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Mayoral candidates press the flesh as in-person campaigning makes a return

Mayoral candidate state Representative Jon Santiago talked to supporters at a campaign event in the South End.Christiana Botic for The Boston Globe

Boston’s mayoral candidates took to the streets Saturday to give hugs, pet dogs, and knock on doors, signaling a return to traditional, in-person campaigning in the waning days of the coronavirus pandemic, as the six face off in the hotly contested race.

After nearly a year and a half in which politicians — including those running in last year’s presidential election — have been forced to rely largely on virtual events to promote their campaigns, candidates went to meet voters where they were, whether in restaurants, at parks, or on their doorstep.

The events show that the summer of gladhanding is officially hitting Boston neighborhoods, with a little more than two months to go before the Sept. 14 preliminary election, which will narrow the field down to two candidates for the November general election.


But even as they shook hands and doled out campaign literature, they kept a foot in the virtual world.

“We’re still very much in a transition period,” at-large City Councilor Michelle Wu said in an interview Saturday morning. “In between every two in-person events, there’s some Zoom candidate forum or conversation.”

Boston mayoral candidate City Councilor Michelle Wu spoke with a group of canvassers in Jamaica Plain. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The complicated transition from COVID-era campaigning to a more familiar handshakes-and-hugs approach was visible at the opening of Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s campaign office Saturday morning in Jamaica Plain.

Upon arriving at the event, supporters were asked to fill out a survey reporting any COVID-19 symptoms. They also had to agree to the campaign’s health and safety policies, which state that “masks must be worn at all times,” and instruct attendees to “keep at least 6 feet distance from others.”

Inside the office, though, a sea of people gathered around Janey as she spoke about her stance on issues such as housing and education. During the remarks, shouts of approval rang out from the packed room, which Janey said represented “what Boston looks like.”


“It’s all walks of life. It’s people who represent all different backgrounds,” she told reporters, gesturing to the crowd she had just addressed.

Outside on the sidewalk, Nancy Sableski, 68, of Jamaica Plain, liked what she heard. She said she plans to vote for Janey because of the acting mayor’s lived experience with issues faced by Boston’s most vulnerable residents.

“Someone who grew up here in Boston, lived through busing, lived through housing insecurity and food insecurity,” Sableski said. “That adds up to the person who knows the pain of the people the most.”

Acting Mayor Kim Janey embraced a supporter while celebrating a campaign office opening in Jamaica Plain.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

On the other side of Franklin Park, candidate John Barros spoke to voters about his struggles coming of age in Boston at a pre-canvassing event in Dorchester.

“Growing up in this neighborhood, I know how hard it’s been,” the city’s former economic development chief said. “I didn’t always feel like Boston belonged to me.”

As his 3-year-old daughter wrapped her arms around his leg, Barros committed to making “sure our kids feel like Boston belongs to them.”

“We’ve worked together to make it safer, to make it more affordable, to increase quality of life,” he told the crowd of a few dozen people.

In the crowd was Elmer Boyd, 52, who attended the event on behalf of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Boyd is still checking out the candidates, he said, but he wants the next mayor to secure better employment for women and Black residents.

“We’re still having trouble getting jobs for African Americans, and we have to stop that,” he said. “Black people have to make more; young people and apprentices have to make more.”


“We need someone that’s willing to stand up to these multi-million-dollar communities,” Boyd continued. “Before the first shovel hits the ground, the mayor should be there.”

Mayoral candidate John Barros talked with his daughter Olivia during a campaign event outside Boston Pizza and Grill in Dorchester.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

In neighborhoods across the city, residents had a chance to meet the candidates face to face as they participated in community events.

In Mattapan, City Councilor Andrea Campbell visited a vaccination clinic. Democratic state Representive Jon Santiago sampled some fresh kibbeh at the Roslindale Farmers Market and danced in the street with supporters in the South End.

In Roxbury, Michelle Wu took a stroll on Tremont Street, greeting residents and passing out campaign materials.

Wu, who is the race’s frontrunner according to recent polls, has styled herself as the climate candidate, and has the backing of a number of environmental groups.

Wu’s views on the climate appeal to Ermias Girma, 59, of Roxbury. But the former refugee from Ethiopia also appreciates her immigrant background.

“She knows what the immigrants feel, what the immigrants face,” Girmas said of Wu, whose parents came to America from Taiwan.

Olayemi Phillips, 54, encountered Wu on Tremont Street while taking her daughter to a softball game.

“I thought she was wonderful,” the Mattapan resident said. “She seemed like she listened.”

Phillips said, though, that she hasn’t committed to a candidate yet. Her conversation with Wu included the topic of gun violence, an issue Phillips said is important for her.


“It’s concerning in our neighborhood or in anybody’s neighborhood,” she said.

Mayoral candidate City Councilor Andrea Campbell greeted Kathleen Harrison on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Reducing crime is also a priority for Ralph Guarino. The East Boston resident said he hopes the next mayor maintains funding for the police, despite pressure from progressive advocates to reallocate money toward services that they believe will better address the root causes of crime.

And as Guarino pruned plants in his yard Saturday afternoon, the mayoral candidate endorsed by former Police Commissioner William Gross and the union representing Boston firefighters approached.

“Can I come say hi?” asked at-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George.

“Don’t get too close,” he joked.

It didn’t take Guarino long to realize that his daughter knew Essaibi George from her years teaching at East Boston High School.

“I always vote for Annissa in any election she’s in,” Guarino said, “and I think she’ll be good for the city.”

One street over, two dogs yipped eagerly at one another from either side of a wire fence. Laughing, Essaibi George scratched their ears, doing her best to help the owners separate the pups.

In between yaps, one of the dogs’ owners said that, after the pandemic, she wanted a mayor who would “keep Boston strong.”

Essaibi George agreed wholeheartedly.

“And it starts with meeting people at their front doors,” she said in an interview.

“There’s nothing that replaces that face to face interaction,” she said. “Meeting people changes everyone’s feelings about the race.”


After speaking at the No Books, No Ball Pandemic Relief Summer League, in Ramsay Park, Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George hugs and chats with participants Ashton Jenkins, 6, left, and Shelby Sanders, 6. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Correction: Due to a reporting error,a previous version of this story misidentified the public safety union endorsing Annissa Essaibi George. The Globe regrets the error.

Ivy Scott can be reached at Follow her @itsivyscott.