But the relationship between the state and the capital’s top executives may be much more complicated than their post-election photo shoot suggests.
One factor at play behind the scenes: Wu and Healey endorsed competing candidates in this year’s Democratic primary, a political disagreement that led to a heated phone call at the time. They have remained publicly cordial, but come January, policy differences could emerge more prominently: While both women have been labeled progressives, those close to Healey believe she intends to govern as the centrist she campaigned for , an approach that could drive a gulf between her and Wu on a number of key issues.
Their ability to cooperate could shape the future of the city that serves as New England’s economic engine. Thanks to the astonishing consolidation of power at the state level in Massachusetts, partly a relic of the centuries-old ethnic war between the Brahmins who rule Beacon Hill and the Irish who rise to power in Boston, the capital depends on state approval for large and small policy changes. But Healey has so far not committed to some of Wu’s top priorities that require state consent.
Even geography may not be the connection many thought it would be. Healey, a one-time resident of Charlestown and then the South End, quietly moved out of Boston months ago and is still determining “where it makes the most sense to reside” once he takes office, his campaign said.
Wu told reporters last week that he would “dive deeper” into the issues Healey highlighted during the campaign, including fighting climate change and improving public transportation. But he didn’t answer directly when asked if he thought he now had a clear ally in the governor’s office.
“We need a partner in the state to stand up affirmatively and proactively when Boston sends our ideas that will need state approval,” Wu said.
Both women say they are optimistic about their partnership, and Democrats are confident that a closer alignment between the governor and Boston’s mayor will translate to economic success for the entire state and political dividends for both.
For most of Healey’s two terms as attorney general, Wu served on the Boston City Council, so the two had some limited interactions in professional circles. Wu, 37, and Healey, 51, still don’t know each other very well, according to people close to both, but they have often crossed paths and are now in regular contact by phone or text. They have not met formally since Healey’s election, but are scheduling a discussion, Wu said.
But having a Democrat back in the governor’s office doesn’t guarantee political results for Boston’s progressive leaders.
“There will be a closeness and returned phone calls,” one Democrat close to Healey said of his relationship with Wu. “But I don’t think it’s a given that the mayor’s agenda is suddenly easier on Beacon Hill.”
Boston mayors and Massachusetts governors must collaborate on everything from the mundane to the major. The famous “bromance” between Gov. Charlie Baker and former Mayor Martin J. Walsh proved crucial when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, and the two spoke on the phone almost every day. Baker once joked that his wife, Lauren, would resort to “picking up the phone on a Saturday night at 10 o’clock and telling Marty Walsh you know it’s time for the boys to stop talking” . Even so, this proximity did not always translate into political victories for Boston: Walsh lamented that Beacon Hill had not given enough support to the city for housing and kindergarten.
Democrats generally expect the relationship between Wu and Healey to be a marked improvement over the one between Wu and Baker. The Democratic mayor and Republican governor have publicly clashed over the direction of the MBTA and control of Boston Public Schools. Most recently, the two engaged in a public spat over Boston’s so-called Mass and Cass area, where homelessness and addiction crises have persisted.
But Wu and Healey have also disagreed before, including in this year’s Democratic primary for attorney general, when Wu endorsed Shannon Liss-Riordan weeks after Healey publicly endorsed challenger Andrea Campbell. Wu’s endorsement angered the sitting attorney general, who considered Campbell the best candidate to succeed her and campaigned hard for her.
Both have said the heated disagreement that ensued would not affect their working relationship and played down the rift. While endorsements may seem trivial, in politics they can be deeply personal. Healey did not endorse Wu in last year’s mayoral race; Wu did not endorse Healey in this year’s race for governor until all of his Democratic rivals had dropped out.
While Healey seems more sympathetic than Baker to Wu’s progressive ideas on transit, housing and the environment, the governor-elect has also not pledged to give Boston’s plans the support they would need to become a reality . Meanwhile, Wu has earned a reputation for not being afraid to call out even his fellow Democrats when they oppose his policy priorities, suggesting that any disagreements could become public.
Healey has not said, for example, whether he supports Boston getting a long-sought seat on the MBTA’s board or whether it is included in a 10-municipality pilot to ban new fossil fuel connections. Wu has called for a new high-dollar real estate transaction tax in Boston to fund affordable housing. Healey, for his part, made an explicit campaign to reduce taxes.
Asked recently about the T board seat, a move even Baker has supported, Healey said only that “there are a lot of ideas on the table.”
Wu campaigned to impose rent control to quell Boston’s rising housing costs. Healey, for her part, has said, “I don’t think that’s the solution” for the state, though she indicated she may be open to allowing cities and towns to do it independently.
Wu has asked Baker to “act as a partner” in Mass. and Cass. Healey said: “I think there has been partnership and collaboration.”
Healey’s administration may feel more like a continuation of Baker’s than a radical shift in favor of Democrats, political observers said.
“A number of progressives and Democrats assume that Maura Healey will be a progressive governor,” said Tatishe Nteta, a pollster and professor of political science at UMass Amherst. But his agenda “doesn’t seem progressive to me.”
The capital will need state approval for policies as big as reshaping the local real estate market and as modest as granting new liquor licenses. But Boston’s requests for those approvals, called home rule petitions, more often than not languish or die on Beacon Hill, especially when they would impose substantial policy changes. Whether that will change under Healey remains to be seen.
State Sen. Lydia Edwards, a Boston Democrat who knows the two women well, said Wu and Healey “have a lot more in common than they don’t.”
“Now is the time, in this transition period, where deep connections are formed,” Edwards said. “And I think they will.”
Also, having a good relationship benefits both Healey and Wu, said state Rep. Michael J. Moran, a powerful Democrat who represents Brighton.
“Boston drives the economy of New England. It would be mutually beneficial for Healey to have a relationship with the capital, and the same way the mayor would have a relationship with the governor. I don’t see that being a problem at all.” Moran said.
“Now, stylistically, what does that mean? That’s going to be interesting.”
The Globe’s Samantha J. Gross staff contributed to this report.
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