After puzzling delays by the city in posting the outcome, results showed Wu decisively in first place with 33.3 percent of the vote followed by Essaibi George at 22.4 percent. Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Wednesday the slow count was evidence of his determination — and that of Boston election officials — to ensure the integrity of Tuesday’s election.
Wu and Essaibi George hit the stump early Wednesday morning to underscore the differences in their visions for the city, even as results were still being tallied. Wu greeted commuters at the Forest Hills T stop in Jamaica Plain, while Essaibi George chose Mike’s City Diner, a South End eatery.
The candidates represent the two poles of the ideological spectrum in this year’s field. Either would be the first woman of color Boston has ever elected mayor, a historic shift. But the contest between them will nonetheless test the city’s appetite for change.
Essaibi George, 47, has inhabited the most moderate stance. She has courted the supporters of former Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who vacated his post to take a job in the Biden administration, setting up Tuesday night’s preliminary election. Walsh himself did not endorse in the preliminary but Essaibi George escorted his mother to the polls.
By contrast, Wu, 36, is a favorite among the city’s young progressives, and a protege of Senator Elizabeth Warren. She has called for free public transportation and a Green New Deal for Boston, sometimes facing criticism that her pitches are unrealistic. Consistently the leader of public polling in the weeks ahead of the election, Wu emerged as the top vote-getter Tuesday night.
“This election is about the future of our city,” Wu told reporters outside the T stop Wednesday. “And we need to tackle the big, bold challenges to move forward and ensure that we are transforming our systems, and not sit back and wait and just nibble around the edges of the status quo.”
She greeted commuters at the station too, wishing them a good day and thanking them for their votes.
”How did you do yesterday?” one passing transit employee joked.
”We did OK,” Wu said.
”Good, good, good! I’m glad for you!” He replied.
Some morning commuters applauded and congratulated Wu as they headed for their buses and trains. A mother with her preschooler in a stroller said, “We’re fans,” and Wu posed for a selfie with Cheronna Monroe, a transit customer service agent.
Wu continued to push her campaign message later Wednesday during a briefing outside City Hall, flanked by supporters.
Outside Mike’s City Diner, a cheerful Essaibi George expressed confidence Wednesday about her chances in November, despite returns showing that Wu won significantly more votes in the first round.
To many, the race is shaping up to be a test of how progressive the city has become. But Essaibi George dismissed as “lazy” the “labels” painting her as the moderate candidate and Wu as the progressive. She did, however, pitch herself as “a little more pragmatic than others.”
“We can say whatever we want about the challenges we face as a city, but unless it’s followed up with an action plan, with the work, and with the rolling up of the sleeves and doing it, it’s really not that bold,” she told reporters. “I think many of [Wu’s] plans unfortunately are very unrealistic. We have to make sure every day we are working towards the solutions to the challenges we face as a city. And that comes with not just bold ideas, but the action behind them.”
Gene Gorman, 50, a supporter from Dorchester said he has been friends with Essaibi George for decades, including when her husband coached his son in little league.
Essaibi George has the “boots on the ground mentality” necessary for leadership at the municipal level, while Wu’s ideas are broader and perhaps too lofty, he said. And the distinctions didn’t end there.
“She didn’t go to Harvard Law,” he said of Essaibi George, an apparent dig at Wu, who did. Essaibi George, he said, “came up in the school of hard knocks.”
Essaibi George also made stops Wednesday morning at a raising of the Honduran flag on City Hall plaza and at the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. Deteriorating conditions for residents there struggling with housing and addiction have become a campaign issue.
She said it was critical “to be here, to make sure this is a part of not just the conversation, but part of what we’re talking about solutions for.”
One bizarre wrinkle to the election night drama was that declarations of victory by Wu and Essaibi George, and defeat by their rivals, were made by the candidates themselves, rather than city officials, as part of a chaotic night in which election officials delayed posting any results hours after the polls closed.
Galvin said Wednesday that officials had expected to collect 3,000 mail-in and drop box ballots Tuesday, but ended up receiving 7,000 in total by 8 p.m.
Since then, Galvin said, city and state election officials have been cross referencing voting lists from polls with the mail-in and drop box ballots to make sure no one voted twice.
”I wanted to make sure the integrity of the election process was beyond reproach. Orderly can sometimes be slow, and it was, but that doesn’t mean it’s incorrect,’’ Galvin said. “I think what we are talking about here is accuracy — it’s important. There is no mystery here. I want every voter satisfied that if they cast their ballot yesterday it was counted. I want every candidate satisfied.”
At Mike’s Wednesday morning, Essaibi George acknowledged “it was a long night” waiting for Boston’s election results to roll in. But she praised city workers for continuing to tally every ballot and said it’s a crucial effort.
Tuesday saw disappointing turnout levels, with only about 100,000 voters, or roughly 25 percent of the electorate casting a ballot. The low level of interest in the race likely helped Essaibi George, who had built a solid base among voters who are most likely to cast a ballot in a preliminary election, according to a recent poll conducted by research group MassInc. Preliminary municipal election turnouts are typically lower than other races and attract only the most consistent voters.
Those conditions did little to help candidates Kim Janey and Andrea Campbell, who had been in a fierce competition for second place with Essaibi George leading to Tuesday, and were dependent on a high voter turnout, according to the recent poll. Wu had commanded the lead in that poll and other recent surveys. When the votes were tallied, Campbell ended up in third place, while Janey, the acting mayor, took fourth.
Janey’s loss comes after she made history in March as the first woman and person of color to occupy the mayor’s office, when she was appointed to the role in an acting capacity after Walsh decamped for Washington.
“Kim Janey over performed in communities of color, but Campbell’s attacks, the Globe endorsement, and a more traditional turnout hurt and gave [Essaibi George] an opening,” tweeted Doug Rubin, a veteran political consultant who worked on Janey’s campaign. “We were not able to counter effectively enough – for that I take responsibility.”
What comes now is an ultimate, historic showdown between Wu, a flag bearer of the politically progressive movement that has taken hold in Boston and reshaped its ideological identity, and Essaibi George, who has taken a more conservative lane to focus on quality of life issues, such as public safety and improving schools.
An aide for Essaibi George told the Globe that the campaign was already preparing for a final between the two candidates, and would define Wu as a big picture progressive whose focus on topics such as the environment and transportation were unrealistic and unrelated to the day-to-day duties as mayor.
Essaibi George had laid a groundwork of putting social workers in schools and focusing on education and public safety. Police unions are helping fund a superPAC that has already poured a half-million dollars into her campaign.
But Wu has ridden the very progressive moment that has led to an ideological shift in Boston, as voters identify as more liberal and progressive, according to recent polls. A city councilor since 2014, and the first woman of color elected council president, she has also built a platform of addressing housing inequities, and addressing racial and economic disparities.
Wu’s also popular among newer and younger voters, in a city that has seen its population grow by over 60,000 people over the last decade, according to a recent Globe poll.
The poll of 500 likely voters shows that what they care about most is education (20 percent), followed by housing (19 percent), racism and equity (17 percent) and the economy and jobs (14 percent).
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Danny McDonald, John Ellement, Milton Valencia, Stephanie Ebbert, Meghan Irons, Dugan Arnett, Joshua Miller, and Laura Crimaldi of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondent Julia Carlin contributed to this report.
Emma Platoff can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff. Tonya Alanez can be reached at [email protected] or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez. John R. Ellement can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Travis Andersen can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.