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People Of Color Made History In The 2021 Elections

From Boston to Dearborn, Michigan, the 2021 elections showed the promise of increasing diversity in local politics.

Posted on November 3, 2021, at 3:07 p.m. ET

1. Michelle Wu, the first woman and person of color elected to be mayor of Boston

Josh Reynolds / AP

Boston Mayor-elect Michelle Wu addresses supporters at her election night party, Nov. 2, 2021.

Boston, a city that has been led by white men mayors for 200 years, elected its first woman as mayor, and in doing so, also elected the first person of color to hold that position.

Michelle Wu, a member of the City Council, will be the next mayor of Boston, heralding several historic precedents with her win. At 36, Wu is the youngest mayoral candidate to be elected in nearly a century, and as a child of Taiwanese immigrants who grew up in suburban Chicago, she is also the first mayor in over a century who was not born and raised in Boston, USA Today reported.

In conceding the race Tuesday night, her opponent and fellow city councilor, Annissa Essaibi George, noted the significance of Wu's victory.

"She is the first woman, first person of color, and as an Asian American, the first elected to be mayor of Boston,” George said. "I know this is no small feat."

Wu moved to Boston to attend Harvard and became a protégé of one of her law professors, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She decided to commit herself to public service after helping her mother through a mental health crisis, she told the New York Times. She became only the second woman of color to serve on Boston's city council after Ayanna Pressley, who is now a member of Congress.

Wu is also among the handful of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) mayors to lead a large city outside of California and Texas.

Her win, along with Aftab Pureval's win as mayor of Cincinnati, has increased the number of AAPI mayors in the county's top 100 cities from six to eight, according to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.

“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 her supporters on Tuesday night. “On this day, Boston elected your mom because, from every corner of our city, Boston has spoken.”

2. Shahana Hanif, the first Muslim woman elected to the New York City Council

Emily Leshner / AP

Shahana Hanif stands in front of her home in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn on Aug. 18, 2021.

Nearly 769,000 Muslims call New York City home and yet none of them had ever been represented on the City Council. That is until Tuesday night, when Shahana Hanif, a Bangladeshi American, made history after becoming the first Muslim woman to be elected to the governing body. She and Shekar Krishnan also became the first two people of South Asian descent to win seats on the council.

Hanif has said she became a community organizer in part to fight the biases against the city's Muslim community that intensified after 9/11. A few weeks after the attacks in 2001, the then-10-year-old Hanif and her younger sister were walking in hijabs to their mosque in Brooklyn when a man drove past them and rolled down his window to shout out "terrorist" to the two little girls, Hanif recalled to the Associated Press in a September interview.

As a college student, she protested against the increased police surveillance of Muslim communities in the city.

"I was born & raised in Brooklyn. I'm the daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, a Lupus survivor, & an activist. I'm humbled to be the first Muslim woman elected to the New York City Council and the first woman to represent my district," Hanif said in a tweet. "We are building an anti-racist, feminist city," she added.

American Muslims also made history in elections across the country. Abdullah Hammoud became the first Arab American mayor of Dearborn, Michigan. In Massachusetts, Tania Fernandes Anderson was elected as Boston's first woman Muslim city councilor, and Etel Haxhiaj became the first Albanian American refugee and Muslim elected to the Worcester City Council.

3. Elaine O'Neal, the first Black woman mayor of Durham, North Carolina

Congratulations to Elaine O’Neal who made history last night becoming the Bull City’s first Black woman mayor 🐂

Twitter: @DurhamNC

Elaine O'Neal, a former district and superior court judge, became the first Black woman to lead the city of Durham in North Carolina.

O'Neal, whose campaign focused on issues of public safety, transportation, and economic recovery, spoke about unifying the city in her victory speech.

“Together you have given me the honor and trust of being your next mayor — the first Black woman mayor of Durham," O'Neal said. "I'm truly motivated by how much we can and will accomplish when we all come and work together to make Durham a city that works for all of us."

4. Ed Gainey, the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Ed Gainey talks with reporters after voting in Pittsburgh, Nov. 2, 2021.

Pittsburgh, a city that is roughly a quarter Black, elected its first Black mayor, Ed Gainey, whose campaign sought to address the systemic racism in the city and focused on policing reforms in the wake of George Floyd's murder and the racial justice protests of 2020.

“Look at the image that we are showing our children. I want our children to see what a city for all looks like," Gainey told his supporters after his victory on Tuesday night. "I want our children to see that we don’t separate by divided lines, but we as one community, we as one city are here for them."

5. Alvin Bragg, Manhattan's first Black district attorney

Craig Ruttle / AP

Alvin Bragg speaks to supporters in New York on Nov. 2, 2021.

As Manhattan's first Black district attorney, Alvin Bragg, 48, is set to lead a powerful office that will oversee high-profile prosecutions and investigations involving former president Donald Trump.

Over the past 45 years, the DA's position had been held only by two white men, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Through his campaign, Bragg, a former federal prosecutor from Harlem, spoke about his personal experiences with law enforcement to highlight the reforms he sought to make in the criminal justice system while still fighting against violent crime in the city, the New York Times reported.

He recounted some of those experiences to the Times in an interview.

"Having been stopped by the police," he said. "Having a homicide victim on my doorstep. Having had a loved one return from incarceration and live with me."

6. Aftab Pureval, the first Asian American mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio

John Minchillo / AP

Aftab Pureval speaks during a campaign event in Cincinnati when he was running for US Congress in November 2018.

Aftab Pureval, the son of a Tibetan mother and an Indian father, was elected to be Cincinnati's first Asian American mayor.

“Tonight, we made history in Cincinnati,” Pureval told his supporters on Tuesday. “Cincinnati is a place where no matter what you look like, where you’re from, or how much money you have, if you come here and work hard you can achieve your dreams."

Pureval left his job as a lawyer in 2015 to become the first Democrat elected as the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in more than 100 years, despite the reservations of some fellow Democrats who felt he didn't have a "good ballot name" to appeal to the predominantly white voters in the area, Pureval told the Associated Press.

“When you see A-f-t-a-b on a yard sign, it doesn’t occur to people that’s a candidate not an insurance company,” Pureval told the AP. “When you’re Asian, when you have an ethnic name, it’s just harder. You’ve got to be creative, you’ve got to work harder, you’ve got to knock on more doors.”

7. Abdullah Hammoud, the first Arab American mayor of Dearborn, Michigan

Paul Sancya / AP

Abdullah Hammoud speaks during a presidential campaign rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders, in Dearborn, Michigan, on March 7, 2020.

Voters in Dearborn, a city with one of the largest Arab American populations in the nation, elected their first Arab American mayor on Tuesday.

Abdullah Hammoud, the 31-year-old son of Muslim immigrants from Lebanon, sent a message of hope to minorities and immigrants in his victory speech.

"To the young girls and boys who have ever been ridiculed for their faith or ethnicity,” he said, "to those of you who were ever made to feel that their names were unwelcome and to our parents and to our elders, and to others who are humiliated for their broken English and yet still persistent, today is proof that you are as American as anyone else, and there is a new era in Dearborn."

Hammoud, who is serving his third term as a Michigan state representative, focused on issues of environmental justice and economic development in his campaign.

In an interview with the New Arab last month, Hammoud acknowledged that he was poised to be the first Arab mayor of Dearborn.

But, he added, "We’re not running to be the first. We’re running to try to be the best."







A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.