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Boston Mayoral Candidates Face Off in First Televised Debate

In the first televised debate between Boston’s five major mayoral hopefuls, the candidates squared off over police reform, education and the coronavirus crisis, vying for votes less than a week before a preliminary election that will knock them down to two.

Mayor Kim Janey; City Councilors Annissa Essaibi George, Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu; and John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, all participated in the hourlong debate, which was hosted by NBC10 Boston, Telemundo Boston and NECN in partnership with the Dorchester Reporter and the Bay State Banner.

Barros put Janey on the hot seat early on in the debate by asserting that she didn’t have a plan when it comes to police reform.

“I’d love her to point to a plan. She doesn’t have a plan. Check her website out,” Barros said. “We’ve asked for a plan. In fact, she had said she was gonna put out a plan, and never got one out in her own timeline.”

The five candidates for Boston City Council took a series of rapid-fire questions at the end of the first televised debate in this year’s election, including who else they’d vote for on the debate stage, whether they’ve been vaccinated and who’s bought from one of Boston’s pot shops.

Janey argued that her plan, which she said she released at the headquarters of the police department, has homicides down by 32% and fatal shootings down by 50%.

Barros credited the Walsh administration with those improvements.

“I experience gun violence where I live on my street on a regular basis. I’ve lost count how many times someone has been shot in front of my house,” Janey said. “This issue is real. I live with the trauma, as do too many residents across our city.”

The five candidates addressed several other issues facing Bostonians, including public safety, COVID-19 and the rising cost of living during the hourlong debate.

“We have gotten to the point where we are now seeing businesses beginning to wonder about what the next steps are as the delta variant ramps up, we are sitting on the verge of schools reopening, and a lot of uncertainty, as well,” Wu said. “We need to do better about closing the gaps and addressing the issues that this pandemic has exacerbated, but were already present in our communities for a long time before.”

The five major candidates for mayor gave their opinions on how Boston has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the issue of masks, the candidates said they would still require masks in schools for all students and staff this year even if the FDA gives full approval for a vaccine for children under the age of 12.

While discussing the need to educate people on the importance of getting vaccinated, Essaibi George touted her background as the only candidate who has worked as a teacher on the stage and someone who had spent 13 years in the classroom grading students.

“We’ve got to exist in reality. The masks aren’t coming off this school year. I think it’s important when we make decisions that we’re basing it on the science,” she said.

The five major candidates for mayor gave their opinions on how Boston has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beyond COVID, one issue facing Boston schools is a shortage of school bus drivers. The pandemic meant a year of remote learning when drivers weren’t needed, and many got new, better-paying jobs.

“I was one of those parents that actually got a recorded voicemail, leaving me a message saying there was going to be a shortage of bus drivers with little information as to who to call where to get information how to figure out if your family would be affected. That’s just absolutely unacceptable,” Campbell said. “We did know there’s been a bus shortage — there’s a national bus shortage right now. We should have been proactive in planning for this.”

When asked why this issue wasn’t hammered out months ago, Janey promised that the bus drivers would be there to pick up school children when schools open in Boston on Thursday.

“When it comes to the bus drivers, I’m really encouraged that our bus drivers and [the bus company], and the school department have reached an agreement,” she said. “We are expecting and welcoming all of our bus drivers back to welcome our children tomorrow.”

The two top vote-getters in the Sept. 14 preliminary election will face off in the general election on Nov. 2. Those candidates will be invited to participate in another debate this October.

Other issues the candidates touched on included housing, climate change and the opioid crisis.

The candidates spoke about how they will keep Black families in Boston, and also support those who were displaced and want to come back as people are being priced out of the city.

“Families leave the city because they don’t have access to the things that they need. Our education system, our transit system, our economic system, our workforce system,” Essaibi George said. “It is all an important part of that, and it starts with creating ownership opportunities within the housing market across our city councilor camp.”

Campbell committed to investing up to $1 million in her first six months as mayor, “and I’d love to get there in the first 100 days,” she said, to establish a down payment assistance fund in the city.

“When we think about, and we just saw in the results of the latest census survey, the departure of too many of our Black families, it’s about the cost of housing in the city. We need greater affordability, we also need to create more opportunity for workforce development for create the creative economy, for our schools,” Campbell said.

Janey said that during her time as mayor of Boston, she invested $50 million in rental relief, quadrupled down payment assistance from $10,000 to $40,000 and helped 3,400 households; 70% of which were people of color, 37% were Black and 26% Latino. She also pointed to the city’s eviction moratorium.

“When at the federal level, the courts struck it down, I made sure that I stood up for the residents of Boston to keep people in their homes, and we’re doing more to invest to make sure that people can live out the American dream,” Janey said. “We’ve got more work to do.”

Sue O’Connell, Raul Martinez, Alison King, Jacquetta Van Zandt and Marcela Garcia discuss how Boston mayoral candidates Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George and John Barros fared in their first televised debate.

Candidates were also asked about their plans to make Boston more resilient when it comes to climate change.

“Climate justice is racial and economic justice. It is the urgent threat that is at our doorsteps and going to be the lens through which we see the world for the next 100 years,” Wu said. “The horrific images that we saw in New York with the storms of subways flooded, families who lost their lives, poor working class immigrant families who couldn’t afford the mitigation — Boston needs to be prepared right now for that.”

Meanwhile, used drug needles and crack pipes can be seen scattered throughout the area known as “Methadone Mile,” a notorious stretch along Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard where people regularly use illegal drugs in broad daylight.

“We didn’t have needles in our parks, we didn’t have needles on the street, we definitely didn’t have bodies on the ground, and you didn’t know if the person’s dead or alive,” Essaibi-George said. “That is the state of affairs in the city of Boston right now, which everyone should be absolutely concerned about.”

People who live in that part of Boston’s South End have been calling for action from officials.

“This is a complex issue, but it needs leadership and it needs action,” Barros said. “We need more elected and better elected officials in office and to it. That’s why, as mayor, I will make sure that we have a multidisciplinary 24-hour team on the streets right now with personalized services for the people who need help.”

Janey, who noted that the opioid crisis has been just that — a crisis — for the last decade, said that more work is being done to treat addiction, citing the 1,600 individuals were referred into treatment over the past year. But she called for a regional approach to address the issue.

“This isn’t about an intersection in our city. This is about individuals who are in need of support and services,” Janey said. “This is a challenge we need to make sure that there is a regional approach, it can’t continue to fall all on Boston. We have to decentralize, we have to make sure that all of our city departments, as well as partnering with the DA ‘s office, which we are doing to ensure that those who would prey against vulnerable people in our city are held accountable.”

New England Cable News

New England Cable News is a regional 24-hour cable news television network owned and operated by NBCUniversal serving the New England region of the United States. It focuses on regional news, though in some low priority timeslots, paid programming and programming from WNBC such as Talk Stoop and Open House are seen.

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