Michelle Wu has been a voice for accessibility, transparency, and community engagement in city leadership.
Growing up as the oldest of four children, Michelle saw through her immigrant parents’ eyes the invisible barriers – language, cultural, social, and economic — that families face. Through hard work and a great public school education, Michelle got a scholarship to study at Harvard College, where she fell in love with Boston. As a college student, she spent most of her free time volunteering in Boston’s Chinatown, taking the Red Line back and forth across the Charles River. After graduation, she moved to the North End and started working as a consultant in Boston’s Financial District.
But then life changed suddenly when her mother began to struggle with serious mental illness. At the age of 23, Michelle became primary caretaker for her mom and two younger sisters. She opened and ran a small family restaurant to help support her family. Eventually, Michelle was admitted to Harvard Law School and brought her family with her back to Boston. While studying, she helped her mom access the world-class health care in Boston, sent one sister to college and became legal guardian for her youngest sister, who graduated from Boston Public Schools.
Michelle also worked in community advocacy, providing legal advice to low-income small business owners at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, and representing survivors of domestic violence in immigration law cases at Boston Medical Center’s Medical-Legal Partnership.
It wasn’t until law school that Michelle got a dose of government and politics. Working for Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino as a Rappaport Fellow in Law and Public Policy, she created the city’s first guide to the restaurant permitting process from start to finish, and was also a driving force to launch Boston’s food truck program. She later served as statewide Constituency Director in the U.S. Senate campaign of her former law professor, Elizabeth Warren. These experiences inspired her to run for City Council to fight for all voices to be heard and implement tangible, immediate change to help families.
When she was elected to the Boston City Council in November 2013 at the age of 28, Michelle became the first Asian-American woman to serve on the Council. In January 2014, she was elected President of the City Council by her colleagues in a unanimous vote, becoming the first woman of color to serve as Council President.
Her legislative work has focused on access to opportunity for residents of all backgrounds. Michelle was the lead sponsor of Boston’s Paid Parental Leave ordinance and Healthcare Equity ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity — both of which passed unanimously through the Council and were signed into law by Mayor Martin J. Walsh. She also authored Boston’s Communications Access ordinance, which guarantees translation, interpretation and assistive technology for access to city services regardless of English language proficiency or communications disability. To promote economic development, she also introduced a successful ordinance to end the city’s ban on BYOB for small neighborhood restaurants, and recently introduced the “Boston Unplugged” ordinance to eliminate all permits and fees for small businesses in commercial districts to host acoustic performances.
In 2016, Michelle was honored as one of Ten Outstanding Young Leaders by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and as part of Marie Claire magazine’s New Guard: The 50 Most Influential Women in America. She is fluent in Mandarin and Spanish, and lives in Roslindale with her husband Conor and her two year-old son Blaise.