Election 2021 brings historic firsts for diversity across the country

·5 min read

While much of the nation's attention was focused on gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, Tuesday's elections provided plenty of historic milestones, particularly for women and candidates of color. Below are some of the most notable results.

Boston

Boston Mayor-elect Michelle Wu smiles during her election night party Tuesday. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)
Boston Mayor-elect Michelle Wu at her election night party on Tuesday. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

Boston elected its first woman and first Asian American as mayor, tapping City Councilor Michelle Wu. Before Wu, Boston had elected only white men to serve in the city’s top political office.

“One of my sons asked me the other night if boys can be elected mayor of Boston,” Wu said in her victory speech. “They have been, and they will again someday, but not tonight.”

Wu, 36, cruised to victory over rival City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, a 47-year-old Arab American, in the race to replace interim Mayor Kim Janey.

Janey, who was appointed when Mayor Marty Walsh was tapped by President Biden to be his secretary of labor, was the first woman and first woman of color to hold the post.

Durham, N.C.

The city of Durham, N.C., also elected its first woman of color, Elaine O’Neal, as mayor.

“Together you have given me the honor and trust of being your next mayor — the first Black woman mayor of Durham,” O’Neal told supporters. “This is a dream that I never had, but it’s now my reality.”

O’Neal, a former judge, essentially ran uncontested, defeating Javiera Caballero — who suspended her campaign following a poor showing in October’s primary. O’Neal received 84 percent of the vote.

Virginia

Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears waves as she arrives to speak before Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin at an election night party in Chantilly, Va., early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears arrives to speak before Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin at an election night party in Chantilly, Va. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Republican Winsome Sears is projected to become the first woman to hold the office of lieutenant governor in Virginia. Sears, who was born in Jamaica and is Black, is a Marine veteran who served one term in the state Legislature. Her opponent, Democratic Del. Hala Ayala, has yet to concede.

“It’s a historic night — yes, it is — but I didn’t run to make history. I just wanted to leave it better than I found it,” Sears said in a speech declaring victory early Wednesday morning, adding, “I’m telling you that what you are looking at is the American Dream.”

New York City

New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams smiles before addressing his supporters late Tuesday. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams addresses his supporters late Tuesday. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

As expected, Democrat Eric Adams easily won the New York mayoral race, becoming just the second Black mayor in the city’s history. The first, David Dinkins, served from 1990 to 1993.

Adams, a former New York City police captain and Brooklyn borough president, defeated Republican Curtis Sliwa in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio. The result was not surprising, given that Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1 among registered voters in the Big Apple.

The mayor-elect was not the only candidate to make history in New York on Tuesday. Democrat Alvin Bragg became Manhattan’s first Black district attorney, after beating out a crowded primary field earlier this year. A former federal prosecutor, Bragg will oversee a staff of 500 lawyers and inherit the office’s probe into former President Donald Trump and his family’s business.

“We made history,” Bragg said at his election night event in Harlem. “I promise that I will never stop working to bring the change that New York’s criminal justice system so desperately needs.”

Alvin Bragg speaks to his supporters in New York City Tuesday. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Alvin Bragg speaks to his supporters in New York City on Tuesday. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

Additionally, Shahana Hanif became the first Muslim woman elected to the New York City Council. A Bangladeshi American who previously worked for the council, Hanif will represent an area of Brooklyn. Hanif and Shekar Krishnan, who won a race in Queens, will be the first South Asians to serve on the council.

“Together we are building an antiracist, feminist city,” Hanif said in a statement Tuesday night. “We deserve a city that protects its most vulnerable, a city that has equitable education, a city invested in climate solutions that are local and driven by communities, a city where our immigrant neighbors feel at home and heard and safe. This work requires all of us to keep showing up even though the election is over.”

Pittsburgh

State Rep. Ed Gainey became the Steel City’s first Black mayor on Tuesday night, comfortably defeating retired police officer and Republican nominee Tony Moreno. Gainey’s path to the position became clear in May, when he upset incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto in the Democratic primary after a campaign that revolved around Peduto’s handling of the city police and last year’s social justice protests.

“Let me tell you why this is beautiful: Because you proved that we can have a city for all,” Gainey said Tuesday night. “You proved that everybody can change. We know how people have talked about Pittsburgh and talked about how segregated it is, but today you changed that.”

New Jersey

Multiple women running for the New Jersey State Assembly made history Tuesday evening. Democrats Ellen Park, who is Korean American, and Shama Haider, a Muslim woman who was born in Pakistan, became the first Asian American women to win seats in the Legislature, both hailing from the 37th District in the north of the state.

Dearborn, Mich.

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud speaks during a campaign rally for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders in Dearborn, Mich., March 7, 2020.
State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud at a campaign rally for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders in Dearborn, Mich., on March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Democratic state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud made history on Tuesday as the first Arab American and Muslim to be elected mayor in Dearborn, Mich.

Hammoud, 31, defeated 66-year-old Gary Woronchak, a former state representative and Wayne County commissioner, by nearly 10 points.

In his victory speech, Hammoud said he hopes his win inspires young people and immigrants who have been bullied.

“To the young girls and boys who have ever been ridiculed for their faith or ethnicity, 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 were humiliated for their broken English and yet still persisted, today is proof that you are as American as anyone else,” Hammoud said. “And there is a new era in Dearborn.”

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