From the Pandemic to Systemic Racism, Here's Where Boston's Mayoral Candidates Stand

The current mayor, three City Council members, the former chief of economic development and a Massachusetts state representative are among those in the running to become the next mayor of Boston

From top-left, clockwise: Boston Mayor Kim Janey, Boston City Councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, State Rep. Jon Santiago, former Chief of Economic Development John Barros and Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George.
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A diverse pool of local politicians are vying for the next full term as mayor of Boston, Massachusetts in the Nov. 2 election.

Janey, who previously served as president of the Boston City Council, took over as the city's 55th mayor after former mayor Marty Walsh stepped down in March. Janey made history as the first Black and first female mayor of Boston.

Walsh was sworn in as President Joe Biden's labor secretary in March. A former state representative from Dorchester, Walsh has served as Boston's mayor since making the jump from the State House to City Hall in 2014. 

In the months since, three members of the Boston City Council, the city's former chief of economic development and a state representative are among those who have announced campaigns to take the helm. Janey was the last to announce her bid for a full term in April, joining the crowded field in the race.

In addition to one-on-one interviews, NBC10 Boston asked each of the major candidates to answer a set of five questions ahead of Boston’s preliminary mayoral election on Sept. 21. Their answers are listed in the order their campaigns were announced.

Janey's campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu

Michelle Wu officially announced her campaign for mayor in September, prior to the news of Walsh's departure. Wu, 36, has served on the Boston City Council for over seven years. A Harvard graduate, she worked for former Mayor Thomas Menino and on U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's first campaign, according to her website.

Sue O'Connell sat down with Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu to talk about why she is running for mayor.

How would you move forward with reopening Boston during the pandemic?

It has been frustrating and disappointing to see a slow and inequitable vaccination roll-out reinforcing the same burdens and injustices of a reopening process that prioritized casinos over schools.

As mayor, I'll make sure our kids are able to learn safely, drawing on schools as community hubs for public health education, testing and vaccination as well as community spaces like libraries and community centers to allow for safe distancing.

Our reopening efforts will rely on public health and science, centering our most impacted communities. Most of all, we can’t afford to keep putting band aids on underlying crises and our reopening should connect relief to transforming systems for a resilient, healthy, prosperous city for everyone.

What will you do to prevent working people in Boston from getting priced out of their homes once everyone is inoculated?

Housing affordability is one of the most pressing issues facing Boston residents, and the pandemic has destabilized even more families. From 2011 to 2017, fewer than 9% of newly permitted units were affordable to residents making up to 60% of the Area Median Income — who make up nearly half of Boston’s residents.

We need to plan and update our zoning code so that new development benefits Boston families, with clear, transparent standards for affordability, density and civic infrastructure. We need to create more housing that is affordable to residents and invest in programs that boost home ownership to close the racial wealth gap.

On the Council, I’ve started laying the groundwork for using green and social bonds to leverage our capital budget to build new housing that’s not only deeply affordable, but also energy-efficient, driving down utility costs for families and improving air quality and public health. 

As mayor, I’ll work to expand the social housing sector to guarantee long-term affordability and stability for residents, and work to connect housing and transportation access so that every part of our city is connected to opportunity and stability.

What will you do to eradicate systemic racism in Boston?

Combating systemic racism must be foundational to our pandemic recovery and every action we take as a city. Anti-racism is central to a fair, thriving economy; a school system that provides opportunities for all kids; and our residents’ public health and well-being, both during COVID and long after the pandemic -- and every action from city government should be evaluated from a racial justice lens.

We must ensure that every child has access to high-quality, holistic educational opportunities from birth to set them up for success; expand support for home ownership in Black, Brown and immigrant communities; ensure that our public health and public safety systems -- whether in vaccine access or in policing -- are built on trust and equity; and democratize decision-making. 

What would you do in the first 90 days if elected?

I would immediately get started on implementing the community-driven, bold, urgent plans we’ve put forward for a Boston Green New Deal and Just Recovery Plan, to close the childcare gap, implement a Food Justice Agenda and a Digital Equity Agenda as well as immediately prioritize making Boston a city where families can afford to live, work and stay, and take on racial inequities in our policing and public health.

We don’t need endless studies and task forces. We will get started on day one with actionable, clear proposals to deliver change and make Boston a city for everyone.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

In my eight years serving on the Boston City Council, we have transformed the definition of what’s possible from city government. We’ve taken on issues that helped Boston lead the country, often despite being told that it would be impossible to get done: paid parental leave for city workers, a ban on discrimination in healthcare based on gender identity, a guarantee of translation and language access for all city services, community choice energy.

I have a track record of being willing to take on the big fights and build meaningful coalitions to make real, lasting change. As a BPS mom of two boys, a caregiver for my mother living with mental illness and a daughter of immigrants, I’ve lived through the gaps that far too many families fall through.

In Boston, we have what we need to transform systems. We have the resources, the activism, and the ideas; we just need bold, urgent leadership to connect our communities. We’re running a grassroots campaign to build community and nurture activism for the civic engagement to deliver change in office.

Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell

Andrea Campbell, 38, announced her bid to become the city's next mayor in September, shortly after Wu. As a Black woman who grew up in Roxbury and the South End, the city councilor prominently promoted her upbringing in her launch as a native of Boston. In 2015, Campbell defeated a 32-year incumbent to represent District 4, becoming the first Black woman to serve as the council's president, according to her website.

Sue O’Connell sat down with Andrea Campbell to talk about why she’s running to become Mayor of Boston.

How would you move forward with reopening Boston during the pandemic?

The most immediate need for the current and future mayor is ensuring all Bostonians get vaccinated, that vaccine distribution is equitable and prioritizes our essential workers, including teachers and school staff and those most vulnerable for the virus including our seniors and residents in communities of color.

I have been vocal that I think the city’s main focus should be on getting kids safely back to school this year with proper classroom ventilation, teacher and school staff vaccination and academic and mental health supports for students.

We should focus on providing more direct supports and monetary relief to small businesses, restaurants and our creative institutions and streamlining licensing and permitting to help those businesses bounce back. 

What will you do to prevent working people in Boston from getting priced out of their homes once everyone is inoculated?

COVID-19 has placed an enormous burden on renters and homeowners, which is why I was one of the first elected officials in Boston to call for a ban on evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic.

As mayor, I will protect renters and homeowners from losing their homes during the pandemic and work to undo systemic racism’s effect on Boston’s housing by partnering with communities and banks to achieve greater equity in access to loans to build more home ownership opportunities.

I will prioritize housing stability with smart and responsible development to allow our City to grow in a way that also benefits and protects current and long-time Boston residents – particularly for our seniors living on fixed incomes. I am committed to creating more – and better – affordable housing and will hold developers accountable to their affordable housing commitments and make sure no one gets stuck on a waitlist for public housing they desperately need.

What will you do to eradicate systemic racism in Boston?

I’m running to close racial and economic inequities that have been prevalent in Boston for decades and have impacted generations of Black and Brown Bostonians. To eradicate systemic racism, we need to transform all of our systems to be equitable, eradicate existing disparities and bring people together to heal as a city.

As mayor, I will work tirelessly to create a thriving, inclusive economy that works for everyone and is built on the foundation of good schools, access to equitable health care, housing that is affordable and jobs that pay a living wage with opportunities for growth. I recently released my economic plan that further highlights my mayoral agenda of lifting up businesses owned by historically underrepresented groups, utilizing our city budget to ensure there’s inclusive procurement practices and my plan to close the racial wealth gap.

As mayor, I will act with urgency to transform our criminal legal and policing systems to eradicate racial disparities, address root causes of violence and end the school-to-prison pipeline.

I believe we need to shift our approach to school safety to a restorative justice model by removing officers from our schools. I have been a champion to push for reforms to rebuild public trust and establish accountability in policing including an independent civilian review board, demilitarizing our police force and making Boston Police the most transparent law enforcement agency in the country. 

What would you do in the first 90 days if elected?

If elected mayor, I would spend my first 90 days leading Boston’s recovery from COVID-19 to ensure we can reopen our economy in a way that makes our city more equitable and safely reopen our schools and support students recovering from the trauma and learning losses of this last year that have widened existing inequities in our education system.

One of the first plans I released as a candidate for mayor focused on public health, which included a roadmap for how we address health inequities head on. As mayor, I will immediately implement a coordinated, public health response to the crisis at Mass. Ave and Melnea Cass that will build sustainable paths to recovery citywide and ensure the health and safety of all who live, work, visit and go to school in the surrounding neighborhoods.

I will also fight tirelessly to have honest conversations about the deep history of racism and segregation in our City and focus on reimagining our public safety systems to address root causes of violence and crime by creating equitable access to good education, housing, jobs, mental health services and addiction treatment.

This issue is personal to me and why I will take bold actions as mayor to end the cycles of trauma and injustice too many have faced. In my first 90 days, I will fully implement the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency with the goal of making the Boston Police Department the most transparent and accountable in the nation. 

What sets you apart from other candidates?

What I know sets me apart from every candidate in this race is why I do this work, which is deeply connected to my personal story and the loss of my twin brother Andre. Though we grew up together in Boston, Andre cycled in and out of the criminal justice system and died nine years ago in the custody of the Department of Correction.

I continue to ask myself, “How do two twins born and raised in Boston have such different life outcomes?” I’ve experienced first-hand the inequities in housing, in healthcare, in criminal justice, in education, and know how this city can either support or fail us.

I’m running for mayor to confront generations of inequity in the City of Boston and have always focused on transforming systems that perpetuate these inequities -- our education system, policing and criminal justice systems, housing and economy -- with urgency, intentionality and with a leadership style that brings people together.

Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George

Annissa Essaibi George, 47, became the third member of Boston's City Council to declare her candidacy for mayor in January. She touted her experiences as a former public school teacher, mother of four and small business owner. First elected in 2015, Essaibi-George is the daughter of immigrants -- a father from Tunisia and a mother born in Germany in a settlement for people displaced from Poland, according to her website.

Sue O’Connell sits down with Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George to discuss her mayoral campaign.

How would you move forward with reopening Boston during the pandemic?

Right now, I think the priority is making sure that we vaccinate Boston as efficiently and equitable as possible — that means we must meet people where they are to get them vaccinated and continue with ongoing testing. 

For the populations we so desperately need to vaccinate, that is most likely our local hospitals, pharmacies, and community health centers. Lack of transportation is also a huge factor here — we have a first class EMS system in Boston with a professional and well-trained EMTs and paramedics, so I'm happy we’re now utilizing them and others to get mobile vaccination units out across the city and the state quickly.

After that happens, more people will be able to return to work, visit our small businesses, and go out to restaurants safely. It’s critical that we ensure our small businesses can recover from this and come back stronger than ever. 

What will you do to prevent working people in Boston from getting priced out of their homes once everyone is inoculated?

Boston’s residents are struggling to pay rent, our families can’t find or afford stable housing, and too many individuals are experiencing chronic homelessness. COVID-19 has only emphasized these realities and their effects will last long after the pandemic. 

We must work to make Boston truly affordable so we can keep our families here. Everyone that wants to call this city home, should be able to. We need to increase our housing stock, it’s really one of the only ways to alleviate the market and make homes more affordable, and create better paths to homeownership.

Social justice must be prioritized when we assess the success of our housing system and our work. We have to bridge the wealth gap and homeownership is a large part of that.

What will you do to eradicate systemic racism in Boston?

In everything the city of Boston does, we have a responsibility to be intentional when combating and dismantling racism. We have to call it out for what it is and where we see it in order to dismantle it. It’s everywhere, it’s systemic. It of course is in our education system and our justice system, but inequities also run through our transportation system, our housing, our parks and yes, even how and when we fill potholes. 

There’s so much work to do, including closing the racial wealth gap; increasing access to transportation; creating more pathways to home ownership; increasing access to capital; instituting police reforms; improving air quality and taking care of contaminated land; and helping all those who have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic.

To best tackle these racism and inequities, I must surround myself with those who have lived experiences and have them alongside me to inform and guide the work. I will make my Cabinet and Administration reflective of all the communities in Boston, and ensure the diversity of this great city is reflected in the leadership of my administration.

What would you do in the first 90 days if elected?

The list is long on this one. 

  • Open Boston for business. We must help small businesses to stabilize, then encourage and promote growth post-pandemic.
  • Invest to make Madison Park Vocational Technical High School the gem of Boston Public Schools to give students more options for long-term success in our current labor market.
  • Ensure that every Boston family has access to quality childcare. This is an equity issue and it needs to be prioritized.
  • Work towards making this city more affordable for everyone, end family homelessness, and ensure that our families can afford to stay in Boston.
  • Reform the gang database to ensure greater transparency and accountability.
  • Convene stakeholders on day one as mayor to begin laying the groundwork for a reopened and reimagined Long Island Campus. This will include a discussion about the use of ferries, program development and partnership with other localities in this work.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

As a mother, lifelong Bostonian, first generation American, small business owner, former Boston Public Schools teacher and at-large city councilor, I believe I am the leader for this moment. I want to see our city recover from this crisis and come out the other side a stronger, more just, more resilient Boston.

If we’re truly going to fix the problems of this city, we need to do it together — and fast. City government should be a collaborative effort. We must bring people together, listen to and learn from each other, have tough conversations and then take action.

Boston families can’t wait to put food on the table, pay their rent, get health care or get their businesses up and running. We have a lot of work to do and with my background, experiences and leadership style, I’m the mayor who will get it all done.

State Rep. Jon Santiago

State Rep. Jon Santiago, an ER doctor at Boston Medical Center, joined the race in February. In his second term representing the Ninth Suffolk District in the House of Representatives, Santiago was recently appointed vice-chair of the new Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness. At 38, the native of Puerto Rico who grew up in subsidized housing in Roxbury touted his experience in the Peace Corps and as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve on his website.

Sue O'Connell sits down with Massachusetts state Rep. Jon Santiago about his candidacy to become Boston's next mayor.

How would you move forward with reopening Boston during the pandemic?

The vaccination process is critical in planning for a vibrant reopening and bringing Boston back stronger than ever. Achieving herd immunity will result in students in the classroom, an economy ready to roar again and a return to a semblance of normalcy. As an ER physician on the frontlines and one of Beacon Hill’s most vocal advocates when it comes to COVID-19 recovery, I continue to push for greater equity and faster distribution of the vaccine. 

However, as vaccination efforts expand, the pandemic has already further exposed and exacerbated inequities across our city. I’m running for mayor to lead us through this crisis and to a recovery rooted in equity and opportunity. My experiences in medicine, the military and elected office have given me the skills and perspectives to focus on the acute crisis while beginning to paint a vision for our city’s future. 

As we know, the pandemic has been unpredictable and we must prepare for the threat that multiple variants of the virus present. All aspects of the recovery will depend on our readiness to adapt to changing situations and remain vigilant while finding innovative ways to keep our economy from falling further behind. As mayor, I’ll bring a crisis-leadership approach to this reopening and work with state and federal partners to ensure our city is set on a path to come back even stronger than before. 

What will you do to prevent working people in Boston from getting priced out of their homes once everyone is inoculated?

As a city, we need to recognize that there are neighborhoods that have been left out of the economic progress made over the years. We must find ways to curb the rapid rise in rents and make this city affordable for the people who make it what it is. It can’t be just an issue of supply. We need to fight housing insecurity on all fronts and make Boston a leader when it comes to rights and protections.

I’ve led on this issue as a state representative. I helped pass one of the most progressive anti-eviction efforts in the country that kept families in their homes during the pandemic. We also passed a significant piece of economic development legislation that will increase housing supply across the state while expanding housing voucher accessibility.

I remain committed to building on these efforts at the local level while also exploring options that include municipal public investment. Investing and advocating for rent-to-own and right of first refusal policies while passing the HOMES Act on Beacon Hill will be priorities. Making sure that seniors living on fixed incomes can stay in their respective communities is also key. 

What will you do to eradicate systemic racism in Boston?

Eradicating systemic racism begins with acknowledging our complicated past. My changing neighborhood and experiences in the ER are daily reminders of the patterns created by systemic racism in Boston.

Understanding the intersectionality between housing, transportation, health and so many other factors is central to uplifting communities of color. I have been — and remain committed to — championing policies that invest in and create opportunities for people of color to close the education and wealth gap.

As mayor, I will be intentional about making sure that each policy and platform I propose takes into account the history and current roles that race and ethnicity play in our communities as we set Boston on a new and more equitable path. 

What would you do in the first 90 days if elected?

COVID-19 has taught us to expect the unexpected. The first 90 days of my administration is solely dependent on what stage the pandemic is in at the time. Although my hope is that herd immunity will be reached by the year’s end, we must be vigilant and prepared to act swiftly should events change.

I will act boldly and urgently to lead our city out of the crisis and to a recovery rooted in equity and opportunity. Addressing the learning loss sustained by BPS students and the immediate economic needs of our most vulnerable neighbors will be priorities.

Similarly, putting our business community on a pathway to recovery must be ensured. By working hand in hand with community stakeholders and bringing an experience-tested crisis leadership approach to our recovery and reopening, we will bring Boston back stronger than ever. 

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My life’s purpose has been about service to my community, country, and to those less fortunate. After college, I joined the Peace Corps and went to the Dominican Republic where I worked as a community health worker. I went to medical school and later became an ER physician in the city’s safety net hospital. I took an oath to serve my country in the Army, where I’ve been proud to deploy overseas as a captain and medical provider.

Those experiences taught me the importance of service and about getting things done. Any success was borne out of my desire to listen, engage, and work in partnership to solve complicated problems. A results-driven leadership is necessary in order to address the inequities I see during my overnight shifts at Boston Medical Center. As mayor, I’ll bring together teams of experts focused on results to bring our city back stronger than ever.

Former Chief of Economic Development John Barros

John Barros stepped down after seven years as the city's chief of economic development and announced his run to replace his former boss in March. Barros, 47, cited his experience running a business and a nonprofit, serving on the school committee and leading the city's efforts to keep struggling businesses viable during the pandemic as qualifications for the job. The lifelong city resident ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2013.

Sue O'Connell sat down with John Barros, who's run for mayor of Boston in the past, to talk about why he's running again.

How would you move forward with reopening Boston during the pandemic?

In order to truly recover from this crisis, we need to take steps to keep our residents and essential workers safe while addressing the inequities this pandemic has only amplified – with low income residents, people with disabilities, and people of color at greater risk of infection, hospitalization and death. These same individuals are bearing the brunt of this crisis on the economic front, with lost jobs, lost wages, unemployment and shuttered businesses.

While we are starting to see hope on the horizon, we must ramp up Boston’s vaccination efforts – especially among communities of color – and continue to support testing and contact tracing initiatives to prevent further spread of the virus.

Our economic success as a city relies on the strength of our neighborhoods and local economies. We must continue to direct economic relief into communities and small businesses that were hardest hit. After spending my life working in community activism, city government and leading large community-based organizations, I am ready to mobilize a major, citywide recovery rooted in equity on day one.

What will you do to prevent working people in Boston from getting priced out of their homes once everyone is inoculated?

We need to take immediate steps to help our neighbors at risk of eviction due to the economic crisis by providing rental assistance and growing the City’s Office of Housing Stability to make sure residents have access to the programs and support they need to stay in their homes and to make sure tenants know their rights and protect them from eviction while working with homes owners as their banks add pressure on late mortgage payments.

We need to increase housing production to keep up with demand and increase affordability across the board. And we need to continue to call on the state and federal governments to provide more resources for affordable homes and public housing options, including options for our seniors and those with disabilities.

From my time as Chief of Economic Development for the City, to my years as Executive Director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative – where I led the largest urban land trust in the country – I’ve spent years working on supporting housing affordability and accessibility throughout the city.  This work continues and is going to be critical now more than ever to ensure Boston and its people are able to truly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

What will you do to eradicate systemic racism in Boston?

As both a mayoral candidate and lifelong resident of the city, I am advocating for Boston to be an anti-racist city. In order to truly move toward racial and socioeconomic justice in my first term, I would immediately develop and institutionalize equity and anti-racist goals and standards across all policy areas and offices within city government to ensure our systems at the top stop generating discrepancies, and instead work to reduce them.

I am a firm believer in restorative justice and criminal justice reform. The justice system should serve to keep our communities safe and help survivors heal – not perpetuate cycles of violence, trauma, poverty, and poor health.

As a Black man and a son of immigrants, this matter is deeply important to me. I believe we must tackle the root causes of crime and violence by fully investing in education, job training and community well-being. As mayor, I will make criminal justice reform an essential part of my strategies for promoting public health, addressing trauma, closing the racial wealth gap and building a more just economy.

What would you do in the first 90 days if elected?

Ensuring that our city recovers rapidly from the economic crisis caused by the COVID 19 pandemic is job one of the next mayor. As the owner of a neighborhood restaurant myself, I know firsthand how small businesses have struggled. Working with local business owners, I will create a strategic plan to get our local neighborhood businesses back on their feet. At the same time we need an aggressive strategy that restores downtown Boston as the economic engine of our city and region.

We also need to do better at creating new affordable housing options in our city. We need more housing options for different income levels, we need more housing that’s truly affordable for families left homeless by the recent economic downturn and for those who were experiencing homelessness long before the pandemic, and we need more housing for young professionals who worked hard to get a better job and want to start a family but cannot find housing they can afford.

Lastly, we need to do everything we can to make sure the pandemic does not have lifelong consequences for our children’s education and development. Due to the pandemic and the digital divide that exists, thousands of students have disengaged from our schools, and most of them are students of color. We need to create year-round educational programming that is attractive to young learners that re-engage them starting this summer in order to get students back in class and back on track.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

As a lifelong resident of Roxbury and Dorchester, I have been an active member of the Boston community my entire life.

My entire life has been rooted in our community – as a Black man and the son of immigrants who came here for a better life; as a teenage community leader trying to be a force for good; as a small business owner working to support my employees; as an active member of my church; as a former school committee member; as the former Chief of Economic Development for the city, where we changed the way the city thought about strategic growth; and, most importantly, as a husband and father of four young children.

I have the experience and proven track record to set a bold agenda for the city – one that is built upon and lifts up the diverse voices of our community, ensuring that everyone has the resources and opportunities to not only recover from this pandemic, but thrive in the next chapter of Boston’s history.

Some of the candidates' responses have been edited for length.

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