City councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell is clashing with Mayor Martin J. Walsh over his administration’s new $2 million tourism campaign that is funded with federal COVID-19 relief money, saying the initiative “makes absolutely no sense” when the city is facing more immediate pandemic needs.
“There’s a time and place for that, [but] it’s not for when” COVID-19 infection rates continue to spike in the city, said Campbell during a Tuesday phone interview with the Globe.
Walsh, in a statement, defended the initiative, saying that businesses, particularly those in communities of color, "have been hit tremendously hard by this pandemic and many of our hospitality workers have been out of work for months.”
“There is no question that we’re going to live with COVID-19 for a long time — so while we continue to invest in COVID-19 outreach, mobile testing, school infrastructure, and rent and business relief, we also need to be talking about how we are going to help our economy recover in an equitable way," he said.
For communities of color, Campbell thought the $2 million in COVID-19 funding would be better used for other pandemic measures that she said would offer more immediate and direct relief. Specifically, she would like to see more investment in some of the areas the mayor mentioned in his statement, including mobile COVID-19 testing, small business and rent relief, and improvements to the school district’s infrastructure, and WiFi expansion, among other things.
“Two million is not a drop in the bucket for communities of color, that can have a real impact,” said Campbell.
Walsh’s economic development chief, John Barros, also defended the campaign on Tuesday, saying that tourism is a critical component of the city’s economy and the tourism sector continues to be the hardest hit industry amid the public health emergency.
“This is at the heart of us responding to the pandemic,” said Barros.
Barros said he thinks that it is not an “either/or proposition,” regarding the new tourism campaign and other pandemic relief. He said many unemployed city residents would benefit from the strengthening of the tourism economy.
In early November, Walsh’s administration announced that two mobile testing teams were available to anyone regardless of symptoms in East Boston and Mattapan, but Campbell on Tuesday said the city should be doing more.
“What we’re doing is not enough,” said Campbell.
Last week, the Walsh administration announced the $2 million marketing campaign would be aimed at persuading visitors to check out Boston’s haunts and patronize its businesses, particularly those in neighborhoods that often get overlooked in tourism guidebooks. Barros said Tuesday he expected new ads from the campaign to start to run in the early part of next year. The campaign, he said, will be aimed at people who live within driving distance of the city.
Walsh has yet to announce whether he intends to seek a third term, although recent campaign activity could be interpreted as a ramp-up to a re-election bid. Campbell and fellow city councilor Michelle Wu have both declared they are running for the seat.
In the summer, Wu criticized the Walsh administration over how it used coronavirus-related funding. Specifically, Wu took issue with the Boston Resiliency Fund, a Walsh effort to raise money from companies and individuals and distribute it to those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. She said at that time that when when such fund-raising is filtered through city government instead of going directly to nonprofits and foundations “we are distorting the political process.”
Walsh strongly defended the fund, saying the money raised helped to put food on people’s tables, expanded coronavirus testing among vulnerable populations, and purchased Chromebooks for students in the city’s school district so that they could participate in online learning.
As of Tuesday, there were 2,676 active COVID-19 cases in Boston.