Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George had very different approaches as councilors, hinting at how they might govern as mayor

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“And now,” she continued, “we are adversaries in this race. Running to be mayor.

“I enjoyed this moment together,” was all Wu said about the meeting.

They have always been cordial, even friendly, as they have appeared on stage to brag about their records or celebrate their service on a historically diverse city council with the most female members. already. They were part of Boston’s original version of “The Squad” – a coalition of women of color in service. In their first town hall meeting after the foreplay, they kissed.

Yet their years of service together on the board have also revealed a stark contrast in politics and leadership which provides a window into how each woman could. govern as mayor if elected in November.

Essaibi George paved the way for the race from the start – in her victory speech on the evening of the preliminary elections – declaring herself the candidate on the field who has no time for the unrealistic proposals that would divert her from her duties as mayor. She did not name Wu directly, but was clearly targeting her opponent’s progressive proposals to tackle climate change and make public transport free.

The next morning Wu seemed eager to engage, saying Boston was on the verge of transformation and voters’ demands for racial equity and justice are urgent and do not leave time for the complacency of the status quo.

Those are literally the lines the two advisers drew in various policy proposals over the past few years, long before they declared their intention to run for mayor, according to a review of their records by the Boston Globe.

“The two have very different but nonetheless effective leadership strategies that they have demonstrated during their tenure with the organization,” said City Councilor Matthew O’Malley, the longest-serving Continuing Service Councilor.

“Michelle has bigger goals and Annissa has more tangible and achievable goals,” said O’Malley, who did not approve of the race. He said the styles of both contestants have served them and the city well.

Wu, a 36-year-old mother of two from Roslindale, was elected to general seat in 2013, promising ambitious changes that could transform Boston. Essaibi George, 47, a mother of four from Dorchester, was first elected in 2015, on a platform to address the needs of social services such as mental health counseling and homelessness.

No episode has highlighted their contrasting approaches and positions as strongly as the June 2020 city budget vote, perhaps the most controversial council vote in recent years.

The debate was heated. Opponents of then-mayor Martin J. Walsh’s $ 3.6 billion spending plan demanded greater investments in racial justice and economic fairness as the COVID-19 pandemic and the calculation of racism and police abuse raged. The mayor had said weeks earlier that racism was a public health crisis in Boston.

Walsh told advisers that investments in racial justice and fairness will increase over time, but the budget needs to be passed immediately to avoid layoffs – which many saw as alarmist.

Essaibi George, who supported the mayor’s proposal, said at the time that she recognized that the plan was not the “perfect budget”, but nonetheless one that supported health and social services programs while maintaining essential services amid the upheaval of the pandemic.

“It is a basis for the real work that is happening after the budget process, to bring about real change as we face a public health crisis and systemic racism,” Essaibi George said at the meeting. June 2020 board, conducted via Zoom. “A fight for change does not end with today’s budget vote.”

At the same meeting, Wu argued that advisers had a duty to impose budget changes that would dismantle systemic racism and respond to calls, here and across the country, for a radical overhaul of the methods and priorities of the government. police.

“I refuse to be complicit in the inertia of delaying structural change as being too costly, too scary, not quite at the right time,” she said. “What we owe our constituents and our communities is to provide the measure of justice, equity and relief that is right for this moment.”

Walsh’s budget was ultimately passed by 8-5, with Wu among the minority to oppose it.

In June, councilors were again divided over the budget proposed by interim mayor Kim Janey, largely on the same issues. Essaibi George again voted in favor of the spending plan. Wu said no.

Similar differences are evident in some of the the other councilor votes and proposals, and illustrate how each approached municipal leadership.

Wu has spearheaded many of the council’s comprehensive public policy reforms in recent years, including passing laws regulating short-term rental industry platforms, including Airbnb. She advocated new regulations for lobbyists in Boston, new laws protecting the development environment, and limits on law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology. in the city. Working with then counselor, now US representative, Ayanna Pressley, she exposed the city’s embarrassingly low rate of awarding public service contracts to minority and female vendors, forcing changes in city processes.

In an interview, Wu said her legislative priorities, such as the new paid parental leave laws she pioneered in her first term, are shaped by the conversations she has had with voters from all over. the city.

“All this legislation has just been present in the community and connected to the emergency in our neighborhoods,” she said. “I know how big the gaps are in Boston because my family has been through a lot, and I continually see the challenges of our policies. And I have also known, for nearly a decade at City Hall, how to operate the levers of government to close these gaps. “

She also opposed Essaibi George’s criticism that some of his political visions are unrealistic and unrelated to mayor’s office, saying many have raised similar doubts about ordinances that she had already led to the passage. She said she had taken a regional approach to political issues and would continue to do so as mayor. As an example, she underlined the pressure from the neighborhood this helped Governor Charlie Baker decide last week to keep the reconstruction of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Soldiers Field Road at ground level across Allston, in order to facilitate new development in this neighborhood. Wu supported this plea.

“Our roadmap not only sets the pace for how we can make a difference through city government, but has also changed what’s possible from city council and city,” she said. “A lot of these legislative fights that we’ve been told would be un-winnable, and one after another, continuing to bring more people to the table and focusing on the emergency for our families, we set the standard. “

Essaibi George has supported many of Wu’s efforts, including the Wetlands Ordinance and the ban on facial recognition. But she’s also created her own portfolio, as well as her own approach to advancing her iconic causes. Hers is an approach rooted in behind-the-scenes advocacy, persuading both the Walsh and Janey administrations to lead. more funding for to fight against family homelessness and for mental health counseling. The number of clinicians responding to mental health crises in the city has grown from 2 in 2016, when she first took office, to 19 today, she said. She also successfully lobbied for funding for a nurse and social worker in every school building in the city. And she came up with new ways to safely collect the dirty needles that have polluted city streets.

After her election in 2016, she founded the Council’s Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health and Recovery, and co-founded a South End task force dedicated to tackling the drug and homeless epidemic in the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

Essaibi George said leadership requires boots on the pitch. “We cannot govern from our office, we cannot govern as if this work is an academic exercise,” she said.

She said she knew her efforts took root when she learned from a voter that her concern about a school transportation issue or a problem accessing a municipal program had been resolved.

“My style has been on the pitch and present in our community,” she said. “This is how we hear some of these results. . . . It is being present at community meetings, civic association meetings, being able to direct people to the services they need.

City Councilor Frank Baker, who represents parts of Dorchester and served with both candidates, said he supported Essaibi George in large part because of what he sees as his greater presence at community meetings, especially those regarding the opioid epidemic on Massachusetts Avenue – which he calls the most urgent problem facing the city.

“The approach that works for me is to be in the room, to be involved,” he said. “How are you going to rule when you are not involved?” “

He took issue with the idea that Boston needs to transform its politics, saying, “The status quo for the past 15 years has been a building, growing, safer, better city.

But several of the new city council members backed Wu, including Lydia Edwards and Ricardo Arroyo, as well as acting mayor Kim Janey, who served with her on council.

City Councilor Liz Breadon, the first openly gay woman to sit on council, argued Wu before foreplay, citing its global vision of the city on subjects ranging from housing to climate change.

“We’re right now in our city, our country and our planet, in fact, that we need to start thinking about different ways of doing things, different approaches,” said Breadon, who represents Allston and Brighton. “We just really have to think outside the box. “

She added: “There are obviously systemic issues that are not working right now, and we have to try to find solutions.”


Milton J. Valencia can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @miltonvalencia.



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