When Boston City Councillor Michelle Wu entered the race for her first term in office two years ago, she hoped to be able to gain a seat on the Council so she could help people and help them immediately.
Wu, 30, is one of four children born to immigrants from Taiwan that came to Boston to start a new life, and she said she is excited to wrap up her first term and campaign for a second.
Wu, though still young, said she has had a wealth of life experiences over the years – from being a small business owner in Boston to caring for her mother’s mental health to navigating Boston Public Schools as the legal guardian of her now college-aged sister to recently becoming the mother to a new baby. All of it adds up to a big schedule, but Wu said in a recent interview that she’s excited to make another run for her seat and focus on a new set of goals.
“I worked in City Hall as an intern and I saw that in Boston, especially, you can really help people from city government and you can help them immediately,” she said. “It moves so much faster than any other level of government. I feel that city government is very valuable in the lives of residents…Because of my own life story and my family situation, I know how hard it can be to navigate bureaucracy and how important it is to know how to access services. Boston has so many resources and often the people who need them the most don’t know what’s available or how to access it. I see myself as one who can connect them.”
First and foremost, she has concentrated in City Hall on helping small businesses – knowing first hand from owning a teahouse and restaurant what kind of problems can get in the way.
She said she supports a new proposal from City Hall to ease restrictions on sandwich boards – the folding signs businesses often like to place on the sidewalk to garner attention from passers-by.
“We need to protect safety and accessibility, but also make it one step easier to get something like that in place for a business,” she said.
She pointed to an initiative she championed in her first term called ‘Acoustic on Main,’ where for two weekends musicians were able to have fees and applications waived if they played in a Main Streets district business. The initiative seemed to work out great and she would like to see it become more permanent.
“Many times you go out to a restaurant or a business and wonder why there isn’t any live music,” she said. “There’s a reason why. It’s very complicated.”
Another initiative she said she is looking into that would piggy back on fellow Councillor Ayanna Pressley’s liquor license reforms would be a Bring Your Own Beverage (BYOB) license in Boston. Such licenses would allow patrons to bring beer or wine to a restaurant that doesn’t have a liquor license so they can enjoy a drink with their meal. Such licenses exist elsewhere in other cities and a similar idea has proven successful in Winthrop.
“With the new neighborhood licenses, there is more opportunity in the neighborhoods, but we should really be doing as much as we can to help mom and pop businesses,” she said. “I think it would help businesses be able to open up in smaller spaces and test out their food and menu before putting up the investment it takes to get a liquor license.”
One business, however, she is still firmly against is the casino proposal by Wynn in Everett. She said years ago she wrote a long letter to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) with many concerns, and never felt like that letter was heard – which she said is a symptom of the entire casino process.
“I didn’t get a sufficient response to that letter and still feel the City has been ignored,” she said. “The residents of East Boston and Charlestown haven’t had a voice. I am particularly concerned for the Asian American community because there is a very high level of problem gambling. There are better uses and Boston residents haven’t been heard. I remain very opposed.”
She said her key goals and issues as she gets around the City during the campaign season have been housing, mental health and education.
She said one of the biggest questions she hears all the time is whether or not people can stay in Boston.
In terms of housing, she said there needs to be more affordability and neighborhoods that are transitioning to higher rents need to be focused on not pushing long-time residents out.
“We need to make sure Boston’s growth downtown and all the development and cranes we see benefits the neighborhoods too and the residents who have spent their entire lives working to make their communities better,” she said. “Sometimes you have growth and create jobs and have economic development, but it is also pushing our communities out of their neighborhoods.”
Another piece of that puzzle is making sure the schools are of high quality and are similar in quality across the board.
She said she has sat on a school site council when her sister was in school (her sister graduated high school in June and is now in college). She said she is excited to see a new leader at the helm in Supt. Tommy Chang, and believes that combining that with good programs, quality teachers and engaged parent communities can lead to great gains.
“We have incredible schools in our district and we do need to do a better job of highlighting the good that’s happening,” she said. “We also have a lot to do to make sure that balance is there across the board in all the district schools.”
Another key aspect, and something she did quite naturally, she said was keeping residents informed. As a younger member of the Council who is adept at social media, she said she began posting all of her notes and Council actions on Facebook and Twitter. It was a small thing, but she said it got a huge response and she will continue doing such things to make sure residents are informed and involved.
“I wanted to do that simply so people can know the things we were working on,” she said. “I hear from people all the time who tell me it’s the first time they’ve heard what the Council is doing. You can’t expect people to be involved if they’re not informed.”