Wu, Essaibi George tangle in TV debate; Candidates duel over finances, BPS exam and ‘free’ MBTA

Candidates Wu, left and Essaibi George, right, with moderator Latoyia Edwards in debate studio. Mark Garfinkel/ NBC10 Boston photo

With two independent polls showing her down by a 30-point margin, Annissa Essaibi George on Tuesday went on the offensive against mayoral rival Michelle Wu, as the two sparred over personal real estate dealings, education and fare-free public transit in an hour-long NBC10 debate just days before early voting starts and two weeks before Election Day.

The debate, moderated by NBC10 anchor and Dorchester native Latoyia Edwards, opened with candidates getting a chance to go directly at each other. Essaibi George charged that Wu is “delivering, I think, inconsistent messages, depending on the neighborhood you’re in,” on the process to enter the city’s three exam schools. The changes, an effort to increase diversity among the students, have drawn fire from parents in West Roxbury and other parts of the city.

“That’s simply not true, Annissa,” Wu said. “And this is a big distinction between us. That I support having equity in every part of our system, and I think it’s right that we are adding reforms to this process so that every single child has a shot at getting to the exam schools and that we see the full representation in each of our classrooms.”

Wu said she supports having an entrance exam, as well as factoring in grades and socio-economic criteria to ensure diversity.

Midway through the debate, the candidates were also asked by Fatima Ali-Salaam, a Dorchester Reporter reader and head of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council, about what they would do to fix the struggling Madison Park, the city’s only vocational educational school.

Wu said she would create an advisory council with representatives from life sciences, trades, tech and the environmental industries. Essaibi George said Wu had read her plan because she has made a similar pitch. “I’m sorry, I have not read your plan. I apologize,” Wu said. “I’ve been in many meetings, though, with community meetings and I’ve had numerous conversations with faculty, alumni.”

The two candidates also talked about the MBTA. When her turn came to ask Essaibi George a question, Wu noted that Essaibi George has criticized her plans for a fare-free MBTA and asked what Essaibi George’s plans are to ease traffic. “Your allies have even tried to use scare tactics to make people afraid of my plans for fare-free public transit,” Wu said, referring to a pro-Essaibi George super PAC this week spending $125,000 on a negative ad highlighting Wu’s proposal.

Essaibi George, who touted her endorsement from the MBTA carmen’s union, fired back that making the T free “nearly impossible without partnership at the state level” and argued Boston residents will have to pay a multi-billion dollar price tag. “It’s unfair to ask the people of Boston to pay that price tag,” she said.

“We’re already paying the price tag for transportation that doesn’t work, that leaves people stranded when our cars and buses are too crowded or not coming,” Wu said in her response. According to Wu, a Roxbury Community college student who lives in Mattapan recently told her the free Route 28 bus pilot underway now, which Wu supported, “changed his life.”

The NBC10 debate, in partnership with the Dorchester Reporter and the Bay State Banner, occurred hours after a second independent poll showed Wu with a massive lead over Essaibi George. A Boston Globe/Suffolk University/NBC10 poll mirrored a MassINC Polling Group survey conducted last week for Dorchester Reporter, the Boston Foundation and WBUR: Wu was at 62 percent to Essaibi George’s 30 percent.

Later in the debate, Edwards, the moderator, asked Essaibi George about a Boston Globe report that Essaibi George’s City Council office sought to stop a project that would have negatively affected a project developed by Essaibi George’s husband, Doug, who is also a landlord. The July article also noted housing code violations and late payments for registration of apartments. A Globe review, released last week, found that city officials have hit Doug George’s properties for more than 550 code violations.

Councillor Essaibi George said she is not involved in her husband’s business and, in the case of the rival project, her office worked with a district councillor and neighbors who opposed the project.

Essaibi George then took aim at Wu, asking what her relationship is with Terry Considine, a Colorado Republican and real estate investor who has donated to Wu’s campaigns for mayor and City Council. Considine also donated to the late Mayor Thomas Menino in 2012, mayoral candidate John Connolly  in 2013, and John Miller, a Republican candidate for state attorney general in 2014.

Essaibi George noted that Considine referred to immigrants from Latin America as “wetbacks” in 1986, when he unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate. (He later apologized for the slur.) “You need to disavow that,” Essaibi George told Wu and alleged the Considine family helped Wu buy her two-family home. 

Wu said there was no wrongdoing. She bought her two-family home with her college roommate, who is Considine’s daughter, and their respective husbands. The college roommate, Elizabeth Likovich, and her husband later moved, and Wu’s mother moved in, according to Wu. Likovich is the godmother of one of Wu’s children and vice versa, Wu added.

“I am willing and able to stand behind every single bit of the success and stability that my family has had, because it has taken hard work,” Wu said. “So I have been reporting every bit of our financial transactions over the years as a city councillor, and there’s simply nothing here, and I’m disappointed to see the tactics being used.”

After the debate, Wu said she met Terry Considine on the first day of college. Freshman year roommates at Harvard are typically assigned by the school, and Wu did not know the family before then.

“We don’t talk politics,” she said.

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