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Polls show Wu in lead for mayor

Tight race for second-place slot; three candidates too close to call

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Polls show Wu in lead for mayor
At-large Councilor Michelle Wu stands with supporters during a campaign event in West Roxbury. BANNER PHOTO

In the latest public polls on Boston’s mayoral race, at-large City Councilor Michelle Wu was far ahead of the pack, with a MassINC poll showing her with 30% of the vote, followed by acting Mayor Kim Janey with 15%, at-large Councilor Annissa Essaibi George with 13% and District 4 Councilor Andrea Campbell, 11%. Former chief of economic development John Barros polled at 4%.

A poll released Tuesday by the Boston Globe and Suffolk Polling had candidates in the same order.

While polling has consistently showed Wu in the lead with strong support from progressive whites, the other three major candidates appear in a statistical dead heat for second place. The Sept. 14 preliminary balloting will whittle the field of seven down to two.

Former City Councilor Charles Yancey fires up a crowd in Mattapan Square as acting Mayor Kim Janey and District 4 Councilor Ricardo Arroyo look on. BANNER PHOTO

The MassINC poll surveyed a sample of voters who cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election. The poll cast a wider net than one conducted a week earlier by Emerson College Polling, which included what are termed likely voters — those who have voted in at least four of the last five elections. That poll showed Wu with 24% of the vote, Essaibi George in second with 18%, and Janey and Campbell trailing behind, all within a 3.9% margin of error.

The common theme in the three recent polls is that Wu enjoys a comfortable margin of victory for the preliminary while Janey, Essaibi George and Campbell are in a too-close-to-call race for the number two spot in the preliminary.

Unlikely voters

The discrepancy between the two polls reflects one of the more significant changes in recent election cycles: increased participation of unlikely voters. So-called “super voters” — a group made up of largely of white voters and older voters — have long dominated Boston’s preliminary elections.

But in recent election cycles, voters in the age group between 18 and 34 have been turning out in higher numbers. In 2018, voters in that age group accounted for just 10% of overall turnout, but last year, the 18-34 voters made up 33% of turnout in Boston — spurred on largely by campaigns run by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

They don’t show up as “likely voters” because many weren’t engaged in the electoral process before the 2018 elections that put Rachael Rollins in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office and Ayanna Pressley in Congress. Young voters were widely seen as a decisive factor in Markey’s victory that year.

“Our young electorate is very engaged,” said political activist Kristen Halbert. “They are sick and tired of things the way they are. They want change and they’re willing to vote for it.”

If Halbert’s assessment holds true for this year’s election, candidates such as Michelle Wu, who have clearly articulated progressive values, could stand to gain.

Younger voters are less likely to remember Wu’s opposition to rent control in 2019, her past endorsements from the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association or her backing of former South Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan over Ayanna Pressley in his bid for the council presidency and against Chinatown activist Suzanne Lee for the District 2 Council seat, positions that may have cost her support from a coalition of Black, Latino and Asian activist groups, who in August threw their support behind Janey.

Janey’s hesitancy to take firm positions on rent control and other progressive hot-button issues, on the other hand, may have cost her the support of younger voters.

“These kids are definitely about the issues,” Halbert said. “You can’t be a single-issue candidate. Young people believe in intersectionality.”

Wu’s recent embrace of progressive causes, including addressing climate change and expanding mass transit access, may stray somewhat from the bread-and-butter issues of municipal governance, but they appear to have captivated the attention of younger voters.

At the opposite end of the political spectrum in the race, Essaibi George has staked out positions that have pundits referring to her as the status quo candidate. She opposes rent control, has campaigned on support for public safety and says she would not cut police spending, running against two of the issues driving progressive voters. Essaibi George picked up support from former Police Commissioner William Gross and, in the Emerson Polling results, shows her greatest base of support coming from white voters.

Janey and Campbell have both embraced progressive values to varying degrees. Janey supports rent stabilization policies strikingly similar to Wu’s, and as acting mayor she cut police spending in the fiscal year 2022 budget. Campbell opposes rent control but pushed for deeper cuts to the police budget.

On the campaign trail

As was the case last year, the basic mechanics of campaigning are being upended by the COVID pandemic and Boston’s early voting provisions.

The early start to voting is narrowing the window in which campaign activity can make a difference, according to former Massachusetts Democratic State Committee Chairman John Walsh.

“There’s still a little bit of an opportunity to convince more people,” Walsh said.

Large indoor events may be out of bounds as the Delta variant continues to spread in Massachusetts, but Saturday saw Janey supporters hold a rally in Mattapan Square, where former Councilor Charles Yancey and District 5 Councilor Ricardo Arroyo fired up the crowd. Yancey, who said he met Janey while she was working as an education advocate, said her experience in office shows she’s the right fit for the office.

“She will be unbought and unbossed, just like Shirley Chisholm,” he said.

Janey said her work in office is an extension of the work that Yancey and former councilors Felix D. Arroyo and Chuck Turner accomplished in decades past.

“I stand on their shoulders,” she said.

Candidates crisscrossed the city over the weekend as the Sept. 14 drew near. On Saturday morning, supporters of Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George occupied the traffic circle in front of the Holy Name church in West Roxbury.

Holding a Wu sign, lifelong West Roxbury resident Frank Sullivan reflected on the unprecedented nature of the race, in which four women of color and a Black man are the front runners of the mayor’s seat.

“It is historical when you think about the impact of this race and what it means,” he said. “People across the city do realize the historical significance of this moment.”

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