By Talia Lissauer
Boston University News Service
Housing, education and police reform were at the forefront of the first 2021 Boston mayoral debate where At-Large City Council members Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George went head-to-head for the first time since the preliminary election.
Moderator John Keller, a WBZ-TV political analyst, opened the debate by asking the two to describe any differences between their campaigns. Essaibi George, widely viewed in the tightened race as the moderate-leaning Democrat to Wu’s progressive platform, said she will be more hands-on than Wu when working to create change, though both candidates admitted to a lack of major distinctions.
Wu responded by stating some of the major elected official’s endorsements she has gained by working with the people.
“We have a track record of working together and getting things done,” Wu said during the debate. “Not just being in the community but ensuring that we are doing the work, passing legislation, delivering on equity in city contracting, ensuring that Boston is leading the way on climate justice, housing affordability, public transportation, the foundation of what our families need.”
Housing has become a central issue of the campaign, with increased attention on the homeless encampment at Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, where drug use and other crimes are rampant. Both candidates agreed there is a major crisis and action needs to be taken now but disagreed on how to create change.
Essaibi George’s goals, which she said she will begin on day one, include more affordable housing, first-time buyers, and investment in Boston public housing.
Within her first 100 days, Wu said she will take action in the housing crisis and displacement of residents through rent stabilization and creating more housing opportunities. Essaibi George has been highly critical of rent stabilization.
Both candidates also discussed disparities and issues with the Boston public school system. As a former teacher, Essaibi George said she would like to put effort into the lower-ranked schools so all schools can be good schools.
“Put a Boston public schools mom in charge and we will see a difference. And add in teacher to that resume and we’ve got a recipe for true success in our schools,” Essaibi George said during the debate. “Making sure those resources are spent wisely … We have a great deal of work to do. So much of it, I have started as a member of the Boston City Council.”
Wu highlighted her experience as a mother with kids in the public school system, and how important it is to focus on the “little issues” in school like water on a hot day and school buses.
When it comes to public safety, a majority of Black and Latino voters believe reforming the Boston police is a major priority, while simultaneously believing getting tougher on crime was a major priority, according to a new poll cited by Keller during the debate. The two candidates have different visions for how to improve public safety.
Essaibi George said ensuring that Boston is a safe and just city that holds people accountable is important. She wants to work with the people and invest in public safety, not defund the police system.
Wu said she wants to find solutions focusing on public health, accountability and finding a police commissioner that will work on change with her.
A recent WBUR poll released shows Wu 32 points ahead in the polls less than three weeks before the election. More elected officials have endorsed Wu, whereas a majority of labor unions have endorsed Essaibi George.
The two will face off in two more debates before the election on November 2.