Friday, September 30, 2022

Wu, Pureval Mayoral win milestone for Asian Americans

For the first time in the history of both cities, Asian Americans will serve as mayors in Boston and Cincinnati, a sign of political progress for a population that has struggled for nearly two years with a rise in anti-Asian hatred.

Boston voters on Tuesday tapped City Councilor Michelle Wu, 36, to serve in the city’s top political office. Aftab Pureval, 39, easily defeated former Democratic Congressman David Mann in Cincinnati.

“Tonight, we made history in Cincinnati,” Pureval told a large gathering of supporters. “Cincinnati is a place where no matter how you look, where you are from, or how much money you have, you can achieve your dreams if you come here and work hard.”

When Pureval decided to quit his attorney job for county clerk in 2015, it was some fellow Democrats who warned him against the idea. He felt he didn’t have a “good ballot name” that would appeal to predominantly white voters in Hamilton County, Ohio.

“When you see Aftab on a yard sign, it’s not people who are a candidate who is not an insurance company,” Pureval told the Associated Press earlier in the day. “When you’re Asian, when you have an ethnic name, it’s hard. You have to be creative, you have to work harder, you have to knock on more doors.”

Pureval, the son of a Tibetan mother and Indian father, must have knocked on many doors. He went on to make a major reversal, becoming the first Democrat to be elected Clerk in more than 100 years.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, Bruce Harrell, a second-generation Japanese American and black, was ahead of current city council president M. Lorena Gonzalez. But, it may be days before there is a clear winner.

It is extraordinary how spread the three cities are. High-profile mayors who are Asian American and Pacific Islander, also known as AAPI, are commonly elected in places with historically large Asian populations, such as California and Hawaii. These candidates are an indication of how much AAPI voters have multiplied with a strong sense of urgency to be the voice in the political arena.

The wider implications of a mayor’s victory in a city with a small AAPI community mean a lot to Pureval, who says his election will “not only show that AAPIs can run and win on beaches or where there are large Asian populations.” rather that AAPI can run and win anywhere.”

Wu, 36, Boston’s first Asian American city councilor, defeated fellow city councilor Anissa Asyby George, 47, an Arab Polish American. Wu, who is a Taiwanese American, was particularly a favorite after receiving a coveted endorsement from acting mayor Kim Jenny, who was promoted to the position when the former mayor resigned. Jenny was the city’s first black and first female mayor.

Harrell, 63, became Seattle’s first Asian American mayor since the appointment in 2017 after Mayor Ed Murray resigned over allegations of child sex abuse. Less than a week later, Harrell decided to continue serving on the city council instead.

In another notable victory on Tuesday, Dearborn, Michigan, elected state legislator Abdullah Hammood as the city’s first Arab American mayor. A final unofficial vote count showed him an insurmountable lead over a former state representative, Gary Voronchak. Dearborn, a city of over 100,000, has one of the largest Arab American populations in the country.

The AAPI Victory Fund, a Super PAC that mobilizes eligible Asian American and Pacific Islander voters and candidates, supported Pureval and Wu (they never heard back from Harrell’s campaign about a meeting). Varun Nikor, president of AAPI Victory Fund, called Wu and PureVal’s victory “a new day in America locally”.

“This is now a new way for AAPI to engage in public service,” Nikor said. “I think it’s going to be a beacon for people who want to run for local office.”

As mayors, they can each lay the foundation for greater representation with which they choose for their employees or as key decision makers.

Nikor said, “If your community is well represented, you create a legitimate pipeline route to public service, whether it’s political office, whether that office is appointed, whether it’s more AAPI across boards and commissions.” to be appointed.” “Activating at those levels, it’s exactly this ripple effect that lasts for decades in some cases.”

James Lai, an ethnic studies professor at Santa Clara University whose specialties include Asian American and urban politics, said these mayoral races are a “beautiful” microcosm of how Asian Americans are a growing political force. Since the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 became law, Asian American communities have been emerging in regions such as the Midwest and Northeast.

“In fact, over the past 30 years, the fastest growing region for Asian Americans, according to the last three censuses, is the South region,” Lai said.

The Reflective Democracy Campaign, which looks at diversity in political leadership, recently released a study that found that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up more than 6% of the US population, but less than 1% of elected offices. is less.

However, the presence of Asian American leaders in small and medium-sized suburbs is another story that deserves attention. Lai, also author of “Asian American Political Action: Suburban Transformation,” points out that more Asian Americans are getting appointed as mayors or taking the majority of city council seats.

Nikor of the AAPI Victory Fund believes the racism created by the pandemic that pushed the American and Pacific Islander voter in the 2020 election will continue. He said the candidate’s victory would also dispel stereotypes that Asians do not “belong to”.

Pureval confronts foreign stereotypes, often presenting himself as “a brown dude with a strange name”. He said perceived political liabilities like ethnicity can also be a force.

“I hope that one day when we see more and more AAPIs elected to office, future AAPI candidates will not have to think about it.”


Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle, Steve LeBlanc in Boston and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.


Terry Tang is a member of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at


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