Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George notched another public safety endorsement Monday in the crowded mayoral race, with the city’s politically powerful firefighters union announcing its support for the former public school teacher from Dorchester.
“Councilor George has a long track record of standing with Boston firefighters and their families,” said Boston Fire Lieutenant John R. Soares, who is president of Local 718, at a news conference Monday morning outside Florian Hall in Dorchester. His union represents nearly 2,600 retired and active firefighters. According to city data, more than 1,000 active Boston firefighters live in the city.
The endorsement comes a week-and-a-half after former Boston police commissioner William G. Gross announced he is backing Essaibi George, who is known to be a relative centrist on a City Council that has moved to the left in recent years.
Local 718 represents firefighters from a department that has been criticized for its lack of diversity in recent years and a culture that is resistant to change, but Essaibi George on Monday balked at being labeled the status quo candidate in a field where multiple candidates are casting themselves as progressive agents of reform.
“I am never OK with the status quo. It is why I’m running for mayor, to lead this city through new opportunity, a new time, a new change,” said Essaibi George. “We need to do that together.”
Like the city’s police force, the Fire Department does not reflect the demographics of the city it serves, as the BFD continues to be dominated by white men. Late last year, the department reported that only 19 of the 1,400-plus firefighters in the city are women and slightly more than one-quarter are people of color. Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents constitute a majority of Boston’s population.
Essaibi George acknowledged Monday that the city needs to do “a much better job diversifying the firefighting force.”
“That work certainly starts with recruiting, especially from our city’s kids,” she said. “We need to make sure that the kids of Boston see themselves reflected in the Boston Fire Department.”
A city fire cadet program was recently established to recruit a diverse pool of candidates who could eventually be hired as firefighters.
That program, Essaibi George said, is a starting point, but there is “a lot of work we need to do within that program, to fine tune it to make sure it actually does the things” it’s supposed to.
Additionally, a 2019 report found that the city’s Fire Department, which dates back to 1678, had a “male-dominated” culture that was resistant to change. That report was blasted by female firefighters and local officials who felt it recycled old recommendations and did not go far enough to address systemic issues.
On Monday, Essaibi George said, “I do believe together we can work through it and make sure all of our female firefighters across the district feel not just welcomed in our firehouses, but part of the team. That’s really important to me.”
The pool of major candidates vying for mayor include Acting Mayor Kim Janey, City Councilors Essaibi George, Andrea Campbell, and Michelle Wu, state Representative Jon Santiago, and Boston’s former city economic chief, John Barros.
Local union support has so far splintered among various camps during the fast-moving contest for the top job at City Hall.
In addition to the firefighters union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association has also endorsed Essaibi George. Recently, UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents 12,000 hotel and food workers, and has in the past been influential at City Hall, announced it is backing Janey.
Wu has also received substantial union support. Teamsters Local 25, which represents 12,000 workers, has endorsed her. So have OPEIU Local 453, which represents office and clerical workers at the MBTA, the Alliance of Unions at the MBTA, and the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
Dorchester-based Laborers Local 223, one of the city’s biggest unions, is backing Santiago. That local, which former mayor Martin J. Walsh once led, represents 1,700 building trade workers. Santiago also snagged the endorsement of the National Association of Government Employees.
When Essaibi George received the endorsement of Gross, known to be a cop’s cop during his time leading the nation’s oldest police force, earlier this month, it came amid continued discussion about police reform in the city and a metastasizing scandal involving Gross’s successor and friend, Dennis White. White is locked in an ugly legal battle against City Hall in an effort to keep his job after decades-old domestic violence allegations surfaced following his appointment by then-Mayor Walsh in March.
As with the Gross endorsement, Essaibi George emphasized unity during Monday’s announcement. She recalled her family home catching fire years ago, saying “we all made it out safely, thanks to the brave firefighters who responded that evening.”
“When you need them, they are there,” she said.
The preliminary election is scheduled for Sept. 14. That contest will narrow the field to two, who will face off in the Nov. 2 general election.