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Mayoral candidates share visions for Boston’s economic future at forum

A mayoral forum was hosted at Roxbury Community College by A Better City and the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts. Candidates (from left) John Barros, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, and Michelle Wu attended, while Acting Mayor Kim Janey did not appear.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

With the preliminary mayoral election just a few days away, a slate of candidates gathered at Roxbury Community College Thursday for a forum on the city’s economic future and expanding opportunity and social mobility.

Fresh off the first televised debate of the race on Wednesday, the mayoral hopefuls offered their visions for addressing the racial wealth gap and promoting broad-based economic growth at the “Building Boston’s Economic Future for Everyone” forum, hosted by the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and A Better City, a business group.

Four candidates discussed easing the city’s contracting process for small businesses, connecting public school students to jobs after graduation, and creating a climate-resilient city without financially burdening residents.

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Acting Mayor Kim Janey initially accepted an invitation to the event but withdrew on Wednesday night, saying she needed to help oversee the first day for the city’s public schools, forum organizers said. Janey recently came under criticism for missing 30 out of 60 mayoral public events held since April.

Kirby Chandler, Janey’s campaign manager, said Janey has attended as many forums and debates as her schedule allows.

“[Janey] has taken part in over 30 debates and forums thus far, including a televised debate last night and another debate this evening,” Chandler said. “She regrets that she cannot attend this event but she’s worked closely with [the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts] and supports their work, and looks forward to working with them in the future.”

At the forum, mayoral candidate City Councilor Andrea Campbell shared a story about helping a neighbor secure a bus for her son that was running late that morning, calling the situation “unacceptable.”

“Our kids don’t need free pencils,” Campbell said later at a news conference about the bus shortage, referring to pictures of Janey passing out pencils to students as they arrived at school. “They need their buses to show up on time.”

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At the forum, the four candidates debated the need to create more opportunities at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, the city’s only such high school. Mayoral hopeful City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George said the city should invest in a “16-hour-a-day campus,” including afterschool and evening programs, to prepare students for careers in emerging industries.

“Madison Park should be the gem of our school system,” she said. “I’m committed within my first 100 days … to roll out a strategic plan around Madison Park.”

Each candidate outlined plans for simplifying the small business application process and encouraging economic growth. John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development and mayoral hopeful, said a key step is including neighborhoods in the economic planning process.

“Growth is not a default position for cities. You have to design cities,” Barros said. “A city’s that’s not growing is not in a good place.”

An easier start for businesses “starts with better planning,” Campbell added.

The candidates pointed to Boston’s housing shortage as a barrier to economic growth. Michelle Wu, a city councilor who is leading in the polls, said she supports rent control and integrating housing with libraries and community centers.

“We cannot continue to nibble around the edges of a broken status quo,” Wu said. “We need to lean in at the city level.”

The candidates also delineated their views on public transportation. Wu, whose calls for making the MBTA free for riders have been a major part of her campaign platform, said she’d push to create more bus lanes, improving connections between the Red and Blue lines, and electrifying the Fairmount Line. Barros pushed back on the practicality of eliminating MBTA fares.

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“About freeing the T, it’s a nice dream but it’s $700 million a year in fares that we would have to pay from the city’s budget. It’s not feasible,” Barros said. “We need to make it a better alternative than cars.”

Campbell said she wouldn’t commit to making the MBTA free but said she would push for eliminating bus fares.

“I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep, especially to communities of color,” she said.

Near the end of the event, candidates shared their concerns about Boston’s ability to reduce carbon emissions drastically by 2050, and the economic burdens it would cause.

Essaibi-George recalled coaching East Boston High School’s softball team and worrying about the emissions her team was exposed to near Constitution Beach. Boston’s next mayor should ensure that the city’s climate change response encompasses every neighborhood, she said.

“We cannot handle a response in one part of our city or our coastlines if we’re not looking to the north and to the south as a part of our response,” she said.

Wu said she would push to plant more trees, electrify school buses, and provide funding for landlords and tenants to make homes more energy-efficient.

“Aiming for 2050 only gives us a 50-50 chance,” Wu said. “I’m not willing to sit by for that coin flip chance.”

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Rick Dimino of A Better City and Segun Idowu of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts moderated the event. CommonWealth Magazine’s Bruce Mohl facilitated the event.

The preliminary mayoral elections are Sept. 14. The top two candidates will advance to the Nov. 2 general election.



Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.