It was a day of doubling down for a pair of mayoral rivals in Boston.
Councilor Andrea Campbell on Wednesday afternoon ramped up criticism of Acting Mayor Kim Janey over her handling of the pandemic.
And a day after invoking slavery and birtherism in response to a question about New York City’s new proof-of-vaccine requirements, Janey stood fast, defending her approach to COVID-19 as sensible and equitable, and emphasizing the importance of the public getting vaccinated.
Campbell said Janey should take specific steps to combat the pandemic, “rather than stoking fear about the vaccines.”
Specifically, Campbell wants a requirement of proof of vaccination for gyms, restaurants, and concert venues; cash incentives to motivate residents to get vaccinated; a reinstatement of masks requirements for indoor dining and large venues; to provide school buildings with “basic air quality measures;” and to provide COVID-19 testing for school staff and students.
“This is where leadership is required,” she said. “We are in a public health crisis.”
Earlier in the day on WBUR, Janey reiterated that she would not be pursuing vaccine requirements similar to New York City, where a new mandate requires proof of vaccination for workers and customers at places such as indoor restaurants and gyms. That order goes into effect Aug. 16, with full enforcement beginning Sept. 13, according to reports. For those who are unvaccinated, Janey said, “We don’t want to ban them from public spaces or restaurants.”
Instead, Janey said the focus of Boston authorities is getting COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of residents.
“We want to see everyone vaccinated, that is the goal,” she said.
She made the comments a day after invoking slavery and birtherism. Janey later said in a tweet that the was pointing out “several hurdles facing communities of color with lower vaccination rates,” adding that “we must consider our shared history as we work to ensure an equitable public health and economic recovery.”
Campbell was not buying that explanation, saying she was shocked by the comments, which she called “absolutely ridiculous.”
“The acting mayor’s comments yesterday put people’s health at risk, plain and simple,” she said. “There is already too much misinformation directed at our residents about this pandemic, particularly for Black and brown residents.”
Campbell added that it is incumbent upon leaders “not give these conspiracies any oxygen.”
With the spread of the highly-contagious delta variant ongoing, officials in New York City and California have also mandated vaccines for their government workforces. Similarly, millions of federal workers are also subject to sweeping new pandemic measures aimed at boosting vaccination rates.
On WBUR Wednesday, Janey said Boston is working to implement a vaccine and testing mandate for the city’s 18,000 strong workforce.
“We are working toward that actively, right now,” she said.
Janey was pressed on whether her approach to the pandemic was inconsistent or confusing; she appears to be moving toward a vaccine requirement for city employees and has called on students returning to classrooms this fall to be masked, but does not support vaccine requirements for indoor dining and gyms.
“Our focus again continues to be getting the vaccine out into people’s arms; that is not confusing,” she said. “That is very clear.”
Campbell’s Wednesday news conference outside City Hall follows a pattern of criticizing Janey on an array of topics.
Last week, she held a similar event where she criticized a probe into the handling of child molestation allegations against a former Boston police officer.
At the end of June, Campbell was the only councilor to vote against both Janey’s operating budget and her budget proposal for the city’s school district. She also recently blasted Janey’s celebration of her first 100 days as acting mayor and even knocked Janey for her campaign swag on Twitter.
Campbell is not the only Boston lawmaker to differ with Janey’s pandemic approach.
Another mayoral candidate, City Councilor Michelle Wu said on Twitter Tuesday that leaders should build trust in vaccines and that vaccines should be mandatory for city workers. Wu also supports proof of vaccination to protect people at restaurants, shops, theaters, and indoor venues.
Mayoral candidate John Barros, a former economic development chief for the city, said in a Tuesday night tweet, “We must lead with scientific facts: the vaccines are extremely successful at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death.”
“Any opaque messaging or misleading rhetoric not only endangers lives, it exacerbates existing health disparities, and puts our economy in danger,” he said.
The mayoral campaign for City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George said the focus should be on “getting shots in arms” and implored leaders to “stop making this a politically charged issue.”
Meanwhile, Boston City Council President Pro Tempore Matt O’Malley, who is not running for mayor, said Boston should be deploying measures similar to New York.
”If we want to get serious about addressing vaccine hesitancy, slowing the spread of the Delta (and subsequent) variants, and keeping our families, friends, and neighbors safe, then we need to take bold and effective action,” he said in a Tuesday tweet.
O’Malley has required all in-person city council staff to show proof of vaccination or a weekly COVID-19 test starting Aug. 30.