Councilors Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu clashed in their first one-on-one debate over the general mayoral election on Wednesday evening – and the event was not short in contrasts.
From police reform to housing via Mass. and Cass to the leadership style, the two general election candidates made sharp distinctions. And with the polls suggesting she needs to catch up, it was often Essaibi George on the attack.
“I think there is a very clear distinction,” she said, after highlighting her record of “engagement” and “presentation” in the community.
“It’s so important to think boldly, and I do it every day,” Essaibi George said. “I also do the work every day. “
Wu countered that the two candidates – both of whom are Democratic city councilors in general – were present in the community, but the current approach has failed to address worsening issues like housing and homelessness.
“We are at a time when waiting and sitting and hoping that other levels of government or slow and comfortable conversations are not going to be enough anymore,” Wu said.
A conflict over housing and displacement
On the housing issue, the two candidates agreed on the urgency of tackling Boston’s affordability crisis – with slightly different accents.
Essaibi George called for more investment in first-time home buying assistance and social housing for low-income families. Wu, on the other hand, emphasized tenants, saying the city “needs to take a much more proactive role in directing resources and keeping people in their communities,” as well as in streamlining process to build more affordable housing.
This led Essaibi George to aim for Wu’s outspoken support for rent control, after WBZ host Jon Keller, who was moderating the debate, noted that landlords who own only one property account for 68% of residential rental properties in Boston.
“I will make it very clear that Councilor Wu – Michelle – does not believe in the power of this small landlord,” Essaibi George said, arguing that the rent control “would create further divestment in our town” that would evict residents.
“Rent control is not the solution,” she said. “This is not the solution to the challenge here in the city.”
Wu replied that “we cannot be afraid and listen to fear-mongering tactics,” pointing out that residents already fear the displacement due to rising rents. Wu has made it clear that she will pursue a multi-pronged approach to create more affordable housing, but rent controls are needed in the short term to limit travel.
Implementation of such a policy would depend on state legislators approving legislation that would repeal – or at least give Boston an exemption from – the voter-approved ban on rent control in Massachusetts. Wu – who unlike Essaibi George has been publicly endorsed by more than 20 state lawmakers – said she would work with State House partners on the issue.
“It is not enough to just reject the policy because it is too complicated or we are afraid of unintended consequences,” she said. “Let’s have this conversation. Let’s make sure everything is on the table.
Essaibi George claims she is in fact the leader of police reform
The two candidates also clashed over the issue of policing.
Essaibi George, who called for the addition of 300 officers to the Boston Police Department and spoke out against so-called efforts to fund the police, has earned a reputation as the most pro policeman in the race.
But she also said on Wednesday that she would fully implement recommendations made a year ago by a city-commissioned police reform task force and highlighted her work to increase the number of social workers helping. police to respond to mental health calls from two to 19.
“This is the work I did as a member of Boston City Council,” she said, later adding that “Michelle did not carry out the necessary reforms.”
Wu replied that she was “grateful” for Essaibi George’s leadership on the subject, but that “going from two to 19 clinicians” did not meet the larger need for police reform in a city of hundreds of thousands. inhabitants.
“We have to be courageous to achieve the scale of change our residents deserve,” Wu said, adding that the city should “build” on a pilot program launched by Acting Mayor Kim Janey to get paramedics to respond and mental health workers. – without the police – to 911 calls concerning mental health problems.
Essaibi George argued that the pilot was a “product of my work at Boston City Council”. She also criticized Wu for her vote against the city’s budget last summer, which she said resulted in the loss of 43 paramedics (Essaibi George was also approved by the local EMS union).
Wu replied that Essabi George’s comments were “just not true”; other city councilors had said at the time that the adoption of the budget was never in doubt.
“We don’t need false choices that pit our people against each other or underestimate what’s possible for this city,” Wu said Wednesday evening.
To Mass. and Cass, what emergency is urgent?
Both candidates also stressed the urgency to tackle the homelessness, drug addiction and violence crisis around the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, but differed on details.
Asked about recent proposals to lock up homeless people in a redeveloped South Bay detention center or the former Shattuck Hospital in Franklin Park, Wu said she was “open to conversations about the two.” However, she stressed that she was focusing on auditing all of the empty city-owned buildings within her first 100 so-called mayor to see if they could be redeveloped for supportive housing.
Essaibi George said the city should “explore” using the South Bay Detention Center, as long as it was a “public health supervised effort”. She also said “we have to use the Shattuck” as well as rebuild the bridge to Long Island, which housed salvage services until the bridge was demolished for safety reasons in 2014, which many see as a factor. aggravating the worsening conditions at mass. . and Cass.
“We cannot wait until the first 100 days of any municipal administration are over,” Essaibi George said. “It’s a job that needs to be done today. “
Wu countered that rebuilding the Long Island Bridge – an effort currently trapped by Quincy City legal challenges – could take up to 10 years. Wu said it would be “much faster” to rehabilitate buildings for housing or activate a ferry service to Long Island, which Essaibi George objected to.
Wu added that there has been “incredible frustration” among community members with the current approach. Essaibi George replied that the efforts that were underway under former mayor Marty Walsh had ‘stalled’ under Janey, to which Wu replied, “we shouldn’t be pointing fingers, but making sure we keep building. [and] tap into all the resources we have.
Asked later to assess Walsh’s record, Essaibi George said the Dorchester native compatriot was a “good mayor”, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wu praised Walsh, now US Secretary of Labor, as a “strong leader for our city.”
But she again underlined her dissatisfaction with the current trajectory.
“Over the past decade, Boston has seen tremendous pressure build up on our residents – our housing crisis, the pandemic, jobs, the transportation system, our schools,” Wu said. ‘make sure we don’t keep taking small steps towards where we need to go. “
The two candidates will meet in less than a week for their second debate on Tuesday, October 19 at 7 p.m. on NBC Boston.
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