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Three weeks out from the preliminary, Boston’s mayoral hopefuls sprint down the home stretch

A woman voted at Fenway Park last year. This is the last day to register to vote for the election.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

For Boston’s would-be mayors, it’s crunch time.

Tuesday marked three weeks before the preliminary election winnows the crowded field down to two final candidates for November’s general contest. It also was the eve of the voter registration deadline for the Sept. 14 ballot.

As Election Day looms, the open questions are various in a race that remains remarkably murky: Is Councilor Michelle Wu now the odds-on favorite? Will Councilor Annissa Essaibi George take a centrist, more moderate lane to the general? Will Acting Mayor Kim Janey leverage the built-in advantage of being the city’s interim executive to ballot box success, or squander it? Can Councilor Andrea Campbell make up ground? What about John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, who has lagged far behind in polls?

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A relative dearth of public polling has contributed to the race’s uncertainty; the contest also has been conducted amid an unprecedented public health crisis. The makeup of the field, too, is unprecedented. Whatever happens, history is pretty much guaranteed. For the first time in its history, Boston, barring anything unforeseen, will elect a mayor who is not a white man.

“I’m excited,” said Wu after touring the Roxbury YMCA Tuesday morning, one of several candidates out on the campaign trail.

Boston Mayoral candidate Michelle Wu toured the YMCA in Roxbury on Tuesday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

She said her campaign’s focus will continue to connect with people in the city’s neighborhoods and make sure “we are as many places as we can possibly be.” She noted that her team has been on the campaign trail for 11 months.

“We’re seeing this huge surge in momentum,” she said.

Wu has reason to be feeling good. The political class was buzzing Tuesday about a leaked internal poll, reported by Politico, from the campaign of Essaibi Georgewhich showed Wu as the front-runner, with 27 percent support. The poll — which should be treated with caution, since the campaign has not made all of the poll’s details public — had Wu 12 points ahead of both Essaibi George and Janey, who were tied for second with 15 percent each.

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In that poll, Campbell registered at 10 percent and Barros came in at 5 percent. Essaibi George’s campaign confirmed the figures as accurate.

Hours before canvassing in West Roxbury and Allston-Brighton, Wu said she was always energized whenever her campaign efforts are validated. But she demurred when asked if she was now the front-runner.

“We’re focused on making sure that this period that matters so much, reminding people when Election Day is, making sure we’re talking about what’s at stake, and getting out the vote,” she said.

Before her tour, YMCA officials discussed the most pressing issues facing city residents: child care, affordable housing, food insecurity. The Y has served tens of thousands of meals to families during the pandemic, said Wendy Zinn, chief responsibility officer for YMCA of Greater Boston, but such programs will end with the start of the school year, meaning there will be a “transition for families who have been counting on prepared meals.”

With the imminent start to the school year, Boston’s next mayor will have to be flexible, said Kathryn Saunders, executive director of the Roxbury Y.

“They need to continue to listen and respond to what parents need,” she said.

With 21 days to go before the preliminary, Essaibi George also remained energized. “It’s full steam ahead,” she said after speaking at a Ukrainian flag-raising ceremony at City Hall Plaza. Her focus, she said, remains meeting and engaging with voters.

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Boston Mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George attended the Ukrainian Independence Day flag-raising outside Boston City Hall on Tuesday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

“I’ve demonstrated a real commitment to being present in every neighborhood,” she said. “And that’s not going to change in the next three weeks.”

Asked about her campaign’s internal poll, Essaibi George, said the results “showed real strength . . . and showed continued growth and strength in our numbers.”

Other campaigns were also grinding away on Tuesday. Barros, who has consistently lagged in the polls, participated in a mayoral Q&A with a Black fraternal organization. His campaign volunteers canvassed in East Boston and West Roxbury during the afternoon. He was scheduled to attend a house party in Charlestown with supporters Tuesday evening.

During his Q&A, Barros answered questions regarding access to child care, affordable housing, financial equity, and the need for more jazz lounges and Cape Verdean restaurants in Boston.

Barros said he appreciates the opportunity to have “intimate conversations” with voters as the primary approaches.

“I feel really good about the conversations I’m having with voters,” Barros said as the filmmakers began breaking down the light fixtures and putting away their cameras. “Every day we’re picking up new supporters.”

Barros said he’s not focused on polls.

Boston Mayoral candidate John Barros (left) was interviewed by Reverend Jaron Green of the Boston Alphas on Tuesday. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Campbell, meanwhile, was slated to appear on “Politica Entre Amigos”, a local Spanish-speaking political talk show Tuesday evening.

Campbell projected confidence in a brief phone interview Tuesday. “We feel the momentum on the ground, our job is to continue that.”

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She dismissed the Essaibi George poll results, saying if she paid attention to polls, she would not have run for City Council in the first place.

Last week, Campbell’s campaign claimed to have directly reached more than 65,000 voters. This week, campaign volunteers will knock on doors in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Allston-Brighton, East Boston, and Mattapan. The campaign is also planning a get-out-the-vote kickoff event in Dorchester for Sunday.

Boston Mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell (left) prepared to go on air with Executive Producer of TV show “Política Entre Amigos” Juan Aurelio Lopez on Tuesday evening. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Janey, who has the benefit of being the acting mayor, meanwhile, had no public events scheduled for Tuesday. Her campaign claimed its teams were knocking on about 6,000 doors a week now, and hosting daily canvass launches and phone banks.

Our field program is running on all cylinders,” said Janey’s campaign manager Kirby Chandler. “We are seeing strong support for Mayor Janey in every part of the city.”

Even as the calendar ticks down, Chandler said that Janey’s campaigning would be concentrated on nights and weekends, as the acting mayor’s main focus “is on continuing to lead the city by getting vaccines into arms and opening our public schools safely.”

As of Tuesday, the day before the voter registration deadline for the preliminary elections, there were more than 437,800 registered voters in the city. Election authorities acknowledged that number could increase Wednesday and later in the week as officials received mail-in registrations, but not drastically. Early vote-by-mail applications have been sent to every registered voter in the city, according to the Elections Department.

Some of those voters are still deciding who to back — more than 20 percent, according to Essaibi George’s internal poll. Which means the top candidates still have time to woo supporters.

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“I think being undecided is a good problem to have — we’ve never had a mayoral race like this,” said James Arego, 35, of Roslindale, who attended the Barros event Tuesday. “With this historic race, I have five candidates that are vying for my vote and many of them represent my community. This time it’s not about the lesser of two evils . . . No matter who we choose we will have someone thinking about these issues differently.”

Globe correspondent Julia Carlin contributed to this report.



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.