fb-pixel Skip to main content

Polls looking grim, Essaibi George continues to woo communities of color while Wu tries to stay above the fray

Annissa Essaibi George held hands with supporters as Deacon Kenneth Kelly from Holy Tabernacle Church said a prayer before a press conference highlighting her plan to close the racial wealth gap alongside Black community leaders.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

For weeks, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George has been intently focusing her mayoral campaign on communities of color, meeting with Haitian seniors and Black hospitality workers, walking through Uphams Corner with Cape Verdean leaders, and campaigning with Roxbury mothers, even as polls show her badly trailing her rival and fellow city councilor, Michelle Wu.

But with Election Day just 12 days out and the polls not budging, some political observers say her push to broaden her voting coalition beyond the largely white voters of West Roxbury, Dorchester, and South Boston may be too little, too late.

“Everything Annissa does in these next few days she is doing with a focus of closing that gap,” said Jacquetta Van Zandt, host of the “Politics and Prosecco” videocast program. “It is late in the game. . . . But she’s trying to leave a lasting effect on people.”


With last-minute efforts and events, “there may be an opportunity” to boost support in Black communities, said Paul Simmons, a political consultant who has been watching the race closely. “But the net-net will still be too little, too late.”

Polls show Essaibi George trailing Wu across every racial group, even among white voters, among whom she does best. Still, polls have pointed to pockets of opportunity among communities of color.

A Suffolk University/Globe poll this week showed that 15 percent of Black respondents and 21 percent of Hispanic respondents said they remain undecided, illustrating one reason why both Wu and Essaibi George continue to concentrate their campaigns in those communities.

Wu, meanwhile, has continued to campaign as a front-runner, largely seeking to stay in her own lane and above the fray, hoping to ride her current momentum straight into Election Day, unscathed. She continues to host numerous campaign events, including in communities of color, but doesn’t appear to be keen on making news the way her opponent is.


Wu showed up better prepared to rebut Essaibi George’s criticisms at Tuesday’s debate, and she was more forceful and detailed with her plans than she had been in the first one-on-one matchup. But Essaibi George was never quite able to draw her into the scrap she was seeking — and needed.

“From the beginning I’ve been clear and my team has been focused on the people of Boston and the issues and policies that we need to lead on,” Wu said Wednesday, during a press availability at City Hall when asked by a reporter if she’d changed her approach in the wake of the increased heat her rival had brought to the debate stage. “This has never been about who else is in the race, but of course we want to make sure false statements that are coming our way or personal attacks are clearly addressed.”

On Thursday, Essaibi George was at Franklin Field public housing in Dorchester, promoting the diversity agenda she unveiled late last month and promising to devote $100 million in federal relief funds to the Black community.

Essaibi George first made the commitment late last month when she appeared at the Ella J. Baker House in a predominantly Black section of Dorchester. The following week, she repeated that pledge when she visited Dudley Town Common in Roxbury to unveil a sweeping equity, inclusion, and justice agenda that detailed efforts in every corner of city government, from housing to schools.


On Thursday, among supporters in Franklin Field, she spoke of the oft-cited statistic comparing white households’ median net worth of nearly $250,000 to that of Black households — $8.

“This lack of wealth means Boston’s residents of color are less likely to be granted a mortgage, or a loan, and it’s nearly impossible to start and maintain a business,” Essaibi George said. “How can our city, how can Boston continue to thrive when it fails so many of our residents?”

To some in the Black community, that’s exactly what Essaibi George should be focusing on.

“If that’s not the cornerstone of how you’re choosing your next mayor, I don’t know what agenda item you’re looking at,” said George “Chip” Greenidge Jr., founder of Greatest MINDS, a networking organization that works with college students and young professionals on civic engagement. He has not settled on a candidate.

Both candidates should be having that discussion about boosting investment in Black neighborhoods, said Greenidge, who is also a visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. While a commitment from discretionary federal stimulus funds may seem ephemeral, he said Essaibi George has set the standard with a measurable campaign promise that could have major impact.

“$100 million is nothing to sneeze at when you’re looking at $8 in your checking account,” he said.

And Essaibi George has found strong support among some voters in communities of color, as highlighted by her event Thursday.


“We have a strong, bold candidate who is not afraid to say what her plan is, who comes out in these debates strong and heavy and ready to fight,” said Terrence Williams, a Dorchester based community activist, who introduced the candidate at an event near the Franklin Field apartments.

But others are skeptical of Essaibi George’s efforts.

“At this stage in the process, Annissa clearly knows where she has to expand her electorate,” said Wilnelia Rivera, a political consultant who is supporting Wu but not working for the campaign. Rivera added that Essaibi George’s focus on voters of color has ramped up significantly since the preliminary election, and that last-minute efforts can ring “hollow” for an already established politician.

“You’ve been running for mayor for a long time and you’ve been on the council for even longer,” Rivera said of Essaibi George. “It feels a little disingenuous.”

Moreover, Essaibi George did not focus on racial equity during Tuesday’s debate, instead turning to issues where she could prod Wu or draw a sharp contrast.

Asked about the lack of focus on her racial equity agenda in the debate, Essaibi George said Thursday that she had hoped to spend more time on it then but wasn’t able to. She noted that she spent her closing statement highlighting the plan and the $100 million commitment because she realized she hadn’t had the chance in the rest of the debate.

“Part of the reason why I think we didn’t discuss it out loud is Michelle doesn’t have an equity plan,” Essaibi George said. “She calls her climate plan an equity plan. We have a climate plan and an equity plan, and I think it’s important, especially for our communities that are disenfranchised, that are disconnected, that are isolated from opportunity and particularly our Black and brown communities, they need a plan.”


Wu’s campaign says she has led the way on equity through her work on the City Council, for instance by cosponsoring the city ordinance that calls for diversity in city contracting. Her campaign features a plan for closing the racial wealth gap by investing in Black-owned businesses, promoting home ownership and housing justice, and supporting a Green New Deal for Boston.

The candidates have plans to continue their courtship of Boston’s voters of color as Election Day rapidly approaches.

On Sunday, Wu will participate in a “Souls to the Polls” with Black clergy and community leaders to highlight her policies on racial equity, closing the racial wealth gap, police reform, and other issues.

This weekend, the candidates also are scheduled to appear at a series of forums hosted by Black community groups. On Saturday morning, Wu and Essaibi George, along with City Council candidates, will appear at a forum convened by the African and Muslim community. On Saturday evening, they are scheduled for a one-hour discussion at the African Meeting House hosted by the by the Black Joy Project and moderated by former Boston mayoral candidate John Barros. And on Sunday, the Urban League is hosting a forum.

On Monday night at 7, the candidates will face off in their final televised debate, to be broadcast live on WCVB and WBUR and live-streamed on WBUR.org, WCVB.com, UMB.edu, Globe.com, and Boston.com. The consortium sponsoring the debate includes the University of Massachusetts Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, as well as the media organizations.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert. Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.