Prince: Introduce yourself and explain why you are running for city council-at large?
MW: My name is Michelle Wu and the reason why I am running for office starts and ends on the idea of family. I was born to immigrant parents from Taiwan. When my Mom and Dad were just a little younger than I am now, they left behind everything that they knew and moved to the United States. They spoke no English and had no money in their pockets; but they came here in hopes that we [I and my other three siblings] could have a chance of opportunity–so I always thought about that.
My family and I grew up in Chicago, with very modest means, and I experienced the typical immigrant family lifestyle: we were expected to study hard; go to our soccer lessons and dance classes; get a well-rounded education; and take advantage of what this country had to offer. Not only was I very lucky to be accepted at Harvard University for undergraduate school, but for law school. And when I came to Boston I immediately fell in love with the city. One of things that I did during my undergraduate work at Harvard University was teaching citizenship classes to elderly immigrants every weekend at Chinatown. I would teach immigrants, who had left behind their careers as doctors, nurses, and engineers to become janitors, cooks and dishwashers here, so that their kids and their grand kids could have a chance at opportunity.
After graduating college, I worked in consulting for a while and I was living in the North End (where the financial district is located); I was having a great time. My plan was to stay in Boston from there on out, but then my mother came down with mental illness and I moved back home to be the primary caretaker for my mom including my two younger siblings. During that time, I opened up a business–a tea house in Chicago–and I ran that for a while; I had a wonderful experience.
During that time I also got to experience city government in the process of obtaining permits and licenses – a long and complicated process that was very frustrating as an entrepreneur. I loved running the business, but when it became clear that my mom’s condition would be more permanent and long term, I came back to Boston for law school at Harvard again, this time bringing my family back with me.
Prince: What are your issues that you are advocating for as candidate for City Councilor At-Large?
MW: The three biggest issues that I am advocating are Education, Small Business, and Innovation. And for me it all comes down to building Pipelines to Opportunity – linking education and employment through partnerships with organizations in the city so that we can make opportunities more concrete and reachable to youth and families in our neighborhoods. There’s so much going on in Boston: job opportunities; development; new companies; and, exciting research that are drawing people from all over the world. However, we need to make sure that these opportunities are not limited to downtown–not just in our innovation district but in every single neighborhood
Prince: What makes you qualified to be city councilor?
MW: I am a hard worker and I really care about this city. I had the fortune of getting to know the city in a lot of different ways. So what I bring to the table is the experiences that allow me to understand what families are going through in Boston: raising a young family on my own; going through the school system; and being a small business owner (knowing how hard it can be when you are not just taking financial risks of your own but going through city permits in a very complicated process). I have worked in City Hall for Mayor Menino–where I worked on restaurant permitting, launching food trucks etc.–and I have also worked for Elizabeth Warren, where I worked in Boston politics.
Prince: Tell me a personal story that has inspired you to run for office.
MW: The hardest moment of my life was when my mom started to show symptoms of mental illness. It is something that really affects an entire family and you feel it every day. It was so heartbreaking to see your parent, your mother, the woman that has always been so strong, the person that has always been taking care of you, was in a position where I had to step up and really be the “Mom” for my own mom. In those moments my family needed support. It is something that I can truly advocate for as city councilor–to have more public discussion about this issue so we can have a “support” network for everybody.
Mental Health fits in all three of my issues: education, small business, and innovation. The idea that we really need to create the environment for healthy families in the most holistic sense of what that means. In schools, for example, making sure that our students have access to counseling and mental health services–should they need it–because younger and younger students these days are faced with these issues i.e. college applications. It really has an impact on students today.
For small business, it’s about bringing economic opportunities into the neighborhoods so families see a realistic way to support themselves, which relieves some of the stress that can lead to mental health issues. Then lastly, with innovation, we need to make sure that we are celebrating it both in the private and public sector. One thing that we noticed a lot is that entrepreneurs and CEOs are not necessarily “afraid” of failure–they take risks; they learn from it; and move to the next thing. In government we need to have that same attitude too. We need to try out the best and most creative new solutions and not necessarily be “afraid” that it won’t work. If we are, then we are not taking the best possible chance for helping people.
Prince: What promises do you hope to keep as city councilor?
MW: I have three guiding principles that I have been using in my campaign, which I will also use as next city councilor for Boston:
The first is I will have a real commitment to the issues, understanding the facts and what people really care about. Often times when we talk about campaigns and politics vs. policy the difference is around votes vs. issues or ideas. But I think it should be all connected. The way to get votes is to talk to people about what matters to them–propose solutions to problems that they are facing. So again being really committed to the issues and how they are affected in people’s lives.
The second is that I will be in every single neighborhood. With campaigns, you often hear from time to time that you should find your base and stick to it- don’t waste your time in other areas where it’s hard to get votes. However, if I am running for a position to represent the entire city–city councilor at large–then I really want to represent and understand the city. You cannot do that without being in every single neighborhood.
And the third is I want to do the outreach in a way that is authentic and real. So, being in the community early and often; meeting every community where people are. If you think about where the votes come from, there are maybe some communities that don’t have a high turnout. I don’t believe that they don’t care or they don’t want to vote, it may be a matter of explaining to people why their vote matters; or, giving them a realistic way to participate by meeting them at neighborhood festivals, church, block parties, wherever people are gathered.
Prince: Tell me an embarrassing story that has reminded you that you are still human–on or off the campaign.
MW: I don’t tend to get embarrassed that often, so it may take a little digging; but, there have been two things that have happened recently on the campaign trail.
The first one was when I left a voicemail on somebody’s mailbox. When they asked me to give my “name, number, when I called etc.” in the voicemail I totally stumbled on what day it was that I called on. So after I left that embarrassing voicemail, I checked my phone and realized that it was Monday! It was the farthest day that I had in mind at the time; I really thought it was Friday or someday before the weekend. On campaigns, weekdays blend together with the weekend because there are always more events to meet people and learn about the city.
And then the second one was on Dorchester Day, when I met a sibling from a family. I came up to that person and hugged her with open arms and then she told me that I was hugging the wrong person–her sister was not at the event. But now I know the whole family!
Prince: Lastly in your own words, what makes Michelle Wu so interesting?
MW: I have on accident and, in other ways, on purpose lived a very jumbled lifestyle. I am 28 years old now, but I have worked in town halls; I have shelved books at the local library; I have worked at restaurants; I have been in publishing, I have opened a restaurant; I have work for City Hall; I have worked at Boston Medical Center; and I have taken on the role of being mother to my two sisters. So I have seen a lot and I try to have fun along the way. Usually if I meet someone new, there is always something that I can connect with them with–I absorb every experience that I can get from life.
If you wish to follow Michelle go to her website: http://www.michelleforboston.com
You can also follow her on Twitter (@wutrain) and Facebook
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