Heading into the final stretch of the mayoral race, the two candidates vowed Wednesday to run clean, issue-oriented campaigns and shun outside attack ads, a pledge political analysts say will pose a challenge as they try to distinguish themselves and build a strong coalition of support across the city.
City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George hastened to distance herself from a superPAC with ties to Donald Trump, saying she wanted Real Progress Boston, which has been supporting her, to stay out of the race.
“I am more than capable to speak for myself, I don’t need a super PAC speaking for me,” Essaibi George said in a media scrum at City Hall. She came in second to Councilor Michelle Wu in last week’s preliminary election, and the two will face off in the general election on Nov. 2 The winner will become the first woman, and first person of color, elected mayor of Boston.
Real Progress Boston, which spent roughly $500,000 supporting Essaibi George in the final days of the preliminary election, is chaired by one of Essaibi George’s most prominent backers, former Boston police commissioner William Gross. Super PACs are independent entities that can raise and spend unlimited amounts to support a candidate, as long as they do not collaborate with a campaign.
The Dorchester Reporter first reported that Real Progress Boston has ties to a company that provides financial and compliance services to campaigns and had done work for Trump’s campaign. New Balance chairman Jim Davis, who donated heavily to Trump, contributed $495,000 to the Super PAC, helping to fund television ads for Essaibi George during the preliminary race. The city’s police unions also donated to the superPAC.
Essaibi George is viewed as the centrist in the campaign and has been more friendly to public safety groups, particularly police. But Essaibi George said Wednesday she “was really disappointed and frustrated and angry” to learn of the ties.
“It doesn’t speak to me, it doesn’t speak to my character, it doesn’t speak to my work,” she said. “As someone who is the daughter of immigrants, the daughter of a Muslim immigrant to this country, as a woman, as a public school teacher. Those are … values that don’t align with mine. So I was disappointed to learn of that relationship.”
Political action committees and outside spending could hold huge sway in the six weeks leading up to the final election. Both candidates are also expected to spend heavily on their own, but independent action committees can raise far more and face fewer campaign finance law restrictions.
Wu has also received outside support, including from environmental groups. On Tuesday, Local 1199 of Service Employees International Union, which represents healthcare workers, officially endorsed Wu and reported that its political action committee has $3 million on hand dedicated to supporting a candidate.
At a news conference outside City Hall Wednesday, Wu expressed concern that a Trump-affiliated group had become involved in the race and urged any outside groups from engaging in negative attacks.
“We have seen in this country over the last four years what happens when those kinds of attacks are normalized in politics, and Boston’s better than that,” she said. “I look forward to a robust, direct conversation about the future of this city, directly with residents.”
The line between policy-oriented campaigning and political attacks could blur as the candidates make their appeals to voters, political analysts said. But several noted the candidates have plenty to discuss if they focus on their policy differences, including their approaches to the housing crisis and police reform.
“This race can get personal. These two women are so determined to be mayor that they will use every tool they have in the tool box,” said Jacquetta Van Zandt, a political analyst and host of the online videocast program “Politics and Prosecco.” “My hope is that they keep it above the fray, and they keep it about the issues and the facts. There, you can have contrasting views, but you can’t let it get personal.”
“The people just want to hear those issues,” she added.
Eldin Villafane, an analyst with Barrales Public Affairs, a government relations and communications firm, said voters want to see how the candidates conduct their campaigns, including their sources of financial and political support.
“In the end, the onus is on the candidate themselves to decide how they’re going to show up and present themselves in every space, be it in front of the media, in a public forum, or in their strategy room, as to what their core belief and message is for moving the city of Boston forward,” he said. “The candidates themselves have to decide to stay consistent with their message.”
Wu, who was first elected to the City Council in 2013, and Essaibi George, elected in 2015, have offered differing approaches on a variety of fronts, from the environment and housing to policing.
The day after the preliminary election, Essaibi George was quick to lay out some of those differences, casting herself as a practical candidate focused on quality-of-life issues while painting Wu as a pie-in-the-sky dreamer whose attention on big-picture issues, such as the environment and transportation, would serve as a distraction from the duties as mayor.
For her part, Wu pointed to her record of advancing policies that naysayers viewed as too difficult to tackle, especially for the city council, such as family leave laws, lobbying oversight, and environmental protections. She said voters shouldn’t settle for the status quo.
“This election is about the future of our city, and the difference between a City Hall that will take on big challenges, in partnership with community, unafraid to fight for what we need, or nibbling around the edges of the status quo,” she said.
Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.