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Wu, Essaibi George clash over rent control, MBTA in second televised mayoral debate

City Councilors Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu conflicted on topics from education to rent control during the second televised Boston mayoral debate, held at the NBCUniversal Boston Media Center on Tuesday.

Each candidate was allowed to ask the other one question to kick off the debate before a panel took over to ask questions. The candidates did not have prior access to questions beforehand, and viewer questions were gathered in advance through social media channels.

Wu and Essaibi George debating
Boston mayoral candidates Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George during Tuesday night’s mayoral debate. In their second televised debate, the candidates started by posing one prepared question to each other before answering panelist questions. ILLUSTRATION BY CONOR KELLEY/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Following introductions, Essaibi George opened the debate by asking Wu about her position on the entrance exam process in public schools and said it seems to change depending on the crowd Wu is addressing. 

Wu said she supports entrance exams when combined with grades and economic criteria, ensuring that resources are being invested to lift up all Boston children. She cited her experience as a mother of two boys and her younger sister’s legal guardian as a key influence in her devotion to public education and passion for having a “pathway to quality and opportunity.”

“I want to make sure that we have a process that is fair, that is equitable and that reflects the diversity and community and talent of our city,” Wu said. 

When pressed about her alleged tendency to change answers depending on her audience regarding public schools that require entrance exams, Wu responded that was false. 

“That’s simply not true, Annissa [Essaibi George],” Wu said.“This is a big distinction between us, that I support having equity in every part of our [education] system, and I think it’s right that we are adding reforms to this process.”

Wu’s question for Essaibi George focused on transportation, asking what her plans are to improve traffic and ensure Bostonians are able to navigate their city. 

Essaibi George agreed with the notion that traffic needs to be improved and said the system must be made safer for pedestrians, cyclists, cars and public transit. However, she countered Wu’s plan to make the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority fare-free by asserting that this reform is “impossible” without state-level involvement.

Essaibi George said if the state did not cooperate with this initiative, the $2.3 billion price tag would fall on the people of Boston — a possibility she deemed “unfair.” 

The first panelist asked candidates whether they agree with Mayor Kim Janey’s recent declaration of homelessness and addiction as a public health crisis in an executive order referencing the situation at Massachusetts Ave. and Melnea Cass Blvd., where an encampment of people experiencing homelessness will be relocated from their current temporary shelters by city officials.

Essaibi George credited Janey’s decision as a factor that impacted her plan for solving the crisis in the area known as Mass. and Cass. She said coordination and teamwork between cities, communities and the federal and state governments must be achieved to resolve the issue. 

“There are hundreds of individuals tonight who are in crisis,” Essaibi George said. “Could be my child, could be your child, we’ve got work to do, and we have to do it together.”

Wu said she supported the decision to declare a public health crisis and said she would expand upon this by appointing a cabinet-level chief to oversee command structure and provide heightened accountability and coordination to tackle the issue at Mass. and Cass.

 “I stand in support of the leadership here to declare this a crisis in our communities,” Wu said, “and I’m going to go even further.” 

The panelists described a Suffolk University poll that revealed 59% of Bostonians support rent control and 29% oppose the practice before asking Essaibi George her stance.

Essaibi George responded by acknowledging that high rent prices are an acute problem plaguing the city of Boston, but that rent control is not the solution. 

“It has been tried, it has failed,” Essaibi George said. “And if we’re talking about being bold, if we’re talking about having a big vision for this city, rent control is not the answer.”

Wu, who has publicly endorsed rent control, rebutted that renters in the city struggle with many challenges and every housing plan should consider renters. 

“We’re not talking about going back to an old, tired way of doing things,” Wu said. “We’re talking about joining the cities across the country that have seen rent stabilization work in keeping people in their homes.”

Another question addressed how the candidates would enforce police accountability when officers engage in fireable behavior, such as overtime abuse and allegations of assault, but keep their jobs. 

Essaibi George said her administration would take recommendations from the Boston Police Reform Task Force centered around greater transparency, accountability and diversity. 

Wu said she is committed to creating new legislation addressing this issue, highlighting her early support for taskforce recommendations and bills that ban racially discriminatory surveillance technology and address mental health without police intervention. 

“There’s a clear difference in this race between continuing the status quo of choosing to just try to nibble around the edges of the changes that we need,” Wu said, “or truly ensuring that we are bringing community and to deliver the bold changes that are necessary and possible in this moment.”

A highly polarizing moment in the debate stemmed from talks of a Boston Globe article that indicated Essaibi George aided her husband in a dispute with a housing developer while acting as a City Councilor. 

Essaibi George denied those allegations, explaining that she has no involvement in her partner’s business and “has filed a report with the Ethics Commission to clarify what transpired.” 

“In this particular case, my staff, my team did what we always did. We worked with our neighbors, we’ve worked with our residents. We heard their concerns and supported the efforts of both the district councilor and the neighbors and opposed this project,” Essaibi George said.

Tensions also rose in the studio when Essaibi George pressed Wu about her relation to Terry Considine, the father of Wu’s college roommate and a former Colorado Republican politician who has donated to her campaign.

“The voters of Boston deserve to know about your relationship with Terry Considine,” Essaibi George said. 

Essaibi George said Considine is a “hate monger” with a track record of discriminatory and racist remarks, whose family, Essaibi George alleged, had a role in helping Wu purchase her home.

Wu denied these claims, clarifying that she bought the home initially with her college roommate alone and had “absolutely no assistance purchasing” it. 

Wu continued to denounce personal attacks of this nature, saying that the City of Boston deserved better after the politics of fear-mongering and falsehoods that became the norm under the previous presidential administration. 

“This is not what I wanted this mayoral race to turn into, and this is what I have tried to ensure that we stay focused on the issues,” Wu said. “There’s absolutely no wrongdoing that happened here, and I am willing and able to stand behind every single bit of the success and stability that my family has had because it has taken hard work.

The night ended with a “rapid-fire” question session, which included more serious questions such as their household income, some light-hearted questions such as their favorite Red Sox players and closing statements from each competitor where they expressed their gratitude for being in the race for Boston’s next mayor.

The final mayoral debate will be held on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. on WCVB Channel 5. Early voting in Boston begins Oct. 23, and the final deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Oct. 27.

Article updated 10/21 to remove inaccuracies about candidates’ household income.

2 Comments

  1. Oh dear, we are in trouble! Responses are weak and not informative enough.

  2. I find it odd that the Daily Free Press endorsed Michelle Wu rather than Essaibi George who is a BU alumnus.

    I voted for Ms. Wu at the September primary and I will vote for her on election day. Nonetheless is there no unity among the student body to support Ms. George and an endorsement by the paper? Shouldn’t the dean of students and the president endorse Ms. George?

    In my opinion the Daily Free Press snubbed Ms. George, and Dean Elmore and President Brown are being mum while privately are rooting for Ms. Wu.