Mayoral candidates offer new insights on issues, visions in Reporter survey

The five major candidates for mayor, from left: John Barros, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, Kim Janey and Michelle Wu. WBUR image

Candidates grade Walsh, weigh in on role models, school board

We asked, they answered.

The Reporter last month sent questionnaires to the five major mayoral candidates seeking to replace Marty Walsh. They are Acting Mayor Kim Janey, former Walsh economic development chief John Barros and City Councillors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu.

Walsh’s departure for the Biden administration catapulted Janey, the Boston City Council president, into the acting mayor’s chair, shaking up a race that already had two Walsh critics: Campbell, who represents Dorchester and Mattapan on the City Council, and Wu, who like Campbell launched her campaign last year, before Walsh’s promotion to heading the U.S. Labor Department.

Essaibi George, a city councillor at-large and former teacher, and Barros, who served as Walsh’s economic development chief, soon followed in announcing their own candidacies.

The Sept. 14 preliminary will winnow the field to two candidates.

In order to help voters make a decision, the Reporter, much like we did in 2013, sent the questionnaires to their campaigns. We asked them to let us know who their political role models are, how they would manage the historic Strand Theater in Uphams Corner, grades for Walsh and Janey, their take on returning to an elected school committee, and more.

Here's a summary on each— in alphabetical order. Be sure to click links to read the full questionnaire responses at the end of each section.

BARROS— ‘DIVERSE COMMUNITY VOICES MUST BE AT THE TABLE’

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JOHN BARROS
47, Dorchester resident
Boston chief of economic development, 2014-2021; executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, 1999-2013.

Political role models
Gus Newport, former mayor of Berkeley, California, and former executive director of Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. An advisor and mentor on community engagement, sustainable housing and neighborhood development and investment Mel King, mentor and advisor. Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist.

Top priority
To urgently provide more safe, stable, high-quality affordable homes for Bostonians in every neighborhood and every income level. From an early age, I appreciated how much it meant for my parents, who immigrated from Cabo Verde, to purchase their own home and build a stable financial foundation that allows us to stay in our neighborhood surrounded by family.

How would you seek to program, market and utilize the historic city-owned Strand Theater in Uphams Corner?

The Strand should be a performance venue for the region, but also have art and music studio space that can be rented out to local artists and performers. A separate operator will have the staffing and budget to help the Strand fulfill its potential, while the City of Boston can focus on marketing the asset and attracting more patrons, and work with the neighborhood to continue plans to create more affordable artist and commercial space, as well as more mixed housing and neighborhood amenities. Once the redesign is complete we can begin to build more housing on top of the Strand.

Do you favor a return to an elected School Committee?

As a former School Committee member, I know how important it is to have diverse voices at the table when critical decisions are being made about our schools and our children. As Mayor, I will lead an inclusive discussion with all stakeholders to consider how a hybrid Committee could ensure geographic and racial representation of the BPS community. I will support the appointment of at least one additional student seat.

What is your assessment of the Walsh administration’s overall performance? Please offer a letter grade or pass/fail as part of your answer.

I’m proud to have served in the Walsh administration for seven years as Boston’s first-ever Chief of Economic Development, and believe we deserve a high grade. We helped to create 140,000 new jobs, increased revenue by millions for job training for local residents, and created real opportunities for women, people of color, immigrants, and veterans.

What is your assessment of acting Mayor Kim Janey’s performance since taking office in March 2021? Please offer a letter grade or pass/fail as part of your answer.

I give a grade of “needs serious improvement.” That being said, I am pleased that acting Mayor Janey is continuing a number of the programs I created and implemented, from procurement to workforce development to small business support, and am flattered that she plans to pilot a new approach to police and public safety that I proposed earlier in my campaign.

What in your experience to date will most help you to be an effective leader?
As a teenage organizer involved in DSNI, then later as its Executive Director for more than a decade, I learned a lot about how to be both an effective leader and a grassroots organizer. To me, the biggest lesson I learned from DSNI was the importance and value of having a diverse set of community voices at the decision making table. Members of a community are best positioned to know the issues impacting their neighborhood and potential solutions to each issue. I have taken that lesson and those values with me into every role I have held, and I would continue to bring community voices to the table--and listen to these voices--as mayor of the City of Boston.

Read John Barros's full responses to the Dorchester Reporter questionnaire here.

CAMPBELL— ‘ A PROVEN TRACK RECORD OF DELIVERING RESULTS’

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ANDREA CAMPBELL
39, Mattapan resident
District 4 Councillor, former deputy legal counsel under Gov. Patrick

Political role models
Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke at my law school graduation while DA in San Francisco.
Voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, who has modeled what it means to turn pain into purpose.

Top priority

If elected, I will lead through an equity lens and prioritize executing an equitable Covid-19 recovery to ensure our public health and economic recovery reaches all our neighborhoods. I will also ensure every student has access to a quality, public education in the city of Boston.

How would you seek to program, market and utilize the historic city-owned Strand Theater in Uphams Corner?

I will work in partnership with community organizations in Dorchester and Roxbury to plan meaningful programming for the cultural community that will also make the Strand and Uphams Corner a destination for residents across our city. I will prioritize and protect artist and performance spaces being threatened by displacement, promote the expansion of public art, and connect our arts and cultural institutions to our public schools, seniors and business community.

Do you favor a return to an elected School Committee?

The current all-appointed structure is not working. I believe a hybrid system is the way to get to a more equitable BPS system, with some elected and some appointed members. We should also empower our student representative(s) with voting power on the committee and the same stipend the adult members receive.

What is your assessment of the Walsh administration’s overall performance? Please offer a letter grade or pass/fail as part of your answer.

It’s no secret that I felt Mayor Walsh should have done more to tackle systemic inequity in Boston, particularly in our public schools, and more to address the public health crisis at Mass. and Cass. However, the Mayor led the city steadily through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, for which he deserves enormous credit. Grade: C.

What is your assessment of acting Mayor Kim Janey’s performance since taking office in March 2021? Please offer a letter grade or pass/fail as part of your answer.

Like many other Bostonians, I celebrated the historic transition of power to Acting Mayor Janey. However, since that moment, we have not seen concrete action from her on our most pressing issues, and her recent comments comparing requiring proof of vaccination to slavery and birtherism and her reluctance to implement these measures even for City employees is troubling and a failure of leadership. Grade: C.

What will make you an effective leader?
First, the work of being a public servant has always been purpose-driven by my own experience growing up in Boston and losing my twin brother Andre, who passed away in a state prison as a pre-trial detainee at the age of 29. I’ve experienced the possibilities in the City of Boston but also the pain of when our city doesn’t work for everyone, which allows me to work for systemic change with a sense of purpose, urgency, and clarity that makes my leadership distinct from any candidate in this race.

I also have a proven track record of delivering results to create more affordable housing, to make our streets safer, to reform our police and criminal legal systems, and to increase access to quality public education and youth programs for every student.

Read Andrea Campbell's full response to the Dorchester Reporter questionnaire here.

ESSAIBI GEORGE— ‘ I SHOW UP IN ALL OF OUR NEIGHBORHOODS’

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ANNISSA ESSAIBI GEORGE
47. Dorchester resident
City Councillor At-Large, owner of Stitch House and former teacher

Political role models

My father who immigrated to Boston from Tunisia and, despite the challenges he faced, loved this city with every part of his being.
My maternal grandmother, who at a young age was taken from her home in Poland to work in a labor camp in Germany. My grandmother’s spirit, determination and focus on her family and building a better life for them reminds me how important this opportunity is for me to lead for her, and because of her sacrifice.

Top priority

As a BPS grad and former teacher, mom to four BPS students, one of my top priorities will be supporting and empowering our students, teachers, and families. This includes rebuilding trust, closing the achievement and opportunity gap and making sure we focus on literacy programs — especially in the early years.

How would you seek to program, market and utilize the historic city-owned Strand Theater? As Mayor, I’ll forge partnerships with local nonprofits and arts organizations to activate and utilize the Strand. I also believe the Strand provides us with a unique opportunity and space for our BPS students — whether that’s hands-on experience with set design or lighting or a performing arts stage.

Do you favor a return to an elected School Committee?

No. I believe that its members need to be empowered to make the best decisions for students and families without the influence of politics or money, and that is impossible with an elected School Committee. Instead, I believe that the best model is a nine-member Committee with five people appointed by the Mayor and four appointed in partnership with the City Council.

What is your assessment of the Walsh administration’s overall performance?

B+. Mayor Walsh laid a solid foundation for many of the policies and initiatives that I plan, as Mayor, to build upon. He was also extremely engaged. He was always willing to have tough conversations, even if we did not always agree, and as a result, I and many others were able to work with him to make real progress.

What is your assessment of acting Mayor Kim Janey’s performance?

D. Acting Mayor Janey has failed to meet our expectations and has demonstrated that she is more willing to celebrate her time in office than to work alongside others to get things done.

What will make you an effective leader?

As an At-Large City Councilor, I represent the entire city. I have worked on issues ranging from housing and homelessness to education to mental health. While I am proud of my legislative accomplishments, I am most proud of the relationships that I have built throughout my time on the Council. I take the responsibility of representing every resident in the City of Boston very seriously. More than any other experience or accomplishment, I believe the fact that I show up in all of our neighborhoods is what has made me an effective City Councilor, and it is what will make me an effective Mayor. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish half of the things I have on the Council if I didn’t show up, have the tough conversations, and give everyone a seat at the table. I take pride in the fact that I bring residents’ experiences to the table just as much as I bring my own, and that is what I will continue to do as Mayor.

Read Annissa Essaibi George's full response to the Dorchester Reporter's questionnaire here.

JANEY— ‘ ONLY PERSON IN FIELD WITH MAYORAL EXPERIENCE’

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KIM JANEY, 56, Roxbury resident
Acting Mayor since March 2021, Boston City Council President

Political role models

President Obama. His 2008 election was such an important victory for people all across the world, but especially for children, like my own two grandsons, who could finally see themselves represented in the highest office in America. Ayanna Pressley. I worked with her over the years as a community leader and education advocate and then in 2018, I worked alongside her as we served together on the City Council. Mel King. As one of the architects of the Rainbow Coalition, he brought people together from all walks of life. I had the opportunity to learn from him first-hand and pass out flyers when he ran for Mayor decades ago.

Top priority

My top priority will be to continue the fight against Covid-19 in Boston and to lead the City in its recovery, reopening and renewal.

How would you seek to program, market and utilize the historic city-owned Strand Theater?

It should be an arts and cultural hub for the city and economic booster for the Uphams Corner and Grove Hall communities. Its programming must reflect the cultural diversity and artistic talents of Dorchester.

Do you favor a return to an elected School Committee?

I support exploring a hybrid moel, to include appointed, elected, and additional youth members with voting power. It is long past time to give residents more of a voice in our schools. 

What is your assessment of the Walsh administration’s overall performance?

It’s no secret I’ve inherited a number of controversial issues, whether the Patrick Rose case, former police commissioner Dennis White, or the School Committee. As Mayor of Boston, I am focused on creating a hopeful, equitable future for our city, so we can’t afford to spend our time looking back. I will say that the former mayor worked tirelessly on behalf of this city he so loves and he has been a champion for labor and working people in Boston and nationally.

What is your assessment of acting Mayor Kim Janey’s performance since taking office in March 2021?

I think the only grades that matter are the ones that come from the residents of Boston, and since I have become Mayor I have been so humbled and appreciative of the support they have shown me. In the four most recent public polls, I’ve been in the lead or in a statistical dead heat.

What will make you an effective leader?

I am uniquely equipped to lead as the only person in this race that has actual experience being a mayor and leading a major urban city with more than 680,000 residents, 18,000 employees, and a $3.75 billion budget. As the first woman and first Black Mayor of Boston, I bring to City Hall, and to this race, a life experience like none of my predecessors. As a daughter of Roxbury and the South End, I understand the challenges so many of our residents are facing – from structural racism, food and housing insecurity, failing schools, and faltering public transportation, hurdles to home ownership, and fear for Black and Brown people’s safety in our communities.

I understand these challenges, because I have lived them. 

I have more than 30 years experience working in the non-profit sector, including non-profit management. I’ve spent my entire career fighting for racial justice – including my work in education advocacy, as the first woman to represent District 7 on the City Council, and as President of the most diverse Council in Boston’s history. And now, as Mayor, I am leading through a lens of equity, justice, and love – for every resident of Boston.  

Read Kim Janey's full response to the Dorchester Reporter questionnaire here.

WU— ‘ I KNOW HOW TO MOVE THE LEVERS OF GOVERNMENT’

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MICHELLE WU, 36, Roslindale resident; City Councillor At-Large since 2014, constituency director for Elizabeth Warren campaign, special assistant to Mayor Tom Menino

Political role models

Mayor Menino. I saw up close how Mayor Menino knew every inch of the city and was always focused on people. Congresswoman Pressley. I’m so proud to be represented by our Congresswoman as a fearless advocate for equity and justice. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Our Senator fights for working people and focuses on tackling root causes of inequity.

Top priority

My top issue is keeping families in Boston. We are in a housing crisis, and residents all across the city face an urgent need for affordability.

How would you seek to program, market and utilize the historic city-owned Strand Theater?

I’m eager to work with community organizations to bring new arts programming through connecting local artists and organizations, opening up affordable performances, and stabilizing neighborhood organizations in the space. I would look to maximize the Strand’s impact on surrounding communities and citywide.

Do you favor a return to an elected School Committee?

I support a majority-elected school committee, with elected members for democratic accountability and additional appointed members to ensure representation of Boston’s diversity and expertise, and mayoral accountability. I also support giving full voting power to the student representative. I would appoint members with expertise and lived experience in early childhood, school facilities and vocational education.

What is your assessment of the Walsh administration’s overall performance?

In recent years, Boston has seen higher housing costs than at any other time in our history, exacerbating the racial wealth gap and fueling a displacement crisis. To meet the moment, we need transformative city leadership that works to reshape what’s possible and make Boston a city for everyone.

What is your assessment of acting Mayor Kim Janey’s performance since taking office in March 2021?

I celebrate this historic moment for Boston with the barriers that Mayor Janey has broken. I was the first candidate to announce my mayoral campaign, back in September 2020, because this was never about any assessment of political opportunity, but about bringing the citywide leadership, vision and experience to deliver for Boston families.

What will make you an effective leader?

I’m a mom with two kids in the Boston public schools, a regular MBTA rider, and I live in a multigenerational two-family home in Roslindale with my husband and boys upstairs, and my mom downstairs. I’ve raised my sisters in this city when my mom was struggling with mental illness, so I’m living the stakes of policy and know the gaps our families face. After nearly a decade in City Hall, first working for the Menino administration, and now in my eighth year on the City Council, I know how to move the levers of government to close gaps and make our systems work for our neighborhoods and families. Through building coalitions and reshaping what’s possible in our city, we’ve taken on big challenges and transformed policies and politics to be more responsive, urgent, and inclusive of all our communities’ needs.

Read Michelle Wu's full response to the Dorchester Reporter questionnaire here.

Edtior's note: The Reporter also sent the same questionnaire to candidates for district city council seats in Districts 3,4 and 7 and to at-large candidates, which will be summarized in next week’s edition.

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