BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Mayoral candidates and city councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George went head-to-head on Wednesday night in a live televised debate on WBZ-TV, which was broadcast live on WBZ NewsRadio.
The debate, moderated by WBZ-TV Political Analyst Jon Keller, touched on several hot-button issues that are top of mind for many Bostonians, including housing, public schools and the ongoing situation at Mass Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in the South End.
Michelle Wu's opening statement focused on her lived experience as someone who lives and works in the city, and her track record of "fighting for the boldest vision" of city policy, like paid parental leave. Essaibi George specifically highlighted her time as a teacher in Boston Public Schools in her opening, and gave a shout-out to the city's small businesses. The Boston Teacher's Union has notably not endorsed any candidate in the race, but has endorsed candidates for city councilor.
Mass and Cass
In response to prompting from Keller, the two candidates gave differing solutions to the ongoing homelessness and substance abuse problems in the South End. Keller had brought up two possible solutions to the crisis, involuntarily committing the homeless at Mass and Cass to one of the city's correctional facilities or treating them at Shattuck Hospital in Franklin Park.
Wu said she would commit money toward outreach and would have the city conduct an audit of city-owned buildings to see where the inhabitants of Mass and Cass can go in her first hundred days.
She said it was important that the city focus on "not criminalizing patients that are there."
Essaibi George responded to Wu by saying the city could not wait for the first hundred days in the next mayoral administration, offering her support for Shattuck Hospital solution and rebuilding the bridge to Long Island's mental health facilities in Boston Harbor.
Essaibi George also said the current situation in the South End had unraveled under the Janey administration. Wu responded that rebuilding the bridge would take too long and ferry service to Long Island was a better solution.
Affordable Housing and Rent Control
On housing, Essaibi George focused her comments on home owners, saying that the city needed to "create more first-time home buyer opportunities," including for those who have been renting here for generations.
She also called for city investments in public housing.
Wu said the city government needed to play a bigger role in keeping people housed, and for using city-owned building and lands to develop more places to live.
In one of the few direct attacks of the night, Essaibi George blasted Wu on her support for rent control — one of Wu's signature proposed policies — saying "Councilor Wu does not believe in the power of that small landlord," and that the policy has failed in Boston before.
In response, Wu said the city can't be "afraid" of rent control, saying "everything should be on the table" to keep people in their homes.
Crime and Police Reform
Essaibi George and Wu both called for more transparency in the Boston Police Department, but differed on the strategy from there.
Essaibi George called for more community policing, saying "I believe in investing in public safety, not defunding our public safety agency,."
Wu said she would focus on the public health aspect of enforcement, citing her personal experience caring for a mother with mental illness. She also said she would be looking for certain things in the hunt for a new permanent Boston Police commissioner, including negotiating a new union contract.
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