Michelle Wu becomes first woman and person of color elected mayor of Boston, AP projects

 


The off-year elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey tend to receive outsize attention, and the results are mined for deeper meaning about what they portend for the midterm elections the following year that determine which party controls Congress.

Here are some key takeaways from Tuesday’s elections:

DEMOCRATS SEE WORST FEARS IN VIRGINIA

Democrats’ worst fears are that they’re on course for a 2010-like drubbing in next year’s midterm elections and that they can’t use the specter of former President Donald Trump to stop it.

Those fears got a lot stronger after Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race in Virginia.

President Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 percentage points just a year ago, and if Democrats cannot generate more enthusiasm than their gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe did, they’ll likely be swept out of power in Congress.

In Virginia, governors are limited to a single term and elections are held in odd-numbered years, making it the go-to gauge of voter sentiment before midterms. It usually is a warning for the party in power in Washington and this year was no different.

McAuliffe, elected Virginia governor in 2013, was unable to excite voters amid significant headwinds facing Democrats, including Biden’s drooping poll numbers, the congressional stalemate over the president’s economic agenda, and the persistence of the pandemic.

Democrats have only a five-vote margin in the House and a single-vote margin in the Senate. Historically, the party in power almost always loses seats in Congress. But if 2022 nationally is anything like Virginia 2021, Democrats will lose a lot more than normal.

YOUNGKIN SHOWS THE GOP THE WAY

Diversifying states with a large share of college graduates like Virginia have been an unsolvable puzzle for the GOP during the political era dominated by former President Donald Trump. But Youngkin seems to have cracked the code.

A former private equity executive, Youngkin presented himself as a non-threatening suburban dad in a fleece vest. He embraced Trump just enough to win the GOP primary and rev up the party base but was also able to target more moderate voters by talking about fiscal management and investing in schools and campaigning without the former president at his side.

According to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters, it paid off. While a majority of voters held an unfavorable view of Trump, about half had a favorable view of Youngkin.

Youngkin’s arm’s-length approach to Trump didn’t seem to hurt him with GOP voters. Most Youngkin voters — about 8 in 10 — said the candidate supports Trump the right amount. About 1 in 10 said he supports the former president too much, and about that many said Youngkin supports Trump too little.

Look for more Republicans next year trying to model themselves after Youngkin in swing areas — refusing to disavow Trump but not hugging him too closely, and tailoring their messages to both the former president’s most hardcore voters and persuadable suburbanites.

TARGETING EDUCATION ON RACE

Youngkin’s signature issue was an unexpected one — education. He prevailed on the issue by both pledgings to boost education funding and hammering public schools on hot-button social issues like race and transgender rights.

He said he would ban the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia classrooms even though it is not a part of the secondary school curriculum.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people. In recent months, it has become a catch-all political buzzword for any teaching in schools about race and American history.

The focus comes after lengthy school closures during the pandemic infuriated some traditionally Democratic voting groups and conservatives targeted school board races nationwide over masking rules and teaching racial justice issues. In Virginia, 14% of voters listed education as a top issue, and about 7 of 10 of those voted for Youngkin.

McAuliffe didn’t help himself when, during a debate, he said, “I don’t believe parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” providing Youngkin a pivotal opening to hammer his opponent.

Youngkin also highlighted a controversial high school bathroom rape case in affluent Loudoun County, in Northern Virginia, to argue against allowing transgender students into their chosen restrooms.

LIBERAL VOTING LAWS AREN’T BAD FOR GOP

Democrats took control of all parts of Virginia’s government in 2019 and steadily started liberalizing the state’s voting laws. They made mail voting accessible to all and required a 45-day window for early voting, among the longest in the country. This year they passed a voting rights act that made it easier to sue for blocking ballot access.

Trump in 2020 attacked efforts to expand ballot access during the pandemic, spreading baseless claims of fraud.

Republican-controlled states have rushed to tighten voting laws, cutting early voting hours, restricting mail balloting, and arguing that liberalizing elections invites fraud and helps Democrats. The latter claim contradicts repeated studies that have found that mail voting does not favor either political party.

Now Virginia’s election is another example of how liberal voting laws don’t hurt conservatives.

NEW JERSEY ALSO SCARES DEMOCRATS

The other big governor’s race Tuesday was in New Jersey. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was favored in his race against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, but the race was too early to call Wednesday morning.

Democrats were looking to the Garden State for hopeful signs but were quickly disappointed as what should have been a relatively easy race turned into a nail-biter.

Murphy has been able to deliver on many liberal priorities, like expanding government funding for widespread prekindergarten and community college, and has the advantage of incumbency that McAuliffe lacks. As such, he may offer more of a model of the position Democrats could be in next year should they manage to pass Biden’s agenda. He also avoided McAuliffe’s errors in education.

Still, the race remained tight well after midnight in a state Biden won by 16 percentage points, another sign of the grim national environment for the Democrats.

DON’T OVERINTERPRET

It’s still 12 months before Election Day 2022. While Tuesday’s results hold some clues as to what might happen, they are merely clues.

The two biggest drags on Democrats currently are the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain problems that have pushed up prices. Both could improve over the next 12 months, potentially bolstering the incumbent party -- or they could worsen.

There are signs Democrats could pass Biden’s infrastructure and social safety net legislation soon. Most Wall Street forecasts call for robust growth next year.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to issue an opinion on an abortion case next June that will determine whether the conservative majority upholds or overturns Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that affirmed abortion rights.

That could make debates over masking and racial justice lessons in schools seem like quaint relics of Election Day 2021.

So dig into the results of tonight, but they are in no way definitive. A lot can happen in the next year, and probably will.

Aftab Pureval won Cincinnati’s race for mayor on Tuesday, according to unofficial results, making the 39-year-old lawyer the first Asian American elected to lead the city.

Pureval defeated David Mann, a city councilor and fellow Democrat who previously served as mayor and in Congress, 66 percent to 34 percent with all precincts counted, according to unofficial results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Pureval will succeed term-limited Mayor John Cranley, who is seeking Ohio’s Democratic nomination for governor in 2022.

"Words can’t express how honored and excited I am to be the next Mayor of Cincinnati," Pureval said in a tweet late Tuesday. "Tonight, we made history! Let’s get to work!"

son of immigrants, the half-Indian, half-Tibetan Pureval is viewed as a rising political star in the state. He was elected clerk of courts in 2016 after running ads with a stuffed duck quacking his name — “Aftab!” — in a campaign reminiscent of the old Aflac insurance commercials.

Pureval, a former federal prosecutor and in-house attorney for Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble was a prized recruit for a competitive House seat in 2018 but lost to Rep. Steve Chabot, a long-entrenched Republican. Before launching his mayoral campaign, he expressed interest in running for the seat that Republican Sen. Rob Portman is giving up next year. During their final debate last month, Pureval pledged to serve a full four-year term as mayor.

Tuesday’s election followed a nonpartisan September primary in which Pureval and Mann were the top two finishers, setting up a stark generational clash in the runoff. Although they are both Democrats, the 82-year-old Mann ran to Pureval’s right on public safety issues, airing ads that accused his rival of "siding with activists who want to defund the police."

Pureval, in an interview with Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, decried the spot as a false, Republican-style attack. Pureval's plan, the news outlet noted, calls for funding several public safety programs. The Cincinnati Enquirer also found factual problems with Mann’s ad.

"Congratulations to Aftab on his well-deserved victory," Mann tweeted late Tuesday. "I have spoken with him and wish him nothing but the best, and it has been the honor of my lifetime to serve this community as a councilman, mayor, and member of congress throughout my career. Thank you, Cincinnati!"

Michelle Wu, a Democrat, became the first woman and person of color to be elected mayor of Boston, The Associated Press projected Tuesday.

Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, defeated fellow Democrat Annissa Essaibi-George, ending the city’s 200-year history of electing white men. Acting Mayor Kim Janey became the first Black woman to hold the seat after Marty Walsh, who had served as mayor since 2014, resigned in March to become President Joe Biden’s labor secretary. 

“One of my sons asked me the other night if boys can be elected mayor of Boston. They have been, and they will again someday, but not tonight,” Wu told supporters Tuesday night. “On this day, Boston elected your mom because, from every corner of our city, Boston has spoken.”

“We are ready to meet this moment. We are ready to become a Boston for everyone,” she added. “We are ready to become a Boston that doesn’t push people out but welcomes all who call our city home. We’re ready to be a Boston where all can afford to stay and thrive. And, yes, Boston is ready to become a Green New Deal city.”

Among a particularly diverse field of candidates, Wu remained a front-runner, maintaining a wide margin in the polls against Essaibi-George — a fellow city councilor who identifies as Arab American — leading the race by 30 points just days before the election, according to a survey by Emerson College. All the major candidates in September’s preliminary election —  Andrea Campbell, John Barros, Janey, Wu, and Essaibi-George —  were also people of color, and four of five were women. 

Wu, who made history in 2016 as the first Asian American to serve as president of the City Council and was favored by the city’s progressives, secured several key endorsements during her campaign, including from both of the state’s U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren — with whom Wu studied law at Harvard — and Ed Markey. She also received backing from Janey and Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley.  

The historic win comes amid Boston’s shifting demographics over the past decade. The city’s white population waned while the overall population grew roughly 9.7 percent, according to census data released this year. The Asian and Hispanic communities in particular experienced significant growth. Though Boston remained one of the last Northeastern cities to never have elected a person of color, its city’s politics had become more diverse in recent years, with the City Council made up primarily of women and people of color. 

Wu, whose campaign focused on issues of equity-like rent stabilization and free public transit, fared better among all racial groups, including Hispanic, Black, and Asian voters, a poll conducted by Suffolk University, The Boston Globe, and NBC10 showed. While Essaibi-George did best among white voters, Wu still out-performed her, drawing 61 percent of the group. 

While Wu previously told NBC Asian America that she aimed to represent all communities in Boston, she embraces her Taiwanese immigrant heritage — something that significantly influenced her life. Her father, Han, immigrated to the U.S. to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology as a grad student. Without a strong grasp of English, Wu still often served as the family interpreter, assisting with translations since she was as young as 4. 

Wu, who grew up in Chicago, explained that in those early years, her family found themselves the targets of racist harassment. But her parents encouraged her to ignore such taunts,  focusing on “keeping your head down, and working harder.” 

“So many of us [have known] our whole lives what it feels like to be both invisible and also always sticking out, but not seen for the person you are, [and] judged and discriminated against simply because of appearance,” she said. 

A career in politics, however, wasn’t something she initially thought would be in her future. With grandparents who had fled to Taiwan during the civil war in mainland China, such topics represented “fear and famine,” Wu said. 

“We were supposed to keep our heads down and study hard and get a good, stable, high-paying job to support the family,” she said. 

But when her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and Wu filed for legal guardianship of her youngest sister when she was 22 while still in law school, plans for a traditional life of stability no longer took priority, she told The New York Times. 

“Life feels very short when that kind of switch happens,” Wu said. 

She became more politically involved, developing a close friendship with Warren,  then her contract law professor. The bond would prove a defining factor in Wu’s involvement in city politics, and by 2012, she would go on to become the second woman of color to earn a seat on the council. Pressley, who was elected to City Council in 2009, was the first. 

Wu’s win is of major significance to the Asian American community, a group that has been underrepresented among mayors of U.S. cities. Six current leaders of America’s 100 largest cities are Asian American, with all in either California or Texas, according to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.

Speaking after the shootings at spas in the Atlanta area in March, in which six of the victims were women of Asia descent, Wu underscored the importance of advocacy and participation from the Asian American community — values that run counter to her own upbringing. 

“Now’s the moment for us to speak out,” Wu said. “It’s time to break the cycle of invisibility.”

Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain, and Brooklyn borough president will be the next to lead New York City, becoming the city's second Black mayor, NBC News projects.

Adams, a Democrat, beat Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa, who founded the 1970s-era anti-crime patrol, the Guardian Angels.

"It's official -- our five-borough, knock-every-door, reach-every-voter campaign was successful: We have won the race for Mayor of New York City!" Adams tweeted on Tuesday night. "This is my dream come true, and I couldn’t be more proud to represent the City that we all love as your Mayor-elect."

Adams previously defeated a slew of candidates in the city’s Democratic primary in June, running as a tough-on-crime moderate after the city became an epicenter of protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

New York City Mayor Elect Eric Adams speaks to the crowd upon arriving at an election night party in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Nov. 2, 2021.
New York City Mayor Elect Eric Adams speaks to the crowd upon arriving at an election night party in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Nov. 2, 2021.Julius Constantine Motal / NBC News

The primary election in June was the city’s first use of ranked-choice voting, which allowed voters to pick their top five choices. But the results were thrown into chaos after the Board of Elections released an initial batch of votes with 135,000 test ballots, showing that Adams was leading his closest competitor by only a small margin. After correcting the error, Adams emerged as the clear victor weeks later.

Sliwa campaigned on easing Covid-related mandates, particularly the mandatory vaccinations for city workers and vowed to overhaul the tax system to benefit low- and middle-income families.

New York democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams speaks to the media after casting his ballot in Brooklyn on Nov. 2, 2021.
New York democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams speaks to the media after casting his ballot in Brooklyn on Nov. 2, 2021.Ed Jones / AFP - Getty Images

When he arrived at his polling site on Tuesday, the known cat lover who has reportedly adopted more than a dozen felines brought one of his cats with him, according to The New York Times. Sliwa sparred with election workers who informed him that pets were not permitted at the site, and that he would have to remove a jacket with his name on it in order to comply with electioneering rules. While casting his vote, Sliwa's ballot jammed in the machine, which had to be repaired, the newspaper reported.

Adams drew national headlines during the campaign when questions were raised about his residency — prompting Adams to give reporters an awkward walk-through of his Brooklyn brownstone to dispel the rumor that he lived in New Jersey.

When he takes the reins from Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, Adams will oversee the injection of billions in federal aid to a number of programs, including housing, education, transportation and infrastructure.



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