Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu made political history three times over on Tuesday when she became the first woman, the first person of color, and the first Asian American to be elected mayor of the city.

Wu roundly defeated her City Council colleague Annissa Essaibi George, garnering 64 percent of the vote to Essaibi George's 36 percent, according to the Boston Election Department's unofficial results.

A few minutes after Essaibi George conceded, Wu addressed her jubilant supporters at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End.

“One of my sons asked me the other night if boys can be elected mayor of Boston,” Wu said. “They have been, and they will again someday. But not tonight.”

“From every corner of our city, Boston has spoken,” Wu added. “We are ready to meet this moment. We are ready to become a Boston for everyone.”

Wu, a political protege of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the late Mayor Tom Menino, was the first candidate to officially enter the race. She announced her candidacy in September 2020, when then-Mayor Marty Walsh still seemed likely to seek a third term. She campaigned on an ambitious reform platform that Essaibi George panned as unrealistic.

In her victory speech, Wu reiterated her commitment to her lofty political vision, which includes bringing back rent control, making the “T” free, and implementing a Green New Deal for Boston.

“We don’t have to choose between generational change and keeping the streetlights on,” Wu said.

“I want to be clear — it wasn’t my vision on the ballot,” she added. “It was ours, together. … I’ll never stop fighting to make our systems work for all of us.”

Wu’s win was not a surprise. Polls taken prior to the election showed her with a robust lead, approaching or exceeding 30 percentage points. (She’d also faced Essaibi George in several elections dating back to 2013, each time receiving more votes.) But Essaibi George had claimed, prior to Election Day, that the polls were off base and that her prospects were better than many believed.

Annissa Essaibi George election night
Annissa Essaibi George addresses supporters at her election night gathering following her campaign for Boston mayor, Tuesday Nov. 2, 2021, in Boston.
Paul Connors AP

In her concession speech at the Fairmount Copley Plaza, Essaibi George thanked her supporters and family before acknowledging Wu’s victory.

“I want to offer a great big congratulations to Michelle Wu,” Essaibi George said. “She is the first woman, the first person of color, and as an Asian American, the first elected to be mayor of Boston.

“I know this is no small feat. You know this is no small feat. I want her to show this city how mothers get it done, and I’m going to teach her how to say it the right way.”

That last line was a reference to Essaibi George’s Boston accent, which became an object of media fascination in the campaign. It was seen, by some, as a tool Essaibi George used to highlight the fact that she was raised in Boston. In contrast, Wu graduated from high school in suburban Chicago and moved to Massachusetts to attend Harvard College. Her victory will make her the first mayor of Boston who wasn't born in the city in approximately a century.

The question of origins became a campaign flash point when Essaibi George, whose mother is a Polish immigrant and whose father immigrated from Tunisia, suggested on GBH’s Boston Public Radio that her local roots made her a better choice for voters.

“I think it’s relevant to me, and I think it’s relevant to a lot of voters, whether or not they’re born and raised in this city, because I’ve seen this city for many, many years,” Essaibi George said at the time. “All of those little experiences have brought me to this moment.”

In her concession speech, however, Essaibi George sought to diminish any division between Bostonians who grew up here and those who did not.

“When I first announced my run for mayor … I spoke about how Boston is a city of scrappy, hardworking people, and that when we come together, we can accomplish anything,” Essaibi George said. “And my time on the campaign trail over these last very many months underscores that.

“Some of them were born here, like me. Some of them chose to live in this city over any other city in the world. Some of those scrappy, hardworking people supported the mayor-elect, [and] some of those scrappy, hardworking people are in this room. It will take all of us scrappy, hardworking people to move Boston forward.”

Paul Watanabe, a professor of political science at UMass Boston and the director of that school’s Institute for Asian American Studies, says Wu’s election highlights fundamental changes to Boston's political fabric.

“So much attention has been focused on her being the first woman — that’s a sign,” he said. “So much attention has been focused on her being the first person of color — that’s a sign as well. But she’s probably the most progressive mayor we’ve ever had in the history of Boston, and less attention has been paid to that.

“We talk about old Boston and new Boston, and in some ways, that’s a fair way to think about her election,” Watanabe continued. “This is no longer the town of Tommy Menino. It’s not the town of [former Mayor] Kevin White, and not even of Marty Walsh or the Kennedys. The major forces in Boston are the Elizabeth Warrens, the Ayanna Pressleys, and now the Michelle Wus — and that’s a significant change.”

Wu, who was endorsed by both Warren and Pressley, won most Boston neighborhoods. Essaibi George, who had heavy backing from Boston’s powerful building-trades unions, fared well in neigborhoods on the periphery like West Roxbury and the Neponset section of Dorchester, which are traditionally white and working class areas that have seen reduced turnout in recent years.

“From what I can tell so far, Wu dramatically expanded her territory, while Essaibi George did not,” said Steve Koczela, the president of the MassINC Polling Group. “She won pretty much the same places she won in the prelim.

“Wu is doing exceptionally well in Boston’s most diverse areas,” he added. “She’s winning 70-80 percent in some places [acting Mayor] Kim Janey carried.”

While Tuesday’s outcome was sure to be historic, whichever candidate prevailed, it caps yet another election cycle in which Boston voters passed on electing a Black mayor. Three Black candidates — acting Mayor Kim Janey; City Councilor Andrea Campbell; and John Barros, the city’s former economic-development chief — failed to advance past the preliminary election, which winnowed the field down to two candidates.

State Representative Russell Holmes, who organized a discussion among Black leaders about potential endorsements but ultimately chose not to back either Wu or Essaibi George, said he had anticipated Tuesday’s outcome.

“It’s not a surprise, because obviously, Michelle has been in the pole position since this race started,” Holmes said. “So the big thing tonight was simply how much of a win it would be. It’s not as large as some of the polls said, but it’s certainly much larger than Annissa anticipated.”

Holmes than noted that, in the preliminary election, 80 percent of his precinct didn’t vote for either finalist. In the coming weeks, he added, he hopes Wu moves to diversify Boston’s police, fire, and EMS departments; significantly increase the share of city contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses; and create an administration that’s representative of Boston as a whole.

“The administration, from top to bottom, should be reflective of this city,” Holmes said. “And her transition team should be the first place we see that.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said Essaibi George's mother immigrated from Poland. Essaibi George was born to Polish parents in a displaced persons' camp after World War II.