Two weeks from Election Day, the negative ads have arrived.
Bostonians for Real Progress, a pro-Annissa Essaibi George super PAC, released a new 30-second spot Sunday hitting rival Michelle Wu over her stance on police reform and the MBTA and casting Essaibi George as a candidate “for real progress, not radical change.”
The $125,000 ad buy — funded in part by the firefighters’ and electrical workers’ unions as well as a prominent downtown developer’s subsidiary — lands amid heightened tensions between the two city councilors as they vie to become mayor of Boston. Wu, who won a plurality of votes in September’s preliminary, has continued to lead in polls while Essaibi George has clambered to catch up before the Nov. 2 election.
The advertisement, which is airing on both digital and television through this week, was first reported by the Dorchester Reporter. Super PACs like Bostonians for Real Progress can draw — and spend — unlimited funds to support or oppose a candidate, but they are forbidden by law from coordinating their efforts with those campaigns.
Over a soundtrack of ominous music, the ad’s narrator attacks Wu for pushing to shift funding from the Boston Police Department and eliminate fares on the MBTA.
“How to defund our great city? Elect Michelle Wu,” the speaker says, alleging Wu also voted to “defund essential services during a pandemic” because she voted against the 2020 city budget as a councilor. “Wu’s way means a less affordable Boston with fewer services.”
Wu has called for allocating money away from the Boston Police Department, though she has shied from using the phrase “defunding.” Wu has also pushed to make the T free for riders, though she has said those efforts should be part of investing more government funds in the transit system.
Carol Martinez, the super PAC’s chairwoman, declined to speak with a reporter Monday. Steve Jewett, the group’s executive director, said in a statement that Wu had shown “a pattern of pie in the sky progressive idealism that will only make Boston less affordable.”
“Wu should be honest with voters about what it will cost to implement her fantasy plans,” he added.
The super PAC is one of two major outside groups supporting Essaibi George, though it is separate from the similarly named Real Progress Boston PAC, helmed by former police commissioner William Gross. According to reports filed with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Bostonians for Real Progress has raised $213,503.91 since July, largely from unions and a collection of Hyde Park businesses and developers. It spent $120,545.79 last month, all to a Washington, D.C.-based political advertising firm.
Sunday’s ad listed a handful of top donors including IBEW and the International Association of Firefighters, as well as Marquis Management and Rowlandstown Plastering Inc. It also included Cargo Ventures, the arm of a major city developer that has tangled with Wu before.
Cargo Ventures LLC is a subsidiary of Millennium Partners, the developers behind the $1.3 billion Winthrop Center skyscraper under construction on the site of a formerly city-owned lot. When the site was put out to bid in 2016, Wu was among a handful of local officials who unsuccessfully sought to keep the property under the Council’s purview rather than the Boston Planning and Development Authority.
After Millennium Partners beat out other developers to build on the land, Wu also opposed Millennium’s efforts to be exempted from the city’s shadow law that would have limited the height of its planned skyscraper. She more recently blasted the developer in a series of tweets last year after Millennium sought to scale back the number of affordable-housing units in the project because of COVID-related financing woes.
Cargo Ventures LLC’s donations were not included in Bostonians for Real Progress’ campaign finance reports through the end of September.
In a statement, Wu spokeswoman Sarah Anders called the ad a “dishonest, desperate attack.”
“Michelle has called for increased funding for public safety and public health, and unlike our opponent, she has real plans for police accountability and reform instead of the broken status quo,” Anders said in a statement. “We’re ready to fight for the change Bostonians are calling for and a new kind of politics that rejects Trumpian tactics.”
Nicole Caravella, a spokeswoman for Essaibi George, declined to comment specifically on the ad’s contents, but reiterated Essaibi George’s call from weeks ago that super PACs remain uninvolved in the mayoral race.
Essaibi George “is not going to be addressing or answering for a group that she has no contact with,” she said. “We can only speak to [Essaibi George’s] plans and her vision.”
Jewett, Bostonians for Real Progress’ executive director, declined to comment on the call for super PACs to stay out of the race.