Multiple mayoral hopefuls on Thursday called on fellow candidate Annissa Essaibi George to address a recent Globe report that found Essaibi George appears to have improperly used her position on the City Council to benefit her husband’s South Boston development venture.
The Globe report suggested that Essaibi George may have violated the state’s conflict of interest law.
“This is troubling if true, and Councilor Essaibi George owes Boston voters some answers today,” John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, said in a statement released by his campaign. “Failure to comply with the state ethics laws by concealing personal interest in real estate development projects raises legitimate concerns about the misuse of public office for personal gain.”
The campaign for Acting Mayor Kim Janey said the Globe’s investigation “raises a number of serious ethical questions and concerns.” Campaign manager Kirby Chandler called for Essaibi George to provide “a full, detailed and transparent response to the questions raised in the story.”
A third candidate, meanwhile, Councilor Andrea Campbell, reminded Essaibi George that ”public employees are held to a higher standard.”
Campbell said the controversy “brings it back for me to issues that people are talking about and that’s housing affordability, displacement, that’s what I want to continue to focus on.”
The Globe reported Wednesday night that in 2019, a staffer in Essaibi George’s office appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeal in an attempt to squash a building project in South Boston that would’ve interfered with the skyline views of a 24-unit luxury condominium Essaibi George’s husband, Douglas R. George, had built next door.
In speaking against the new project, Essaibi George’s staff failed to disclose that the city councilor’s husband was in the process of selling $1 million dollar condos next door and had touted the views of the Boston skyline as a selling point.
The Globe also found that George has repeatedly flouted city and state housing and building laws, failed to register rental units, and has been sued multiple times by tenants. At least four times, records show, inspectors have filed applications for criminal complaints in housing court against George or his companies — though criminal charges never came and the cases have since been resolved.
After initially defending her office’s actions at the zoning board hearing, Essaibi George’s campaign said in a second statement that “we have engaged with counsel on issues involving the Ethics Commission and are working to file any necessary disclosures.”
In an e-mail earlier this week, her campaign said, “As a City Councilor for almost six years, she has been steadfast in her commitment to separate herself from her husband’s work. She will continue to ensure that separation and lead with transparency as Mayor. "
In a Thursday interview, Essaibi George added, “I appreciate that I have to hold myself to this standard, and to an especially high standard, especially as mayor.”
She said her husband will not be doing business before the ZBA or the Boston Planning & Development agency if she is elected mayor. Her campaign has emphasized that any time her husband’s projects are before the ZBA or BPDA, she and her staff recuse themselves.
“That project [in the Globe story] in particular was not related to my husband,” she said. “He was not mentioned during that hearing and as in every project that we involve ourselves in, we work very directly with community members, we work with community leaders and residents, we work with the district councilor, local electeds and take a position on cases. That has been our standard operating procedure.”
She said she communicated with the state Ethics Commission on Thursday to seek guidance on the matter.
A spokesman for the state Ethics Commission said Thursday that the agency can’t comment on alleged violations due to confidentiality restrictions.
The Globe also reported that Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, was sent warning letters this month for failing to renew or register two rental properties.
None of the major mayoral candidates called for Essaibi George to drop out of the race on Thursday.
“That’s a question for Councilor Essaibi George,” said Campbell in response to a question.
The campaign for Councilor Michelle Wu, the fifth major contender in the race, declined comment.
A June poll conducted by Suffolk University and The Boston Globe showed Wu and Janey pulling ahead of the rest of the pack the race. In the poll, Wu garnered 23.4 percent support, Janey 21.6 percent, and Essaibi George 14.4 percent, while Campbell had 10.8 percent. Barros polled at under 2 percent.
Stephanie Ebbert of Globe staff contributed.