Douglas R. George appears to believe rules are for lesser souls.
The developer, who has been building and leasing housing in Boston and beyond for decades, has piled up code violations, been accused of shoddy construction, evicted poor tenants, routinely been late with property taxes, and thumbed his nose at city officials: In 2008, after inspectors ordered him to remove illegal extensions from one of his Dorchester buildings before he could get an occupancy permit, George did so, but once he had the permit in hand, the developer simply rebuilt the illegal spaces.
This sorry catalog of transgressions comes via a Globe story reported by Andrew Ryan and Danny McDonald. And it has come to light because George is married to Boston mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George, an at-large city councilor.
Even as she argues for fairer housing policies, Essaibi George benefits financially from her husband’s shady real estate practices. She has pushed for improving the Boston Housing Authority voucher system for needy families, but her husband has gone to court to evict some of those same families, the Globe found. The taxes which Doug George routinely withholds fund the city government Annissa Essaibi George would like to lead (and the couple has been late paying taxes on their own Dorchester home every year since at least 2014).
More troubling, Essaibi George’s office advocated for her husband’s interests: In 2019, the councilor’s office urged the Zoning Board of Appeal to block a project that threatened the views from a luxury South Boston condo building her husband had developed and was marketing based on its command of the skyline. The candidate maintains that her practice has long been to have her staffers leave the hearing room whenever a matter in which George is involved comes before the board, but that because his name was not attached to the South Boston building under consideration, they did not do so. It beggars belief that Essaibi George was unaware of the connection at the time. But if the councilor really was trying to maintain boundaries, her husband wasn’t interested in helping her: After the building was approved, George sued the zoning board, citing the support of three city councilors — without mentioning that he was married to one of the three.
In an interview on Friday, Essaibi George said she had never knowingly interceded on behalf of her husband, and that she was determined to draw a bright line between his business and her work in City Hall.
“I have decided that when I am elected mayor, my husband will conduct no new business here in the City of Boston,” she said. George will not purchase or build any properties in Boston, and every permit request on his current properties will go through an intermediary, Essaibi George said.
“I don’t want my husband at City Hall for anything, unless it’s to bring me lunch, or my kids in for a visit,” she said.
Let’s hope it works better if Essaibi George ascends to the city’s top job than it has so far. But even if it does, her husband will continue to be a landlord in the city, and breaking rules appears to be part of his business strategy. How likely are city officials to hold accountable a property owner who is married to the mayor who is their ultimate boss?
The mayoral candidate said that “as a woman” she was frustrated at having to answer for her husband’s work rather than focus on her own achievements and policies. “I’m being told that because my husband has built a business in this city I shouldn’t be running for mayor,” she said.
Hold up. This isn’t sexism. Under state law, Essaibi George’s financial interests are congruent with her husband’s. If he profits from his business practices — including those that run counter to her public stances — she profits too. That makes this scrutiny legitimate.
Polls show voters this year care deeply about housing. For a long time, Boston has been led by mayors who are entirely too close to developers. Along with other firsts, this mayoral election gives the city a chance to turn the page on that cozy dynamic — to tip the balance away from luxury condos, and toward people struggling to afford homes.
Given what we know, other candidates are more likely to make it happen.