Boston voters have pushed the city with a racist reputation closer to electing its first non-white male mayor in its more than 200-year history following Tuesday night’s primary election.
But whoever ultimately takes over City Hall next January will not be Black, something that Black Bostonians were lamenting with sentiments that straddled the lines between disappointment and outrage, according to interviews conducted by the Boston Globe once the primary results were announced.
Perhaps exacerbating that frustration is the sense that Kim Janey, a Black woman and former city councilor who has been acting mayor since now-former Mayor Marty Walsh was confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of Labor in March, may not have been given a full, fair shot at leading the city.
Janey became Boston’s first Black acting mayor, but the city still has yet to ever officially elect a Black mayor, a milestone that most major cities in the U.S. have already long crossed.
The combination of those above truths and suspicions was too much for some Black voters in Boston to ignore.
One woman didn’t hold her tongue when she explained why she thought the city yet again passed over qualified Black mayoral candidates.
“It’s a shame,” 71-year-old Barbara Gibbs told the Globe. “Boston should be ashamed of itself. I just think Boston is a racist city.”
City Councilor Andrea Campbell joined Janey as the only two Black women running for mayor. John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, who is also Black, unsuccessfully ran for mayor this year, too.
Voters instead cast ballots that advanced Boston City Councilors Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu — the top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s mayoral primary — to the general election in November.
Marie St. Fleur, the first Haitian American to be elected state representative in Massachusetts, suggested Boston was at the crossroads of an identity crisis.
“I think the story here today is who does Boston want to be,” St. Fleur said. “It’s not the story about two Black women. It’s the story about all of Boston and the fact that in the state of Massachusetts, the city of Boston, we cannot move the white community to really come out overall to support a Black candidate as mayor.”
Campbell tried to put a positive spin on the results, declaring that “The real winner tonight was actually Black women” despite the election’s actual outcome.
“Collectively, our vote share surpassed all others,” Campbell added. “And what that shows is that there is an appetite indeed in this city for change and I know my candidacy helped ignite it, and I’m proud of it.”
Campbell touched on the topic of multiple Black candidates essentially canceling each other out as they all contended for the so-called “Black vote,” which may have split Black voters’ support among the three Black candidates and mathematically favors their opponents.
Byron Rushing, a Black and a former state representative, told the Globe as much.
“All three Black candidates were [operating as though we are] in a post-racial Boston,” Rushing said before the results were announced. “I don’t believe that exists. And it’s going to hurt them.”
Other Black Bostonians told the Globe ahead of Tuesday’s election that electing a Black mayor was important to help the city get past its racist reputation, whether it is deserved or not.
“We need to change that narrative,” retired correction officer Donnell Graves said.
Imari Paris Jefferies, executive director of King Boston, a nonprofit organization working to create a Martin Luther King memorial in the city, predicted there would be “a sense of unarticulated grief that may manifest itself . . . in the event that there is not a Black candidate [advancing].”
Fleur, the former state representative, summed it up neatly: “We haven’t been able to pivot.”
Obviously, anti-Black racism — or any racism, for that matter — is not restricted to Boston. But the city has had a racist reputation for decades now.
The Associated Press has downplayed racism in Boston by referring to it as a “perception.” NBC Sports labeled racism in Boston as a “narrative” that needs to “evolve.”
Eight in 10 Bostonians agreed that racism in the city is a serious problem, according to the results from a local survey released in April. Nearly half of all Black voters in Boston said they have been on the receiving end of racism in the past year.
This is Boston, but this is also America.
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