Essaibi George, Wu Court Black Voters In Race For Boston Mayor

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Mayor Kim Janey answers a question during the Boston Mayoral Debate at WBUR’s CitySpace. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Acting Mayor Kim Janey answers a question during the Boston Mayoral Debate at WBUR’s CitySpace. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Some members of Boston's Black community were crestfallen when all three Black candidates for mayor were eliminated in last week's preliminary election.

"Disappointment is rife across the African American community in Boston," said Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition.

Now the two remaining candidates, Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, are trying to win over the Black community ahead of the general election in November.

A spokeswoman for Essaibi George says good government includes listening to people from across the city. Wu's campaign says it hopes to work with community leaders in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Pastor Larry Green of Roxbury's Timothy Baptist Church says the candidates also need to talk about issues important to Black voters.

"I'm particularly interested in what's happening with those that are homeless without adequate medical care and those who are lying on the streets over by methadone mile," Green noted.

Four Black clergy organizations are holding a forum tonight in Dorchester to hear from Wu and Essaibi George directly.

Rev. Edwin Johnson of St. Mary's Episcopal Church says he wants to know how the candidates will include everyone in their vision for Boston.

"And so as they move their discussion, as they move what they're saying towards a more inclusive place, we want to make sure that our communities of Dorchester, Roxbury are the first ones to hear that and that our questions are some of the ones that will guide them as they feel, as they figure out how to be as inclusive as possible," Johnson said.

But many Black voters are still disappointed they won't have the opportunity to vote for a Black candidate in the mayoral election this fall.

Peterson, the activist with New Democracy Coalition, said Black voters were excited when Kim Janey was sworn in as acting mayor in March, making history by becoming both the first woman and first Black person to serve in that role.

"They felt that that was tangible. That was something to build upon," Peterson said. "To realize the day after Election Day that there is no possibility that an African American to be elected can be elected to mayor this year is a huge disappointment."

Peterson said there are many reasons why the Black candidates didn't fare better in last week's election. There was poor turnout in African American neighborhoods. And the Black community wasn't united behind a single candidate, despite efforts by former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson to unify the Black vote behind Janey.

"There was disorganization in terms of Black political leadership pushing for the election of a candidate who is Black in a singular form," Peterson said. "So one Black candidate, in other words, someone should have gotten out of the race. That was a mistake."

The three Black candidates in the race collectively garnered more than 42% of the vote — more than either of the two top finishers — but their individual tallies were not enough to make the final ballot.

Longtime Roxbury resident Bill Wright wishes Janey and the other top Black finisher, Andrea Campbell, had been able to work out some sort of a plan before the preliminary. For instance, he said Janey could have run for re-election on the city council while Campbell, who had been on the council longer, ran for mayor.

"That is a strategy that could have resulted in Andrea coming in at least number two, if the numbers held up for Michelle to come in first," Wright said.

But both Janey and Campbell remained in the race and they both finished just a few percentage points behind Essaibi George. A third Black candidate, John Barros, finished even farther behind.

The two candidates still in the race also identify as people of color. Wu's parents originally came to the United States from Taiwan. And Essaibi George's parents are Polish and Tunisian.

So whoever wins will make history as the first person of color (as well as the first woman) to be elected mayor of Boston.

But some Black activists say the winning candidate will need support from Boston's African American neighborhoods to finish on top.

This segment aired on September 22, 2021.


Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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