BOSTON, Massachusetts — The 2021 election brought historic firsts for diversity across the country. It's changing the political conversation about what leadership looks like.
History has been made in Boston. The city elected its first woman and Asian American as mayor. Vedna Heywood, with the League of Women Voters, says Mayor-elect Michelle Wu is a prime example of the American dream.
“Who would have imagined that 100 years ago when we were just fighting for the right to vote," Heywood said. “There is this possibility that exists here in the United States.”
Other candidates of color made history across the country in 2021 elections: Pittsburgh and Kansas City, which elected their first Black mayor, Cincinnati elected its first Asian American mayor, Virginia has its first Black woman as lieutenant governor, and in Dearborn, Michigan, they elected their first Arab American Muslim mayor.
Those changes also affect which issues receive attention. Anthony Davis Jr. is the organizing director for Michelle Wu's campaign. He points out those conversations will continue into her administration.
“It allowed so many people who traditionally felt the debates don’t revolve around their issues, or don’t feel like the public conversation in the mayoral race is about the issues that matter to them, because there were people who were representative of the community, those conversations were interjected into the race," Davis Jr. said. “She’s in a very unique position to continue the engagement to your point.”
These firsts are also about embracing differences within leadership. Lydia Edwards is a city councilor in Boston. She’s also running for state senate.
“And now, it looks like we might be leading the nation in terms of the kind of pipeline we’re creating for leadership," Edwards said. “I am running to be a state senator and yes, the third Black woman in the state's history to ever serve in the state senate, and if I were to win now, I’d be the only Black person we have in the state senate.”
She knows firsthand, the benefit of diversity in politics.
“I’m a bridge-builder; I’m able to run as myself proudly as a woman of color, as a Black woman, but also to connect with everybody," Edwards said.
In her words, to represent and reflect the communities she's fighting for.
“That they come from them, they understand the struggles they are going through, you can only have that if you have diversity," Edwards said.
Elections of people like City Councilor Edwards and Mayor-elect Wu also have a direct impact on a national scale.
“It’s about the pipelines you create. Today’s city council could be tomorrow's state senator, that’s what we're hoping for. Today’s city council could be tomorrow's congresswoman or mayor, and that’s the goal. You kind of want to popcorn up," Edwards said.
“Across the country now, you’re beginning to see the shifts and this interest in terms of the school board and the schools and what it is that parents want for their children and I think how that has become impactful in terms of the federal level and or the state level you’re starting to see laws that are reflecting some of those voices that are being heard above others," Heywood said.
David Hopkins is an associate professor of political science at Boston College. He says this very moment, could be the momentum that takes these firsts and turns them into the norm.
“People are paying attention to local politics in some senses through the lens of national issues," Hopkins said. “One thing that we political scientists know about increased diversity is it tends to stimulate additional representation from groups that historically may not have been as engaged in politics.”
“It’s great for my business because one of the things we want to know as social scientists is what happens when something in the political system changes," Hopkins said. “We’re observing in real-time the way the country kind of processes this change and reacts to this change and that in it of itself, has a lot of important consequences and implications.”
“That’s how you impact national politics right, you are pulling from the communities that are getting into spaces and being in positions that traditionally they have not held," Edwards said.