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Annissa Essaibi George tours downtown businesses stung by pandemic

Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George visited local businesses in Downtown Crossing Friday, the second-to-last stop on her “Get Boston Back to Business” tour.

boston city councilwoman annissa essaibi george talks to small business owners in downtown crossing
Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George visited small businesses in Downtown Crossing Friday as part of her “Get Boston Back to Business” tour. SAMUELE PETRUCCELLI/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Speaking with restaurants, clothing stores and hotels, the councilor discussed challenges businesses have faced during the pandemic and what support is needed from City Hall to promise a smooth recovery.

While discussions varied at individual businesses, each included talks of the past year’s struggles.

“This is about understanding Boston’s needs,” Essaibi George said in an interview. “We saw that on the trail today, meeting with local business owners and operators, that this isn’t about waiting until after I’m elected mayor, this is about the work that needs to be done today.”

As city councilor at-large, Essaibi George currently sits on the Small Business and Workforce Development Committee and said Mayor Marty Walsh’s departure to the federal government granted her the chance to advance her work.

“It created the perfect opportunity for me to step into that opportunity,” Essaibi George said, “so that I can continue the great work that I’ve done on the council in a different way.”

Malaika Lucien, Essaibi George’s communications director, said she shared the councilor’s enthusiasm to run for mayor.

“It’s really exciting to realize her vision that we’ve been talking about for like two and a half years in City Hall,” Lucien said. “We always thought about being and running for mayor, but now to actually see it on paper, it’s really exciting.”

Although Walsh still awaits confirmation as Labor Secretary under President Joe Biden, the race to fill his spot is taking shape.

Three out of the five major declared candidates are women — their victory would mark the first time a woman was elected to the role.

Essaibi George’s campaign has emphasized a need to address discrepancies made apparent by the pandemic, as well as the importance of local businesses.

Boston ranks fifth among U.S. cities with the largest decline in small business revenue, according to a November report from Opportunity Insights. SAMUELE PETRUCCELLI/ DFP STAFF

“Small shops and restaurants and businesses make each neighborhood special, and in turn, make Boston special,” Essaibi George said in a statement. “These past few months have been devastating for our small businesses. They need support to rebuild and recover.”

Boston witnessed the fifth largest drop — 65% — nationwide in small business revenue from January to April 2020, according to a November report from Opportunity Insights.

Essaibi George said the tour intended to educate people on the experiences of businesses and what is necessary to support their recovery.

“When I hear commonality, similar experiences from one business owner to another, that to me identifies the possibility for either a new legislative opportunity or editing, modifying a current policy that exists,” Essaibi George said.

Meeting with one local coffee shop, for example, the councilor heard concerns of permitting and licensing issues.

“That’s something that I’ve heard from other businesses,” Essaibi George said. “Now I take that information and see where the fix is.”

The Essaibi George administration looks to centralize city services, establish a streamlined licensing and permitting process and create a new small business mentoring program, according to the councilor’s campaign website.

Jim Hoben, owner of El Pelon Taqueria in Fenway, said the current permit process can be complicated and bureaucratic.

“I think what happens is the more regulations you land on, the more you end up getting big chain businesses coming in and they have a whole legal department,” Hoben said. “If you need a lawyer to navigate your city government, you probably made it too complicated.”

Hoben said Boston mayoral candidate Rep. Jon Santiago, D-Mass., has attracted his attention more than others — adding that he appreciates Santiago’s motivation to hear the concerns of his constituents.

“Boston’s a big city and you can’t do that everywhere,” Hoben said. “But I think the willingness to do that is kind of what you need because Boston is a city of neighborhoods.”

For Councilor Essaibi George, the campaign trail provides an opportunity to remind voters of her agenda. With Walsh’s final Senate confirmation vote slated for Monday, the councilor said she is confident in the future of her candidacy.

“I have a great deal of confidence in the voters’ view of me and my ability to work well on the council,” Essaibi George said, “and to push further an agenda that really does represent many individuals, many residents that are most often unheard in this work.”

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