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Tough choices ahead as Wu marks 100 days in mayor’s seat

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
Tough choices ahead as Wu marks 100 days in mayor’s seat
Mayor Michelle Wu attends the Winter Express outside of the Roxbury Branch of the Boston Public Library in Nubian Square. (Mayor’s Office Photo by John Wilcox)

As she marks her first 100 days in office, Mayor Michelle Wu has notched some early victories, including the mostly successful removal of the tent encampment in the Mass and Cass area and the rollout of several free bus lines — the latter, at least partially making good on a campaign promise for a fare-free T.

Those victories have helped cement her reputation for taking on major challenges.

Wu’s administration launched in November, at the end of an election cycle during which Boston residents chose progressive candidates and backed calls for progressive reforms at the polls and in surveys.

In the months ahead, as her administration works to fill the top jobs in the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the Boston Police Department and Boston Public Schools, Wu will face difficult choices that could put her at odds with an increasingly left-leaning Boston City Council and electorate.

While a majority of voters were in favor of a nonbinding ballot question calling for a return to an elected Boston School Committee, Wu told the Banner she would not vote in favor of a home rule petition for such a change if it were brought forward by the City Council.

“We’re not there yet,” she said in a phone interview last Friday. “I still believe there needs to be mayoral accountability.”

In a candidate questionnaire with the group Progressive Massachusetts, Wu backed reforms including shuttering the Boston Police Department’s controversial gang database. While a recent federal appeals court ruling found the database to be an unreliable gauge of actual gang membership, Wu told the Banner she is waiting for a new police commissioner, which she expects to hire by spring, before making any changes.

“We are in conversation with the Boston Police Department about the gang database,” she said. “I’m in a phase of diving in with the police department about the ins and outs of how we can deliver on reforms.”

Asked whether she thinks the database is effective, she said it is not.

“In its previous configuration, no,” she said.

But Wu left the door open to reforming the database rather than dispensing with it, noting that the city is conducting a comprehensive audit of the list of supposed gangs and its listing of more than 3,400 gang members and gang affiliates.

“We’ve had some conversations with the Boston police department, getting into a deep dive on how the parts work,” she said.

Asked about the status of department’s nearly year-and-a-half-long investigation into inconsistencies in police court overtime records, which show officers collecting overtime in courthouses at the same time they’re writing citations and making arrests elsewhere in the city, Wu said she is waiting for the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, which launched in April last year, to get up and running.

“They are having board retreats,” she said. “They’re moving fast and getting everyone oriented.”

Similarly, the department’s nearly year-long investigation into the extent of Boston officers’ involvement the Jan. 6, 2021 capitol insurrection is awaiting OPAT’s involvement.

An issue that Wu has carried over from her years on the City Council — the dismantling of the Boston Planning and Development Agency — is awaiting the hire of a new planning director, Wu told the Banner. A review committee is currently vetting candidates and should make a hire within weeks.

“This position will oversee the ongoing pipeline [of development projects] and the dismantling of the BPDA,” Wu said.

Wu recently halted a development plan that would have green-lighted a 600-foot-tall building at the site of the Boston Harbor Garage, shifting resources and priorities to planning in East Boston, where private developers have been building luxury condos at a feverish clip.

“We are starting to shift the norms and agenda for development and how it interacts with each neighborhood,” Wu said.

Wu also made good on a campaign promise to support a more inclusive budgeting process, which would upend the current  process in which the council can only react to a budget the mayoral administration prepares months in advance.

“The budget process is flipped this year,” she said. “We’re working in collaboration with the City Council instead of waiting till the end when public feedback is almost too late to make changes.”

If there’s a honeymoon period for Boston mayors, Wu hasn’t had much of one. She, her family and neighbors have been enduring daily protests from a small but loud group of anti-vaccine and anti-mask-mandate activists, who use a bullhorn to harangue Wu beginning at 7 a.m. most mornings.

“It’s taking a toll on my kids and on my neighbors, who deserve to enjoy their homes and to enjoy the sleep they need,” Wu said. “It doesn’t affect my leadership. It reminds me what we’re up against: disinformation, racism, conspiracy theories. National politics are spilling over to the local level.”

Wu filed an ordinance Monday that bars picketing in residential areas between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., with an exemption for marches or protests not targeting individual homes while passing through residential areas.

Wu also faces the threat of state intervention in the Boston Public Schools, despite the state’s poor record of running districts and individual schools. Wu said state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, whom she met with Feb. 2, hasn’t taken the measure off the table.

“He and his team did bring up receivership,” Wu said. “I pushed back strongly.”

The transfer of more than 150 formerly homeless people to transitional housing stands out as a bright spot in Wu’s early tenure, a success that eluded the past two mayors. While many of the former residents of the makeshift tent city in the Mass and Cass area have not yet found shelter, the Mass and Cass area is widely seen as greatly improved without the coercion and rights violations that marred past efforts.

Wu has also earned high marks for expanding former Mayor Kim Janey’s free bus program to three routes. A recent MBTA report, however, found that few riders saved money, as most on the Ashmont to Jackson Square and Ruggles routes used the buses to connect to trains or other buses that are not free.

Still, Wu has earned praise for the demonstration project, which has reduced boarding times while increasing ridership on some of the system’s busiest buses.

“City government can get big things done,” Wu told the Banner. “It’s been so inspiring to see how fast we can get things done when we choose to take action.”

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