By Stella Lorence
Boston University News Service
BOSTON – Parents and children were a recurring theme Wednesday night as five mayoral candidates fielded questions at the Boston Media Center in Needham.
Organized by the Dorchester Reporter, The Bay State Banner, Telemundo Boston, NECN and NBC10 Boston, and moderated by NBC10 anchor, Shannon Mulaire, the candidates touched on the Boston Public School system, defending their own experiences attending or raising children in BPS schools.
“As parents, we know every single logistical detail has a huge impact on the day-to-day,” said City Councilor Michelle Wu, who is leading in the most recent poll from Suffolk University and the Boston Globe. “But we need to center that the issues we are talking about now are because we’ve been missing a long term plan for BPS.”
Wu plugged her education plan, which includes expanding early childhood education and “connecting vocational education to every student and job pathway in the city.”
All five candidates agreed they would continue mandating masks in BPS schools if the FDA grants full approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 years of age.
“I don’t expect that masks will come off at any time during this year,” said City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who taught at East Boston High School for 13 years. Essaibi George said she would “follow the science” on mask and vaccine guidance as mayor.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey – who succeeded former Mayor Marty Walsh in March after he was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor – touched on her office’s progress on city education over the last six months, including an agreement reached with the bus drivers’ union Wednesday night, hours before the first day for BPS schools. The union had asked BPS to postpone the start of school, slated for Thursday, until the district agreed to revise routes.
The city’s bus shortage follows national trends, Janey pointed out.
“I remain encouraged,” Janey said. “Our bus drivers care about our kids.”
John Barros, former chief of economic development for the City of Boston, challenged Janey on her confidence, saying he had spoken to two bus drivers who described the routes for this school year as “the worst school year they’ve seen.”
Barros also took Janey to task for her response to crime and police reform, after Janey cited statistics showing decreases in homicides and increases in gun arrests.
“I’m not sure what Mayor Janey’s plan is,” Barros said. “Check her website; she is quoting data from work that the Walsh administration did.”
In response, Janey pointed out that her statistics were from 2020 to 2021 during her time in office, then defended them again against the challenge that crime rates were lower generally during the pandemic. Her statistics were in comparison to the city’s five-year average, she said.
“Even with those numbers trending in the right direction, that’s little comfort to those who have lost loved ones to gun violence,” Janey said. “Obviously we need to do more. That is work I’ve focused on my entire career, long before I was an elected official.”
On the subject of parenthood and families, all five candidates are parents, and children were frequently cited as a motivational reason for proposing big changes in the city, including school reforms, rapid action to protect against climate change and addressing crime, drug use and homelessness.
“As a mom, I will do whatever it takes to make sure our streets are safe,” Wu said.
On the subject of cleaning up “Mass and Cass” – a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue near Melnea Cass Boulevard where homeless encampments and substance use have grown – City Councilor Andrea Campbell pointed to her plan to appoint a “Mass and Cass” chief to coordinate services and response in the area.
“I grew up on Mass. Ave,” Campbell said. “We were poor, we didn’t have much. But we didn’t have needles in our parks, we didn’t have bodies on the ground and you don’t know if the person is dead or alive.”
Campbell also said her plan includes reactivating Long Island, an island in the Boston Harbor. Walsh cut all access to Long Island in 2014, after the state Department of Transportation declared that the bridge linking the island to the mainland was unsafe. The Long Island Bridge was demolished in 2015, ending the public services and homeless shelters that had been active on the island. Campbell favors resuming ferry service to the island.
Wednesday’s debate came less than a week before the primary election on Tuesday, Sept.14. The top two candidates will be on the ballot on Nov. 2.
Another debate, organized by WBUR, the Boston Globe, WCVB and the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston, will feature the same five candidates on Thursday, at 7 p.m.