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Michelle Wu opens up about family history at WBUR Town Hall19:06
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Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu greets with supporters at Readville Station in Hyde Park. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu greets with supporters at Readville Station in Hyde Park. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu spoke to Radio Boston's Tiziana Dearing about her positions on key issues in the race like rent control, took listener questions and shared much of her own personal story.

It was the first of two candidate town halls hosted by WBUR at CitySpace. The second was with Wu's opponent, Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George. You can read highlights from that conversation here.

If you're a regular Radio Boston listener, you already know that if Wu is elected Nov. 2, she'll be the first of many things: the first elected woman, mother, person of color, and Asian American mayor of Boston.

These intersecting identities have been a key focus in this race between two very accomplished women.

You can watch the full conversation here:

Interview highlights

Policing

"Year after year, we have had similar conversations about what communities experience with the Boston Police Department, and the data has backed up disproportionate impacts, disproportionate stops for Black and brown residents, [and] disproportionate surveillance in a racially discriminatory gang database. Yet year after year, we continue to see incidents that are shielded from accountability because of the underlying structures that come from that collective bargaining agreement.

"The next mayor is going to have to make the very important decision of who will be the permanent police commissioner to lead this department in the urgent reforms that are needed, and then immediately to renegotiate a contract which is more than a year expired, right? Expired as of June of 2020. There is a clear choice in this race about the willingness and the boldness that each of us is presenting for truly tackling police reform. ...

"I have been leading on the council when it comes to rethinking the structures of policing to lead with a public health lens to address mental health issues that come in as crisis calls. Not by sending armed law enforcement, which can introduce even more risk, but sending these trained public health professionals. I have been calling for the demilitarization of our police to build trust with our communities. I have voted for common sense measures to protect those at large-scale events where our officers are present. And I have pushed to dismantle structures of systemic racism that we see present in our department, such as the gang database.

"That is a difference in this race and we can't afford to continue the status quo here. We have already seen the toll it continues to take on communities. We have seen the headlines one after another. Now is a time to have true accountability and transparency, reign in our overtime that is wasteful and fraudulent, [and] use those cost savings to really invest in public health and public safety, to meet residents with the services they need."

'Mass. and Cass' tent encampment

"The situation at 'Mass. and Cass' is is unacceptable for any city, and for Boston to have turned the other way for so many years while it has worsened is something I'm not going to stand for as mayor. One of my very first hires is going to be a 'Mass. and Cass' cabinet chief who will report directly to me for full accountability to make sure that, before the weather gets cold, we see a different situation there. That we will be increasing the outreach resources to connect people to services.

"We will be expanding treatment. We will be retrofitting city-owned or publicly-owned buildings that can be available for supportive housing so that people will not be out in the cold this winter.

"Now, [Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins] and I have had conversations where we are clear there cannot be a criminalization of people seeking treatment and seeking services in housing. But what this conversation says to me is that there are buildings that are currently sitting empty that could be an important part of the solution. There are partners across city, county, regional partners who could be an important part of the solution.

"My understanding is that he is trying to ensure that there is a separate building with a separate public health-led approach. I haven't seen all the details yet. But in that case, we should have a conversation about whether a different agency — a public health agency — administers and runs the services there."

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Schools

"The pandemic has taken these disparities and deepened, widened every one of them. The day that our schools shut down the first time in March of 2020 was a day that a major report came down from ... the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education highlighting how gaps in Boston public schools have persisted for years and years now, especially with ... students with disabilities, English language learners, Black and Latinx students.

"And when I went around and visited every single Boston Public High School and spoke directly with educators, school leaders, students, the consensus was pretty clear, actually: that one big problem is that we have lacked stability in leadership in the district for a long time.

"When Superintendent [Brenda] Cassellius came in, she was the fifth superintendent in seven years. Each turn of that revolving door brings a whole team in and out, new contacts between central office and schools. And ... then now, followed by a very tumultuous welcome to the district for our superintendent with the pandemic and all the the three school years now that have been affected.

"And so first and foremost, we need a mayor who is going to partner and ensure that we are centering all of the services that the city of Boston has to offer and deliver that through our Boston Public Schools. I'm going to expand on a children's cabinet so that we can wrap around services and insure every single family doesn't have to be thinking about housing instability or food insecurity and how to access all of those resources. They can just come to school healthy, happy, ready to learn because we will have streamlined those supports for them. ...

"When students come to school, they come into contact with any number of of adults. There's obviously their teachers or school leaders. Ideally, as we're getting the supports and ratios up, guidance counselor, social worker and mental health professional, school nurse. We need to make sure that just the same part of frequency and contact that's expected for each student is a navigator who can help ensure that we know the situation of that family and how they might benefit from other services that are available through city government.

"I'll give one clear example. We have the best estimate — which is clearly going to be an underestimate — is about 5,000 students who are experiencing homelessness in the Boston Public Schools. We don't learn about this, when a student loses their housing, until they come to the district and the family says we need transportation to get from the shelter — often an hour, an hour-and-a-half away — back to school every day. And then BPS will figure out a way to provide transportation.

"But by that time the trauma of being unhoused and an hour-and-a-half commute has now multiplied and multiplied and multiplied on that family, when our Office of Housing Stability, had we known this family was in distress and about to lose their housing, could have stepped in to provide rental assistance or help with utilities or payment with arrearages. We need to be in that close communication around everything that is going on in the community and in our family's lives that might spill over into the classroom that we can help support. ...

"The current administration, the superintendent's focus on absenteeism, is a is a very, very important starting point. Of course, we need to be thinking about literacy and academic outcomes through the diagnostic tools that we have. But more importantly, we need to understand what our situations are — household by household — when it comes to food access, when it comes to housing instability, when it comes to the stability of jobs or mental health for family members in the household as well. ...

"We have seen in Boston over many years that the the district is not only falling short of serving our families with students with disabilities, but often creating what feels almost like a game of tennis or some way to play defense. That when families need services, the process of navigating to get an individualized education plan, an IEP — especially when there are language barriers involved — can feel like we are trying to limit or be restrictive and find the least possible supports that are given.

"This needs to be flipped upside down, where from day one as early as possible, every single student can get through this process has the supports in multiple languages to ensure that families can navigate and aren't going to those external placements which end up costing the district more anyway.

"We have some of the best models of inclusion anywhere in the country right here in Boston. The Henderson School has been held up nationally as a model for special education. It involves staffing and having the resources so that there are there are the appropriate number of adults in every classroom and knowing student by student what the individualized needs are so that we can provide those supports."

This article was originally published on October 19, 2021.

This segment aired on October 19, 2021.

Walter Wuthmann Twitter Associate Producer
Walter Wuthmann is an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom.

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Tiziana Dearing Twitter Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.

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