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Mayoral candidates gear up for quick transition

Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston’s new mayors typically have months after winning the November election to name key staff, convene meetings with experts, and enumerate the priorities they will tackle in their first 100 days.

This year, that process has been condensed into a mere two weeks, leaving whoever wins Tuesday’s election little time to transform from a mayoral candidate to a chief executive ready to lead one of the nation’s biggest cities.

With just days left on the campaign trail, City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George both said they’d be ready to hit the ground running after swearing-in day on Nov. 16, a shift in timeline that follows former mayor Martin J. Walsh’s appointment to the Biden administration. While both candidates are staying mum about whom they’re considering for top posts, each has named transition team officials and begun to lay out priorities for her first days in office.

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“I’m excited and prepared to get to Election Day, to be at a victory celebration Tuesday night, and to then start the very quick work of the rest of this period of transition,” Essaibi George said in an interview this week.

She ticked off a number of early priorities, including a search for a new police commissioner and school committee members, telling a Globe reporter, “Probably as early as I pick up your paper on my front step, many of those things will already be in place.”

Wu, meanwhile, has appointed a transition director to coordinate the transition process, but she did not get into specifics, saying she was focused on her campaign.

In the past, former mayors have taken months to map out their transitions, examining city departments and even publishing reports that outline their plans. This time, the victor won’t have that luxury, though experts who’ve been involved in the process in the past say the new mayor shouldn’t rush to make all her appointments immediately.

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The formal transition process kicked off with a Sept. 24 meeting between Essaibi George, Wu, and Acting Mayor Kim Janey. They gathered at the Parkman House to discuss the handoff of power. They left the meeting with the announcement that the new mayor — whoever she might be — would be sworn in Nov. 16. Janey’s office said at the time that both candidates would receive general summaries of the workings of city departments during the campaign, with more detailed policy briefings to follow once a winner had emerged.

Since then, both campaigns’ transition teams have come together each week for about an hour with Chris Osgood, Janey’s chief of staff. Those remote meetings have ranged in topic from specific policy areas to logistics like office space and security details. In addition to including briefings, the meetings have provided the campaigns the opportunity to ask current city officials questions, and the answers are shared with both campaigns.

Leading Wu’s transition team is Mariel Novas, a community organizer who holds a doctorate in education leadership. Wu said Novas is seeking community input on the transition process while the candidate remains laser focused on driving up voter turnout ahead of Tuesday.

Wu declined to offer specifics about whom she’s considering for top posts and with whom, in particular, Novas has been meeting, saying only, “It is a large group of people.”

“I have personally been less involved in [the transition] as the campaign has focused more on voter contact and voter outreach in the final stretch,” Wu told reporters this week.

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The Wu campaign said Novas was not available for an interview, but Novas said in a statement to the Globe that her charge “includes building a team that reflects the broad expertise, passion and diversity of our city, and taking steps to ensure that city government continues to seamlessly carry out its day-to-day responsibilities on behalf of its constituents.”

The Boston Herald reported that Jay Gonzalez, a former state secretary of administration and finance and a former gubernatorial candidate, is on Wu’s transition team. The Wu campaign declined to confirm that report.

Essaibi George’s transition team started its work just days after she earned a spot in the general election. The three co-chairs are two of Essaibi George’s former chiefs of staff — Alana Olsen Westwater and Jessica Rodriguez — and Patrick Ryan, a former attorney at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray and informal political adviser to Essaibi George. He has also coached all four of her sons in baseball.

Polls show Essaibi George trailing Wu by more than 30 percentage points. But Essaibi George said she feels momentum and support not captured in those public surveys, and the apparent disadvantage has not slowed her campaign schedule or transition planning.

The transition team meets with Essaibi George several times a week, though not on a set schedule, grabbing 20 minutes with the candidate where they can find the time between her campaign stops. Those meetings involve issues ranging from policing to the opioid crisis, and in many ways build on the work of the campaign, transition aides said. The transition leaders often join Essaibi George at campaign stops, hearing from community members and activists and incorporating the feedback into their preparations for how her administration would run the city, should she win.

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Asked whom she might consider for senior roles in her administration, Essaibi George demurred.

“We don’t have specific names in mind — what we’re really pulling together is what is the appropriate profile, the skill set for each one of those roles? What does my Cabinet look like?” Essaibi George said, emphasizing that diversity will be crucial to her picks.

Essaibi George also said she hopes to smooth communication between city departments, saying, “For far too long, a lot of the city’s work has existed in siloes” that she’d like to break down.

It remains to be seen whether the second-place finisher might end up working with her rival later this month. Eight years ago, Walsh appointed several of his opponents in the preliminary election to his Cabinet.

Asked during a debate earlier this month whether she would name Essaibi George to a position in her administration, Wu paused and laughed.

“That would be a conversation, should I be so lucky to be elected,” Wu said. “Now’s not the time for that.”

For her part, Essaibi George said she might consider Wu for a post leading her administration’s efforts on energy or climate, but said she’d “love to have that conversation after Election Day as well.”

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The candidates have taken different approaches to campaigning, tacks that could influence their administrations, too.

For the election, Essaibi George hired a seasoned political consultant firm, in addition to the work of her internal staff. The firm, Liberty Square Group, is led by Scott Ferson, a former aide to the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who also did campaign work for Representatives Seth Moulton and Stephen Lynch, and was part of the team that helped Senator Edward J. Markey fend off a serious primary challenge by former representative Joseph P. Kennedy in 2020. Tim Sullivan, a top aide to former mayor Walsh, also works for the firm.

Wu, in comparison, has emphasized her ongoing communication and partnership with community leaders, but has not officially hired an outside consultant, leaving decision-making to herself and her close circle of internal staff.

The transition period will mark the new mayor’s first opportunity to leave her stamp on the city, deciding how she wants to lead. Former mayor Tom Menino used the process to develop the first Cabinet-level structure of city government in Boston, which is still used today, said Samuel R. Tyler, who worked on transition teams for former mayors Walsh and Raymond Flynn, as well as Governor Charlie Baker.

And he had some advice for whoever wins on Tuesday: “Take your time, get it right.”

“The mayor should understand that she will be judged based on a four-year term, and rushing in and making quick decisions that at the end aren’t the right decisions are really going to hurt, so she’s better going through the lengthy process of getting it right,” Tyler said.


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.