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Boston mayoral candidates turn to Black community in bid to win support

A polling station in Concord, New Hampshire. 2021 Boston Mayoral candidates Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu are working to earn the support of the voter base of Kim Janey, Andrea Campbell and John Barros from the Sept. 14 preliminary election. SOPHIE PARK/ DFP FILE

By: Jit Ping Lee

As they enter the last month of campaigning before the general election, mayoral candidates Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu are vying for the support of those who previously voted for their defeated rivals from the Sept. 14 preliminary election. 

The third to fifth place finishers, Andrea Campbell, Kim Janey and John Barros, captured a total of 42.38% of the votes cast in the primary. These voters must now decide between Wu and Essaibi George on Nov. 4. 

Ed Burley, the co-chair of the steering committee at Jamaica Plain Progressives, said the elimination of all the Black candidates in the preliminary elections was “shocking.”

“I think there’s a big letdown because people felt that this election, that for sure there was going to be a Black mayor, or at the very least, a Black finalist,” he said. “I do feel like there’s a lot of disappointment and frustration.”

Burley said he thinks because of this, voter turnout among Black voters in Boston is “definitely a concern” — making campaigning all the more important.

Research director of the MassINC Polling Group, Richard Parr, said it is important to note where the majority of the defeated preliminary candidates’ voter base came from to predict who they might favor in the general election. 

Parr added that Wu did better than Essaibi George in the majority of areas where Janey, Campbell or Barros won. 

While Janey only placed fourth in the primary, she won the second greatest number of precincts, losing only to Wu. Election results maps show Janey won the minority-majority areas of Roxbury, Mattapan, parts of Dorchester and Hyde Park.

“[Wu] tended to do better than Annissa Essaibi George in most of those places,” Parr said, “which is a sign that she probably is better positioned in those precincts to pick up more votes in the November election.”

However, State Rep. Nika Elugardo, D-Mass, said voter turnout may be dampened because of the loss of a Black candidate for mayor. 

“I think it’ll be a big challenge to motivate people to get out,” Elguardo said. “Because I think that historically African Americans don’t vote when they’re discouraged in large percentages. And I think people are discouraged.”

Burley said Wu and Essaibi George will have to work to win his vote and that of other Black voters through their words, policies and behavior in the lead-up to the election. 

“For some people, they either might not vote or, I think, it might be a significant amount of Black voters who decided to write in a candidate who is not on the ballot,” he said.

Both Essaibi George and Wu have made concerted attempts to engage Black voters. 

Wu was recently endorsed by Janey and State Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass, the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council and Massachusetts’ first woman of color elected to the U.S. Congress. 

Janey explicitly called out the significance of the Black vote in her endorsement speech.

“The Black vote is very important to this election,” Janey said during the Sept. 25 event. “It is important to the future of Boston.” 

Essaibi George launched Tuesday her 46-page “Equity, Inclusion and Justice Agenda” — that includes a $50 million fund that can be deployed directly to support Black, Pacific Islander, Latinx and Asian American entrepreneurs within the first 100 days in office. 

“Creating a more equitable, inclusive, and just Boston will be a charge in which I will intentionally and deliberately work towards every single day as your Mayor.” Essaibi George said in a Tuesday press release. 

Reverend Edwin Johnson of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dorchester, where a majority of the congregation identifies as Black, said some of the biggest issues for the congregation in this election are affordable housing, addressing community violence and job access. 

“Housing, safety and employment are probably the biggest issues for our people,” he said. 

Ashawn Dabney-Small, founder and executive director of The Black Society — a non-profit community organization working with Black and brown students in Boston — highlighted education and policing as other concerns central to the community. 

“The education system has failed Black and brown students time and time again,” Dabney-Small said. 

Part of Essaibi George’s Equity, Inclusion and Justice Agenda is to increase trust in the police department via mandating the release of body camera footage within 24 hours of an incident and to double the police department’s community services budget, as well as to fulfill the Boston Police Reform Task Force’s recommendations. 

However, Dabney-Small said the plan would “continue to take money from Black people, and continue to take money from the city that could be allocated somewhere else.”

“The number one thing that we want to see fixed is the relationship restored within the Boston Police Department,” he said. 

Elugardo noted the difference in campaign styles of both candidates in trying to understand the problems facing the Black community. 

She said Wu has been spending more time talking to community leaders to get a bigger picture of the problems facing the Black community while Essaibi George has focused her time on “the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the young people who are just in the community.”

Elugardo said while both approaches are important, the “intellectual wisdom” of how to dismantle the structural issues facing people of color is something that’s also very essential.

A forum for Black voters sponsored by four Black clergy organizations was attended by both candidates Sept. 22. Johnson said he came away from the forum “hopeful,” — that “either way, our city will be in good hands.”

“Ultimately we are looking for candidates that are interested in the people who don’t have as much of a voice,” he said. “It’s those candidates who are willing to come to those places and to interact with us that are going to be the candidates that will most be able to represent us.”

One Comment

  1. Dennis Kelleher

    Poverty Rate for Hispanics and Asians is just over 33% while it is 24% for Blacks. Why don’t we ever hear about Asian poverty? If there is any group that does not have a voice it is Asians. I hope my comment will not be ignored as much as Asians are. I am not Asian. Just observing.

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