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2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Mayor Wu is doing fine, let’s stop the mudslinging

Michelle Wu, the first woman of color elected to be the mayor Boston, has been predictably facing a lot of thinly veiled racist and sexist vitriol from some certain groups of constituents. There is certainly no shortage of “F— Wu” stickers plastered over subway maps or badly spray painted across walls. This is unfortunately something which Wu, her administration and her supporters have surely prepared for and, honestly, is not a standpoint with views that are worth critically engaging with—though we should, of course, be talking about the existence of this kind of hate as something to directly combat. What I do want to talk about is the extremely negative framings and mudslinging that some of her recent actions have garnered, and why it’s all simply ridiculous.
There are four main areas within which Wu’s actions seem to have been blown way out of proportion: Boston’s education board, Boston’s mask and vaccine mandates, protesting in residential areas and North End sidewalk dining. In covering these issues, my intention is not to get into the minutia of policy, nor to convince readers of any particular side. Rather, my goal is to point out that these issues are totally mundane, normal, and not worth the vicious attacks on Wu’s character in Boston Globe comments sections or on subway station walls. Let’s start with education.
It is no secret that Boston Public Schools are struggling. According to a recent report from the Pioneer Institute, BPS “is failing most students” and failing to improve underperforming schools. What to actually do about it is a hotly debated topic. The Pioneer Institute recommends “receivership”, which essentially places control of a district into the hands of the state rather than the district itself. But critics say that handing over control of local school districts is not the answer, and even supposed success stories of receivership are seen either as anomalies or have been extremely unpopular.
Mayor Wu is firmly against receivership, and this has certainly been fodder for her critics. But think about this for a minute: The issue is extremely complicated, the right decision is not clear at all, and to be honest, Mayor Wu is just as qualified to decide on the issue as most other local politicians. It’s not like she doesn’t have plans to improve BPS without resorting to receivership either; those who act like this is a zero-sum decision are simply being disingenuous, or are simply uninformed. This is all normal politics—nothing out of the ordinary—and a Boston mayor would be equally praised and lambasted no matter which option they chose.
Next comes mask and vaccine mandates. I don’t want to spend much time on this, because I think this whole argument is completely ridiculous. What I will say is this: There are two theories to how an elected official should act, and Wu is passing on both counts.
The first theory is that an official is elected because the people trust their values and judgement and trust them to make decisions for them without constantly consulting their constituents. Michelle Wu has always supported mask and vaccine mandates and is basically following through on her campaign promises: promises she was specifically elected to keep. So, she checks out in that respect. The other theory is that officials are elected to uphold the desires of their constituents. This means that what the majority want, they should support. Guess what the majority of Bostonians want? Mask mandates, to one extent or another. On both counts, Mayor Wu is doing her job right.
This leads me to the protesting issue. I think that, of all the issues, this one is the touchiest. For weeks, anti-vaccine mandate protesters have loudly demonstrated outside of Mayor Wu’s Roslindale home, yelling and using a variety of loud instruments to get their point across. Obviously, this is extremely disruptive, but it is legal and falls under the legal protections of free speech and demonstrations. However, Wu and her neighbors have expressed frustration at the particularly early and late hours which these protesters have taken to making a ruckus. As a result, new protest restrictions, proposed by Wu herself in the wake of the daily disturbances, have been approved by the city council.
Hearing about this in the news has understandably angered a lot of people. The optics are just awful, I will admit. But let’s look at the reality of the situation.
First of all, these restrictions are extremely targeted: According to Danny McDonald of The Boston Globe, they only affect “the hours when protesters may target private residences with their demonstrations.” They have nothing to do with protests in Downtown Boston, the Commons, the Statehouse or any other public space. Secondly, all cities have private residence protesting restrictions of some sort; it is an accepted use of constitutional police power. Boston itself has already outlawed protesting outside of private residences before 7 a.m. and after 11 p.m. for a very long time. It is entirely within the purview of local government to decide what times of day and night that protesters can be allowed, or disallowed, to protest in residential areas and/or on private property. Each local government has their own opinion on what those times should be. The new restrictions in Boston will change the existing ordinance from 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., a difference of only two hours on each end.
Lastly, as I said before, this is a measure which her neighbors have likely pushed for as well and will obviously result in benefits for all people living in residential neighborhoods. A politician’s neighbors don’t choose to live next door to them, and they certainly do not deserve to be disturbed during very early and very late hours for the perceived slights of their neighbor.
There is also the argument that the current protestors are not genuinely demonstrating but rather harassing. The vaccine mandates aren’t going away—and the protestors should know this—yet they continue to disturb Wu and her neighbors, seemingly in an expression of pure frustration. Honestly, I don’t think this argument has anything to do with general protest restrictions, unless we want to designate “inappropriate reasons” to demonstrate which would preclude the right to protest. But barring outright hate speech, which already involves special rules, that would truly be unconstitutional and nobody is arguing for that. However, it is worth noting that these anti-vaccine protesters aren’t exactly acting on good faith, but rather lashing out in anger every morning and night while the whole block just wants some peace and quiet.
So, in this case too, Mayor Wu is simply acting responsibly, within the bounds of the law and in good faith. There are good arguments on both ends of the issue, and the situation is a complicated one. But, whether you support the increased restrictions or not, you have to concede that this is simply par for the course, and there is really nothing untoward about it.
Now for the big one: sidewalk dining in the North End. This is probably the biggest source of ire around Wu and her administration right now. To recap quickly, as COVID-19 restrictions and emergency measures are being phased out, many people are asking for more permanent versions of these once-temporary measures. A major one is sidewalk dining, which gave indoor restaurants a lifeline through the pandemic. Lots of people love it—there’s no question—including me. But not everybody does. Many residents of the North End have expressed frustration with outdoor dining on the already cramped streets. They say it makes congestion worse, presents a noise nuisance, takes up parking space and attracts rats.
If you read that sentence and think, “Isn’t that just describing the North End in general?” then you’re not alone. This is the one time I will insert my express opinion here: I don’t have a lot of patience for North End NIMBY’s, especially as someone who lives directly on a main road in Boston—now that’s noisy. However, I do understand that making a bad situation worse is not something residents want—though not even all North End residents are against sidewalk dining. The North End is certainly a special case; the question is, is it special enough to impose higher fees on restaurants in this neighborhood than those in other neighborhoods?
This is the crux of the issue. Mayor Wu initially imposed a $7,500 sidewalk dining fee for this year in the North End, which artificially increases the costs of sidewalk dining for restaurants in the area above that of restaurants in other neighborhoods. The vocal detractors of sidewalk dining love it; the restaurants do not. They say it’s unfair, especially for the large collection of lower-income businesses. Many irked residents claim that special circumstances require special measures. It’s a huge conundrum.
But here’s the thing: For all the ire piled onto Mayor Wu for this issue, she has shown that she is a willing and reasonable negotiator. In late May, she announced that North End restaurants could pay the $7,500 in installments and that “hardship waivers” could be obtained according to need. Additionally, restaurants could choose not to open up their sidewalk for the entire season, thereby decreasing their fee. Much more reasonable, no? It’s obviously not perfect, but Wu has had the nearly impossible job of balancing the will of residents and of restaurant owners, and I believe she has done her job with grace, good faith and as much skill as possible. By all signs, she is still open to more negotiation as well.
So, let’s recap: On each point—Boston’s education board, Boston’s mask and vaccine mandates, protesting in residential areas and North End sidewalk dining—Michelle Wu has acted within precedent, legally, in good faith, with grace and respect and with as much tact and intelligence as anyone could expect of any mayor. Being the Mayor of Boston is an awful job in many respects, and it certainly is infected with a terminal case of “attacked if you do, attacked if you don’t.” Wu is doing a pretty good job of handling it so far. So, let’s stop exaggerating and acting as if Mayor Wu is evil, or incompetent or particularly bad in any way. All politicians must be criticized, including Michelle Wu, but by all accounts, and in putting differences of opinion aside, she is doing fine as our newest mayor, and we should be encouraging her—not dragging her name through the mud.

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor