hand with the Green New Deal, and our climate resiliency.
Janae Pierre: All right, Mayor Wu, quick break. More on The Takeaway right after this. Okay. We're back with Mayor Michelle Wu, of Boston, part of our 23 Mayors in 2023 series. I think this is really interesting. I learned Boston has the largest percentage of 20 to 34-year-olds of the total population amongst the top 25 largest cities in the US. You yourself took office-- I hate to put your age out there, Mayor Wu. You took office at--
Mayor Michelle Wu: I'm out of that bucket now.
Janae Pierre: You took office at 36, still close enough to claim it. How has your relative youth as mayor helped you represent the issues of such a young city?
Mayor Michelle Wu: I am unexpectedly in the role that I am in now. If you go back to my plans, or-- I was thinking about my life as a young girl in an immigrant family. I didn't come from a family that was at all connected to politics, had financial status, or anything like that. As I've made my way to the city, first as a college student, then trying to rent an apartment as a young professional, then raising a family as a working mom.
Then having to find ways to care for my own mom, try to scrape and save to purchase a home that, a year later, we wouldn't have been able to afford, in that very same neighborhood in the city. I, in fact, have had the chance to see so many of the facets and life stages that are incredibly stressful for residents in very expensive housing market, and the burdens of raising a family. That has given me the determination and a sense of urgency to make sure that Boston will be the city that is first for families.
Janae Pierre: Okay, Mayor Wu, now it's time for what we call the mayoral speed round. We'll start here. If I were to have the opportunity to come up to Boston-- In fact, you can fly me out, this evening. Where is one place that I absolutely have to visit, that you will take me to, and why?
Mayor Michelle Wu: Close to home, for me, is the Arnold Arboretum. It's a 150-year-old open space that is basically a tree museum, a living museum, with some of the oldest living fossils anywhere around the world, and then we could get ice cream [unintelligible 00:11:20] right after, too.
Janae Pierre: All right. Now, the people who live in your city, what do they call themselves?
Mayor Michelle Wu: We identify more by neighborhood. As a whole, we say Bostonians, but most people will say they're from Dorchester, from Hyde Park, or Roxbury. We're very specific like that.
Janae Pierre: Now, tell me about someone in Boston, Massachusetts, who is not famous, but who really captures the spirit of your city in, and makes Boston proud.
Mayor Michelle Wu: Well, I think this person might qualify as famous, but we recently celebrated the Homegoing of the late Mel King, who was a longtime civic leader, elected official, was the first Black person to ever make it to a mayoral final election, and changed the city in so many ways. Mentored a generation of activists, created affordable housing, and sparked a civic revolution, that we are still following on that trail today.
Janae Pierre: Cast yourself 20 years from now, what have you accomplished as mayor, and what would you like to see the city become?
Mayor Michelle Wu: We are on the path now, and in 20 years, we'll be a city that is green and growing. A city that's first for families, a city for everyone. We will have a school system second to none, where our classrooms are actually a hub for resources from all across the community, where our transportation system is electrified, convenient, and reliable, connecting people from multi-generational homes to the work opportunities in the industries of the future.
I hope we can make significant progress, even before 20 years. I'm planning on getting a lot done, even in this four-year term.
Janae Pierre: Michelle Wu is the Mayor of Boston. Mayor Wu, thanks so much for joining us today.
Mayor Michelle Wu: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
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