Members of Boston’s African immigrant and Muslim communities were hoping to hear from both mayoral candidates on a host of important issues during a forum in Roxbury on Saturday. Instead, many now say they feel snubbed after Michelle Wu did not attend the event in person, appearing via Zoom from a car and leaving halfway through the forum.
Saturday’s event was organized by former at-large City Council candidate and community leader Said Abdikarim, who held a community meeting in Roxbury in advance to discuss what issues local voters wanted the candidates to address. Two Globe reporters, including this one, were asked to moderate the event and wrote the questions posed to the candidates, using Abdikarim’s notes.
Wu’s rival, Annissa Essaibi George, attended in person and had the floor mostly to herself after Wu, appearing on a TV connected to Zoom, left the event midway due to a scheduling conflict.
Abdikarim acknowledged that Wu had earlier agreed to participate for only half an hour. But he said he was caught off guard days before the event when her campaign said she would not attend in person, and scrambled to accommodate Wu on Zoom.
With candidates juggling so many forums, community events, and canvassing, it’s impossible for them to attend every event. The candidates participated in at least two other forums that day. Among other events on each candidate’s schedule, Wu attended a rally with Senator Elizabeth Warren and state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz outside the Boston Public Library.
But some in this African immigrant and Muslim community say they wished Wu had prioritized them, particularly if she’s courting their vote.
“She just told us that she doesn’t need us,” said Hussean Fiin, a local community leader and Dorchester resident who said he canvassed for Wu during her reelection bid for at-large councilor in 2019.
Wu participated in the forum long enough to introduce herself and answer three questions on housing, education, and making the bureaucratic process easier for small businesses owners who don’t speak English.
Essaibi George was then able to answer the remaining questions without any time constraints, and engage with the audience in an intimate way.
Some questions Wu missed concerned issues specific to the Muslim community, such as difficulty parking near mosques during large prayer services, women-only hours at public pools and gyms, and official recognition and days off for Muslim holidays.
Mothers who attended told community leaders they wanted to hear Wu speak about why local schools don’t have the same resources as the city’s exam schools.
When a community member asked Essaibi George during the forum how they could trust that she wasn’t merely there to make false promises, she said she was only making promises she intends to keep. She warned against those making unrealistic assurances, an apparent reference to Wu’s free transit idea, which Essaibi George has repeatedly criticized.
Wu was not around to defend her plan.
The situation left an unflattering impression, some community members said. Several people who expressed disappointment did not want to be named.
With just days to go before Election Day, being able to meet and connect with the candidates in person goes a long way for many voters in communities that often feel ignored, they said.
“It’s insulting to us that she was sitting in a car,” said Fiin.
The disappointment underscores how discrete moments can sway individual votes, even this late in the campaign.
Fiin, for instance, said before Saturday’s event, he knew little about Essaibi George. Now, he said he has convinced his entire six-member household to vote for her. Even his progressive-leaning children, who planned to vote for Wu, are now considering her rival, Fiin said.
“In this democracy, we will definitely express ourselves in the polling booth,” he said.