Acting Mayor Kim Janey endorsed her former rival, Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu, Saturday in front of the "Faces of Dudley" mural in Roxbury's Nubian Square, the symbolic center of the city's Black community.
"I know that there’s a lot of disappointment…It took 200 years to get the first woman mayor and to get the first Black mayor," Janey said, speaking to a crowd of dozens of supporters from the spot where she launched her campaign in April. However, she flagged the November 2 election as too important for Black voters to sit out.
"We cannot squander the next opportunity to make sure the voice of Black and brown people are at the center of the discussion [and] at the center of the policies that will move our city forward,” Janey continued.
Janey said she chose to endorse Wu based on a belief that she is best qualified to address racial and systemic inequities that have plagued the city.
“For me," Janey said, "that was about a values statement and a vision for Boston that would center on folks who for too long have been left out and that is why I’m standing here with Michelle Wu.”
Personalizing the moment, Wu said: “Two years ago, the two of us got on the 28 bus in Mattapan Square to show how important this one route would be,” she said, gesturing towards the intersection at Malcom X Boulevard and Dudley Street. “Now is the moment to continue fighting for what we know is possible in our city and what we know will truly create equity, opportunity and joy for generations to come.”
Janey, who finished fourth in the preliminary vote earlier this month, captured Boston's predominately Black wards and precincts in Roxbury.
All told, Janey and the other two Black candidates — District City Councilor Andrea Campbell and former economic development chief John Barros — garnered a bit more than 42 percent of the votes cast, leaving a sizeable swath of votes up for grabs.
With 33 percent, Wu won the largest portion of the vote. Now she and her opponent, City Councilor At-Large Annissa Essaibi George, face the challenge of persuading those voters.
Janey's endorsement is a dramatic play to coalesce those voters, especially Black voters, behind one of the two women left in the race.
Neither Campbell nor Barros have said whether they will support Essaibi George or Wu, or whether they will remain neutral.
From the podium, Wu said that she would welcome the support of her preliminary rivals.
Campbell, who placed third, published an op-ed Friday in the Boston Globe suggesting she will withhold her endorsement until she determines which of the candidates will best "address inequities and empower Black Bostonians."
Answering reporters' questions, Wu said, "I would like Mayor Janey to play a leadership role right alongside me...We've already had conversations about the ways in which our agendas are very much intertwined and the vision for Boston's future are in clear alignment, so we will continue to work together."
Former State Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who operates the nascent volunteer Black political advocacy group Wakanda II, said Black voters' political stock has "risen considerably" in the shift from the primary to the general.
"In the middle, in the core of this city are going to be thirty, forty thousand people…whose votes will determine who the next mayor of Boston is," she said, pointing to former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's 2013 victory, which was achieved with the help of Black voters.
Wakanda II backed Janey in the preliminary. Now, she said, her group is poring over Wu and Essaibi George's questionnaire responses from the summer in an effort to decide who they will back for the November 2 election.
Other Black and elected officials of color are working through a similar, consensus-building exercise.
Black voters are an "obvious" area of competition, said Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston. Especially “when you have five candidates and only two of them survive,” he said, pointing to the vote breakdown.
Last year, Wu voted to make Janey City Council President, which led to Janey's stint as acting Mayor.
Onlookers Chime In
The endorsement was met with delight from those gathered at the event and passersby like Marilyn Marion, a Roxbury resident who was hoping to see one of the two Black women candidates win the mayoralty.
Of Wu and Janey, Marion told GBH News: “Sounds like they both have the same kinds of objectives, and this will be fabulous that we have two people come together to set out values and promises for the Roxbury residents, as well as other parts of Boston.”
Marion said one of her top issues is the situation at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, which is a gathering spot for the homeless, who often suffer from addiction and — in some cases — mental illness.
“Someone needs to step up," Marion said, "Whether it’s the places where the people come from — because many of them are not from Boston — I think it would be great to see someone do something.”
Maxence Metayer, a local immigrant from Haiti, said Wu “having the right people with her” convinced her to support Wu.
“Her really looking at who in the community has been doing the work…that is important for me,” Metayer said.
Betty Toney, another Roxbury resident, said her top issue is development and zoning reform.
“Roxbury is being [robbed] of good housing,” she told GBH News. “We have a right to live where we have built, we have paid our dues [and] we have paid our taxes. We have a right to stay here until we decide otherwise.”
Essaibi George Reacts
A mile away at the Salvation Army Kroc Corps Community Center, Annissa Essaibi George said she was “disappointed,” but not disheartened to see acting Mayor Janey endorse her opponent.
“Endorsements play a role in this race, [but] for me the most important endorsement to have is that of the people of Boston,” Essaibi George told GBH News.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do on the campaign trail and I’ve spent the day out meeting our city’s residents [and] understanding what things they need from their next mayor,” she continued. “It’s their vote that I want to earn and I look forward to doing that over the next 38 days.”
Essaibi George rejected the idea that Wu is best suited to address racial inequities.
“I’ve done the work representing all of our communities across the city and in particular, our Black community that has felt disenfranchised for far too long, including the last many months,” she said. “It is why yesterday, I was on [Boston Black News] alone. Councilor Wu did not show up.”