By STEVE LeBLANC, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) – Boston’s top mayoral candidates clashed on a range of topics – from education and climate change to housing affordability and public safety – in their first televised debate on Wednesday, less than a week before the preliminary elections next Tuesday.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey, City Councilors Annissa Essaibi George, Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, and John Barros, the city’s former chief economic development officer, faced off in the hour-long debate sponsored by NBC10 Boston, Telemundo Boston and NECN.
One of the main concerns was the city’s public school system.
As students return to class in what is now the third school year affected by the pandemic, candidates agreed that students, teachers and staff should continue to wear masks given the threat of the delta variant of COVID. -19 and the fact that children under 12 may not yet receive vaccines.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey said she was excited for the start of the new school year, but acknowledged that many challenges remain.
“It will be difficult, but we will be fine,” she said.
Candidates discussed other longer-term issues that continue to weigh on schools.
Michelle Wu said she will work to close the early childhood education gap, create a “children’s cabinet” in the mayor’s office and strengthen vocational education while Essabi George, who has taught in public schools, said she is committed to ensuring that students at “every seat in every classroom in every community have a high quality experience.”
Campbell criticized the administration for not better preparing for a potential shortage of school bus drivers. She said she was one of the parents with children in schools who received a taped call warning of a driver shortage.
“We should have been proactive in planning this,” she said, adding that each parent should have been contacted individually.
Barros said the school transport program – originally intended to integrate the city’s schools and create more equality in education – failed, including the families he was supposed to help.
“We have to make sure that every neighborhood has a quality school,” he said. “We should all walk to schools in our neighborhood. “
The five also said the city needs to do more to ensure residents can continue to live in the city in the face of soaring housing costs.
Some of the candidates, including Janey and Essaibi, said the city should focus on down payment assistance for new homeowners, while Campbell said the city should do more to convert city-owned lots into housing. affordable. Wu said she supports stabilizing rents, a proposal that could be difficult given that rent controls have been banned in Massachusetts.
“Housing is health. Housing is an opportunity. Housing is security, ”Wu said.
Janey said she had issued an order banning evictions during the ongoing pandemic.
Candidates also addressed the threat of climate change, not only threats to neighborhoods near the port, but other disparities accentuated by climate change, such as canopy coverage between the wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods in the city.
“Climate action is so important in our city,” Essaibi George said. “We must act quickly in the face of environmental injustices. “
Wu said the city needs to take action big and small to deal with rising heat, more frequent flooding and more intense rains – from adopting electric school buses to planting trees.
“We have to do a lot more and a lot faster,” she said.
The candidates also said the city must respond to the root causes of other problems such as drug addiction and crime.
All the candidates are Democrats. Boston mayoral races do not include the party primaries. The two people with the most votes in the September 14 preliminary elections will face off on November 2.
The campaign marks a turning point in the city’s history. The preliminary elections will almost certainly for the first time reduce the field of mayoral candidates to two candidates of color, possibly two women.
Wu’s parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan. Janey and Campbell are black. Essaibi George describes herself as a first generation Arab-Polish American. Barros is of Cape Verdean origin.
Throughout its history, Boston has elected only white men as mayors.
Wu has held a lead over the other four top contenders in a number of recent polls, creating a scramble among other second-place contenders if Wu’s lead holds up.
Janey, who became the first black Bostonian and the first woman to hold the city’s highest office after former mayor Marty Walsh resigned earlier this year to become President Joe Biden’s labor secretary, traded spades with Campbell.
Essaibi George also targeted Janey, who used the higher public profile offered by the mayor’s office to help propel her campaign. Strategy has been a double-edged sword, bringing Janey both praise and criticism.
Barros struggled to gain traction in the contest.
Janey has raised the most campaign money this year, grossing over $ 1.5 million since January.
Campbell, who has raised more than $ 1.4 million since January, followed by Wu and Essaibi George, both of whom have raised more than $ 1.3 million.
Barros raised approximately $ 644,000.
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