On Tuesday, Boston voters face a choice on who to elect as the next mayor of the city. The departure of Mayor Marty Walsh, former two-term mayor of Boston and BC ’09, to serve as President Joseph R. Biden’s secretary of labor left the race wide open with no incumbent. Following the crowded Sept. 14 primary election, Boston voters selected City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George to advance to the general election, beating out other strong candidates such as City Councilor Andrea Campbell and Acting Mayor Kim Janey. Wu came out ahead in the primary with the largest share of the vote, totaling 33 percent of the vote compared to Essaibi George’s 22.5 percent, and it looks likely that Wu’s lead will hold going into the general election.
No matter which way the November election swings, Boston will have its first elected mayor of color come 2021— Wu is Taiwanese-American and Essaibi George is Tunisian-American. Both candidates are first-generation Americans. This should certainly be celebrated, especially considering that Boston has only ever elected white men as mayor for the last two hundred years, with Italian and Irish American men serving as mayor for the last 91 years.
However, the policy differences between the two candidates are stark. Wu and Essaibi George represent the two ends of the ideological spectrum within the Democratic Party. Wu, a former Elizabeth Warren staffer, is a progressive candidate, arguing for policy positions such as a city-wide Green New Deal and making the MBTA free. In contrast, Essaibi George is more moderate, arguing for increasing the number of police officers in the city, among other, more centrist policy positions. In a city where voters have identified the top two issues on their minds as housing and racial equality, it is clear that Wu is the better choice for what Bostonians need in a mayor.
On the forefront of voters’ minds is affordable housing in the city. The demand for housing in Boston far outpaces the supply, and restrictive zoning decisions have prevented the development of adequate and affordable low- and middle-income housing. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the urgency around housing in Boston—prices on rent are rising and residents are in increasingly precarious situations. A significant illness or a period of unemployment could be the difference between a renter having a roof over their head or ending up homeless.
Wu is the only candidate in the race who is pushing for rent control, which would constrain the rapidly rising prices of rent in the city. Wu’s unique position among her peers on this issue is surprising, considering that 76 percent of Boston voters approve of some form of rent control, with 59 percent being strong supporters. A rent control policy would assist in stabilizing the inflating housing costs in the city, preventing the displacement of long-time residents and low- and moderate-income families that are currently being priced out of their properties. In 2015, Black households in the greater Boston area had a median net worth of $8, compared to a median net worth $247,500 for white households in the same area. Affordable housing and racial equality are inextricably linked. Families of color are increasingly being pushed out of Boston by exorbitant rental prices, and Wu is the only candidate who feels the urgency to address this issue.
Additionally, Wu’s progressive strength on other key issues makes her a more attractive candidate for transformative change in the city. On issues of racial equality and environmental racism, Wu has proposed responsive policies—she favors reallocating the Boston Police Department’s budget, while Essaibi George is the only candidate to advocate for increasing the number of police officers in Boston’s neighborhoods. On environmental issues, especially environmental racism, Wu has proposed making the MBTA free to reduce traffic congestion and increase accessibility for low-income Bostonians, and has proposed the nation’s first city-level Green New Deal.
In contrast, Essaibi George is far more moderate on these issues, and she is out of touch with the preferences of Boston voters. In the primary election, she mainly carried the older, whiter, more affluent neighborhoods of the city. She is also a staunch opponent of rent control policies. This is unsurprising. Essaibi George’s husband, a property developer in the city, has repeatedly gone to court to evict tenants who are receiving state and federal housing assistance, and has neglected to pay property taxes to the city. He has additionally been sued multiple times for safety and building code violations in the properties he rents out, and his neglect for the wellbeing of his tenants has led to several renters being injured, one from a collapsing ceiling, and one from falling through a decaying porch. As a city councilor, Essaibi George has been accused of having used her office to attempt to block a building project in South Boston that would have obscured the views from her husband’s luxury condominium project. Essaibi George’s relationship with special interests places her squarely on the side of the landlords and developers that are driving the rising prices and gentrification, rather than on the side of the working people of Boston.
When Boston voters go to the ballot box on Tuesday, the choice that would be on the side of working Bostonians is clear: Wu is in touch with the prevailing opinions of the people of Boston, and she has the progressive policy ideas that would help transform the City of Boston to be more in line with the beliefs and needs of Boston residents.
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau/ Heights Editor