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Some observers question whether Ms. Wu’s policy platform will be enough to carry her through the general election in November.

“People just want the city to work for them, they don’t want nice policies,” said Kay Gibbs, 81, who worked as a political aide to Thomas Atkins, the city’s first Black city councilor, and to Representative Barney Frank. Boston’s next mayor, she said, will have her hands full with the basics, taking control of powerful forces within a sprawling city government.

“The electorate is smarter than we think they are, and they have certain interests that don’t extend to all these dreamy ideas of free public transport and Green New Deal,” she said. “They are going to choose the person they think is most able.”

Boston is growing swiftly, with rapid growth in its Asian and Hispanic populations. It has seen a shrinking percentage of non-Hispanic white residents, who now make up less than 45 percent of the population. And the percentage of Black residents is also dropping, falling to 19 percent of the population from about 22 percent in 2010.

Ms. Janey, who was then the City Council president, became acting mayor in March after Martin J. Walsh became the country’s labor secretary, and many assumed she would cruise into the general election. But she was cautious in her new role, sticking largely to script in public appearances, and damaged by criticism from her rival Ms. Campbell, a Princeton-educated lawyer and vigorous campaigner.

At a campaign stop on Monday, Ms. Janey said incumbency had not necessarily proved an advantage.

“I certainly would say, if anything, it’s a double-edged sword,” she said.

Municipal elections, especially preliminary ones, tend to draw a low turnout, whiter and older than the city as a whole. It is only in the last few years that change has begun to ripple through Massachusetts, which has seen a series of upsets for progressive women of color, said Steve Koczela, president of the MassInc Polling Group.

“This is the culmination of a lot of flexing of new political muscle,” he said.

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