City Councillors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, the top two finishers in the mayoral preliminary, this week threw themselves headlong into the general election campaign, touting dueling endorsements from mega unions that represent healthcare employees and electrical workers.
The two unions, SEIU 1199 and IBEW Local 103, had formally sat out the five-candidate preliminary while signaling their interest in backing a candidate when it came down to two names.
They made their preferences known this week, with SEIU 1199 tossing its support to Wu on Tuesday, a day after IBEW Local 103 held a rally outside its Dorchester offices to boost Essaibi George.
SEIU 1199, which has more than 5,000 members who live in Boston and 70,000 statewide, said it plans to put “significant financial and grassroots support” behind Wu’s campaign. The union, with its board based in neighboring Quincy, is known for its canvassing prowess. It has $3.2 million in the coffers of its political action committee.
“Never before have the issues of healthcare, childcare, and pay and benefits of essential workers been more important,” Tim Foley, SEIU 1199’s executive vice president, said in a statement. “We are at a crossroads and we need a mayor who will center the lives of caregivers in our recovery.”
In her own statement, Wu said the union and her campaign share a “core principle” in support of social, racial, and environmental justice.
“Knowing that the healthcare workers of 1199SEIU have our back means everything — and we’ve got theirs.”
Wu was expected to join union members at a personal protective equipment (PPE) drive in Grove Hall on Thursday (Sept. 23). The union has held similar events during the pandemic as part of its efforts to distribute masks and gloves.
SEIU 1199 sat out the 2013 mayoral preliminary, a 12-way contest to succeed Mayor Thomas Menino, before endorsing Marty Walsh over John Connolly in the final election. It has also stayed out of recent political contests, including the clash between US Sen. Ed Markey and former Congressman Joe Kennedy III and Ayanna Pressley’s successful bid to unseat Congressman Michael Capuano.
The major union now backing Essaibi George has been much more active, notching marks in both the win and loss columns. IBEW Local 103 backed Pressley and Kennedy, touting their candidacies on the electric billboard that overlooks I-93. On Monday, that billboard switched to pink and black, the campaign colors of the Dorchester at-large city councillor.
While the union didn’t endorse in the preliminary, Lou Antonellis, Local 103’s business manager, donated $500 to Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s campaign. The union also aired a series of television ads, spotlighting its members who called for the next mayor to favor continuing development within Boston.
At Monday’s rally for Essaibi George, Antonellis said the union is seeking a mayor to “pick up” where Walsh, a former union leader who spent 7 years as mayor before leaving for the Biden administration, left off.
Their candidate welcomed the support. “I need a strong army to become mayor,” she told the crowd of roughly 100 union members. Labor will always have a seat at her policymaking table, she added.
Essaibi George, who came in second in the preliminary, said that she has been “underestimated” and added that she shunned placing labels on her candidacy.
Critics have described her as a “status quo” candidate. “We will prove the critics wrong,” she said.