Annissa Essaibi George’s time inside City Hall is winding down, but the Dorchester native and former mayoral candidate is staying busy amid chatter about her political future.
She turned 48 last Sunday, and the night before, at the Polish American Citizens Club a few blocks from her home, she held a birthday celebration. Several hundred people passed through that night, many of them bringing unwrapped toys and winter coats that Essaibi George, a former teacher, is distributing to shelters she has worked with during her six years as a city councillor at-large and to Catie’s Closet, a nonprofit focused on students living in poverty.
The day before her last City Council meeting, Essaibi George stepped inside the Stitch House, her Dorchester Avenue yarn shop, the place where she first received word in November 2015 that she had won one of the four at-large seats on the 13-member council. She first ran for at-large in 2013 and fell short, finishing fifth. In 2015, she ran again and knocked out Stephen Murphy, who had served since 1997 and is now Suffolk County’s Register of Deeds.
“It is obviously the close of a chapter in my life which I tremendously enjoyed and have felt pretty productive and successful in,” she told the Reporter in an exit interview Tuesday.
Asked if she plans another run for public office, including a second mayoral run, Essaibi George said, “I’m not opposed to any idea. I’ve always said to my students, when I was teaching, you’ve got to keep the doors of opportunity always open.”
Does that include the governor’s office? “You’ve got to keep the doors of opportunity open,” she repeated. A source told the Reporter earlier this month that she was weighing a run for governor next year.
“Politics isn’t a spectator sport for me,” the departing councillor said. “I like to be engaged in it because I think I’ve got something positive and productive to contribute, and so I expect to continue contributing.” There is more to come, she added.
For all that, aside from a couple of days around Thanksgiving spent with her boys and husband Doug, Essaibi George has focused on her work on the council.
“I haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about next steps,” she said. “Obviously there’s been lots of chatter about what it might be, but for me, since Election Day, these last couple of weeks have really been about making sure there is a plan in place for my work.”
She has stayed away from the holiday tree lightings across the city, she said, so as not to create a distraction as Mayor Michelle Wu made her way across the neighborhoods.
“I want her to be successful. I am going to be in this city for the rest of my life, raising my family here,” she said. “I want Boston to be successful, so her success is Boston’s success.”
Essaibi George said she remains concerned about a number of things: the future of Boston Public Schools as the system sees a decline in student enrollment, the homelessness and opioid addiction crisis at Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, and families grappling with Covid-19 and housing issues.
“The anxiety that I feel is around the work I’ve done and some of that work that I’ve kicked off. I worry about it continuing, especially around family homelessness,” she said. “I’m really anxious that there won’t be the same advocacy.”
Coronavirus had somewhat stalled the work of a special city commission formed to try to end family homelessness that was created through an ordinance that Essaibi George worked to push through before the pandemic. But over the last several months, she said, there have been discussions between shelter providers and key partners, including the city’s housing chief, Sheila Dillon.
The discussions are now in a place “where I am confident that work will continue in some respect,” she said.
Another initiative Essaibi George pushed is getting underway: Needle disposal at pharmacies, in kiosks similar to those that allow people to drop off unused or expired medication. “If you are at home and dealing with a chronic illness, if you’ve got diabetes, if you’re taking B-12 shots, or doing any sort of fertility treatments or struggling with an opioid crisis, and using needles, using sharps, they should be properly disposed of,” she said. “They shouldn’t go into household waste.”
She said she has enjoyed resolving for constituents “what I think the world would see as insignificant” issues. “If it was tree limbs that were pulling down wires, we had to make 10 different calls to get that fixed, which is sort of frustrating, but also in the end, when it’s done, it’s done.”
The citywide councillor said she’s also proud that her office was able to support families who needed shelter beds. “When I joined the council in 2016, we thought there were maybe 3,000 kids [experiencing homelessness],” she said. “Because of my work, because we started to count them and really see kids who were experiencing homelessness, we realized the number was 5,000.”
Essaibi George also highlighted working with the state attorney general’s office to protect seniors from fraud and supporting small businesses. Her staffers have pulled together folders on those and other topics she has worked on in order to pass them along to her colleagues and incoming councillors.
“It shouldn’t just end; it shouldn’t just all disappear because I won’t be a member of the body anymore,” she said. “Of course, any councillor coming in has their own set of priorities and their personal agenda and pile of work they want to get to, but if there is an interest in taking on any of these topic matters, I certainly want them to not have to recreate the wheel.”
The pink wall in her City Hall office, though, may be a different matter. When she joined the council, Essaibi George had a wall of her office painted in the hot pink that can also be found on her clothes, inside the yarn shop, and on her campaign signs. Multiple layers were needed for the office wall, because the concrete kept absorbing the pink paint.
“I’m not sure if anyone will keep it. I think it’s great,” she said, laughing. “But I imagine that whoever comes into our office next — I don’t know who it is — will probably paint over the pink wall. And I imagine it’s going to take several layers of primer and paint to cover it.”