In Boston’s mayoral race, city employees have opened their checkbooks and made their preferences clear: More educators are backing Michelle Wu, and public safety workers are pushing for Annissa Essaibi George.
The latest campaign finance data show a stark divide among city workers willing to put money behind one of the two sitting councilors in the race.
Essaibi George has pulled more than $150,000 from hundreds of police officers and firefighters in Boston — a total roughly 50 times that of Wu, who has been a critic of the city’s police department. The police and firefighter donations make up nearly 10 percent of Essaibi George’s haul this year, according to data through Sept. 30.
Meanwhile, Wu has garnered donations from three times as many Boston public school employees than her rival, though on a much smaller scale than the public safety sector’s support for Essaibi George. Essaibi George is a former Boston school teacher who has made her work in the school system a centerpiece of her campaign. Overall, Essaibi George has raised $1.57 million to date, compared to Wu’s nearly $1.8 million. In September alone, however, Wu raised $412,378 to Essaibi George’s $260,183.
Individual donations, which are generally capped at $1,000 under Massachusetts law, represent just a slice of the overall money that can benefit a candidate. Hundreds of thousands of dollars also stream in from outside spending groups, such as super PACs, though they cannot coordinate with a candidate they support. The individual donations do, however, offer a glimpse into how different groups are seeking to sway the election and who they would prefer to lead the city.
Essaibi George’s backers more closely resemble the groups that lifted former mayor Martin J. Walsh to victory in 2013, said Aaron Rosenthal, an assistant professor of political science at Simmons University. Wu’s coalition mimics a broader progressive base that has gained traction nationwide.
The support from law enforcement makes sense for Essaibi George, who has opposed diverting money from the city’s police budget to other agencies and has been endorsed by former police commissioner William Gross.
She received more individual donations from self-identified city police officers and other Boston Police Department staffers than from those attached to any other employer, with 319 contributions totaling more than $120,000. Among Boston Fire Department employees, Essaibi George had pulled in more than $31,125 as of the end of September.
Wu, who has called for more dramatic overhauls to the police department, drew about $2,190 from about a dozen employees and just $508 from fire department employees, records show.
How to reform policing is a key flashpoint in Boston’s election this year, as it is in races around the country, noted Eitan Hersh, an associate professor of political science at Tufts University.
“[Wu]’s clearly articulating a vision that has more dramatic changes,” he added.
Wu has drawn stronger support from educators — among both Boston’s public schools and universities such as MIT, Tufts, and Harvard, her alma mater. While many more city educators and teachers have contributed to Wu, Essaibi George drew $10,570 from these employees compared to Wu’s $7,413, a slight lead based on heftier sums from fewer donors.
Wu has also drawn thousands in donations from other Massachusetts school employees, from Hingham to Revere, and teachers across the country in places including Portland, Ore., and her hometown of Chicago.
Doctors and lawyers have preferred Wu, an attorney, while construction and development companies have been some of the top donors to Essaibi George, according to data collected by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Political observers say that the giving patterns reflect more than Wu’s and Essaibi George’s policy platforms on the trail or their key support — it can reflect what voters feel is at stake in an election.
In some cases, the individual support from certain professions has been augmented by more organized — and expensive — efforts. Unlike individual donors, super PACs are allowed to spend unlimited money to support or oppose candidates, as long as the money is spent independently and not in coordination with a candidate’s campaign.
Some of those committees have already been spending big. The health care workers union 1199 SEIU, which endorsed Wu, has spent more than $109,000 supporting the candidate this year, while a PAC created by Gross, the former police commissioner, has spent more than $551,500 supporting Essaibi George, aided by a $495,000 donation from New Balance chairman Jim Davis.
Davis, a longtime donor to the GOP, also donated to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, prompting Essaibi George to reject any connections to the businessman or the committee he donated to.
But not every union has weighed in: Even though some of Boston’s educators have used their personal pocketbooks to show support, the influential Boston Teachers Union has continued to sit out the race. Earlier this month, the union organized its own super PAC, a signal it might get involved in municipal political races or spend on its own issues.
That committee has not yet announced any spending.
Elizabeth Koh can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethrkoh.