Go on the City Council website and you’ll see a wealth of male faces, but only a solitary female face. Michelle Wu would like to change that.
Wu, a 27-year-old attorney who lives in the South End, is running for one of the four “at-large,” or citywide, Boston City Council seats this year.
“No small part of my motivation is that the City Council should be reflective of the city,” said Wu in a recent interview at the Gazette’s office. “It’s pretty disappointing there’s just one woman on the council,” especially since the city is more than 50 percent female, she said.
When asked if she could pinpoint a specific instance where the lack of female representation affected the City Council’s work, Wu replied she couldn’t. But, she said, gender diversity brings in different perspectives on a broad range of issues and provides for a richer discussion.
The Gazette also asked if any of the current four at-large city councilors she possibly could replace is not doing his or her job. Wu did not directly answer the question, but said she wants the council to be more reflective of the city and that she brings a woman’s and a former small business owner’s perspective.
Wu did say many of her policies would overlap with a lot of what the council is currently doing, so there would be a lot of room for collaboration.
Wu did not get into the specifics of her policies and declined to offer detailed positions on such JP issues as the Casey Overpass project, Boston Redevelopment Authority reform and the Boston Public Schools assignment plan. She said she wants to go into the city’s neighborhoods and talk to people about the issues. She said she will come out with more concrete policies after doing that.
Wu grew up in Chicago’s South Side, where her parents had emigrated from Taiwan so her father could attend the Illinois Institute of Technology. She made her way to the Boston area to attend Harvard College.
While at Harvard, she would take the MBTA Red Line to Chinatown to participate in a naturalization program run by her school. Wu said she helped immigrants who were highly educated back in Asia, but came to America to work as cooks and janitors to give their children a better opportunity.
“It was a very personal experience,” said Wu.
After graduating from college with a degree in economics, Wu worked in general management consulting. But her mother fell ill and she went back to Chicago.
During her stay there, Wu opened a tea shop, learning about the permit process and how much hard work it takes turning an entrepreneur’s dream into reality.
“Those were some of the best days and some of the hardest days,” said Wu.
She said it was “quite a time” trying to manage a business while tending to her ailing other.
“That time defined what it means to take care of family,” said Wu.
Wu eventually decided to go back to school and enrolled at Harvard Law School. She moved back to Boston and brought her two sisters as her mother was still ill.
Wu was extremely active during her law school days. She served on the boards of the Kwong Kow Chinese School in Chinatown and the South End’s Puerto Rican Veterans Monument Square Association, where she was the first non-Puerto Rican.
Wu also helped low-income entrepreneurs and nonprofits with transaction law at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School in JP.
As a Rappaport Fellow, Wu worked at City Hall where she streamlined the restaurant permitting process. She placed permits online, created a restaurant roadmap for the permitting process and helped take down the language barrier by offering the material in Spanish and Chinese.
“City government is where you can impact people lives right away,” said Wu.
While finishing up law school and arranging her marriage, Wu also did community outreach for the Elizabeth Warren Senate campaign. She said she did a lot of work in communities of color, including creating palm cards in 10 different languages that had specific issues for each ethnic group.
Wu said she loves the city because of its diversity and said that Jamaica Plain is a microcosm of that. She also said JP is an area where neighbors take care of each other and where everyone knows each other on the block.
Wu said she wants to spend the next year going into the city’s neighborhoods and talking to people as a first-time candidate name recognition is going to be a problem.
“That’s why I’m jumping in early,” she said.
John Ruch contributed to this article.