Mayor Marty Walsh yesterday said that Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu called him to say she plans to challenge him to become mayor of Boston in next year's election, but Wu herself has neither confirmed nor denied the claims. GBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with GBH News Political Reporter Adam Reilly about the mayor's claims, and what the potential run says about Boston politics. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: So is this real?
Adam Reilly: Well, it seems like it's real to me. Your description of the race as being an extremely poorly kept secret, I think, is spot on. All signs have pointed to Wu running for months, everything from her public utterances to the money she's spending to where she's spending it [and] her policy proposals. It's pretty clear this is going to happen. What to my mind is remarkable is that Mayor Walsh chose to make the announcement on her behalf at a moment where there is heightened sensitivity to men speaking on behalf of women. I'm not sure why he thought this was the right way to go. I'm not sure why he didn't just tell the Globe if and when councilor who has an announcement to make, I'm sure she'll keep you posted. But he didn't take that tack, and I think in making the announcement for her — taking it upon himself to do that, which I can't recall ever seen before — I think he's given her soon-to-be campaign kind of a gift as they get ready to roll things out.
Mathieu: And to be clear, Adam, the mayor didn't hold some sort of announcement, so he was asked about this, right?
Reilly: He was asked about this by The Boston Globe, which apparently had heard rumors. We don't know where from, although people love to talk about this stuff.
Mathieu: That a call had been made.
Reilly: Yes, they had heard rumors that a call had been made. It's a very good point. There was no confetti involved, no balloons. But still, he could easily have left it to her to do this. Different people view it different ways, but I do think that announcing for her and then in addition, he didn't just make the announcement on her behalf, he also explained why it was a bad idea that she run now. He said, "I'm focused on getting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris elected and there's going to be time for politics next year," as if there was something almost unseemly about her entertaining a challenge against him as we head into the presidential election. I think that's something that is going to rankle a lot of people, too.
Mathieu: So if everyone kind of thought that Michelle Wu was going to run — this is something that we've been talking about for a long time — that's not news to most people. Is this then, Adam, really just a story about political etiquette?
Reilly: It's a story about political etiquette, but anytime you talk about city politics, you can say the same thing about state politics, but as someone who who doesn't live in Boston proper, I'm fascinated by the way this works regarding city politics, specifically. Because it's a story about city politics at all, even if it's ettiquette-focused, it's also a story about the way Boston is changing. All the things that happen involving city council elections [and] mayoral elections, they're all ways of getting at the culture of the city and the realities of politics in this day and age. So in this case, you have gender at play, as I've already alluded to, you have race at play. Michelle Wu [is a] Harvard College grad, Harvard Law grad, former student of Elizabeth Warren's, who worked for her when she went on to beat Scott Brown in 2012. Then she runs for Boston City Council. She becomes the first Asian-American woman on the council, the first woman of color to be elected council president. So if she were to be elected mayor, she would be the first woman mayor of Boston and the first mayor of color. You mentioned all that, but then you get into these interesting sort of sub-stories. She would be the first mayor of color elected, but Boston's about 10 percent Asian-American. I'm not assuming that only people who are Asian are going to vote for Michelle Wu. But if [Councilor] Andrea Campbell, for example, decides to run — who is Black — how does the vote of color start shaking out between them? Then there are Hispanic voters who we haven't even talked about. White voters, of course, are currently a minority in the city. So there's all sorts of interesting issues at play here. And honestly, for me, it's a story about political etiquette, but it's also a chance to dive into this broader landscape of issues, which is fascinating.
Mathieu: Adam, Councilor Wu has been at odds with Mayor Walsh more than once over the past year. Their sharpest exchange, I think, was probably back in July when Wu criticized the Boston Resiliency Fund. This was created to help those impacted by COVID-19.
Clip of Councilor Michelle Wu on BPR: Whenever we're in a position where the mayor of Boston and the official platform of city hall is soliciting money from donors, corporations and then deciding which nonprofits get it in our city, that just creates a very disruptive and dangerous dynamic.
Mathieu: So she called out the mayor on that, who was quick to respond at a news conference.
Clip of Mayor Marty Walsh during news conference: So when I hear people talk about how it's not effective, they should take a little bit of their time to learn about why the fund was set up and what the intention of the fund was, and maybe help us get some money for the fund rather than Monday morning quarterback on a radio show when they have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to Resiliency Funds.
Mathieu: That radio show was right here; it was Boston Public Radio with Jim and Marjorie. And that gives you a sense, maybe, of what the tone and tenor of this race could be like, Adam.
Reilly: It absolutely does. And if I were an adviser to Mayor Walsh, I would be urging him no matter how frustrated you might be about the prospect of getting a Michelle Wu challenge in 2021, no matter how off base you may think her criticisms are, if you talk about her the way you talked about her in that press conference, and if you talk about her the way you talked about her to the globe when you decided to announce that she was running, it's probably not going to go down to your benefit.
Mathieu: We've got a lot to learn on this one. She hasn't even announced yet!
Reilly: I know. I know, it's wild.
Mathieu: I think the most interesting thing I heard you say, though, or at least allude to, is that this could break open the field a little bit, and we're going to see a lot more once we get through November in terms of how many people might actually challenge Marty Walsh for mayor.
Reilly: We are indeed. I don't think it's just going to be the two of them.