Mayoral candidates Annissa-Essaibi-George and Michelle Wu clashed in their first head-to-head debate on a range of topics from rent control to police.
Despite periodic calls from WBZ moderator Jon Keller to bump into each other, both candidates mostly stuck to their normal scripts, answering every question on a big question about the city – be it housing prices, trade fairs and cash registers, coronavirus – the pandemic – by stating how they felt it was really an important topic and then declaring that “urgent” and “action” was necessary.
No one made any wild new claims or suggestions, but Essaibi-George, the underdog in the race, seemed to take a few shots at Wu. The first, on rent control, came about a quarter of the way in after Wu said the city needs to work with small landlords to prevent evictions.
“Michelle does not believe in the power of the small landlord,” Essaibi-George said of her colleague in the big city council, referring to Wu’s support for rent control. On this topic, she continued, “It will create further disinvestment in our city. It will keep rents high and push the inhabitants of our city further and further away from the community, from job centers, from schools and from future opportunities. ”
Wu opposed that rent control and similar major changes are what people want.
“We can not be afraid and listen to scary tactics around what our residents need right now,” Wu said.
Essaibi-George came back to Wu by noting that rent control is not something that is in the city area — a criticism she has previously extended to Wu’s other points about making MBTA free. She said the city should focus on assistance to tenants, and that rent control, which was defeated in a referendum in the 1990s, is a “government effort.”
But Wu replied that the mayor must “fight for” any initiative that they think works, including partnering with the state to do so.
Both stressed the need for more resources to help tenants and a desire to build cheaper housing.
Wu and Essaibi-George will meet in the general election on 2 November.
Although both candidates have different policies that are in the mainstream of democracy, Wu is considered the big progressive, a la her mentor US Senator Elizabeth Warren, while Essaibi-George cuts more towards the center.
The topic of policing got a few exchanges, after Essaibi-George said, “I believe in investing in public safety and not failing our public safety agency.” She also claimed, “Michelle is not leading the reforms needed, especially as it relates to a mental health response for our Boston Police Department.”
Wu disagreed with the second statement, saying that while she had supported Essaibi-George’s initiative to add psychiatric staff to the police response, “going from two to 19 clinicians when we have hundreds of thousands of residents across the city” is not enough with a far-reaching solution.
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