Black voters are at stake in the race for Boston mayor


“We have a lot to do in Boston,” Wu said of her campaign. “We are at a moment when there is no black finalist in the election. But this is still a very important moment for the Black community. “

Annissa Essaibi George spoke to Victor Eggleston at Nubian Station in Roxbury on Friday. Erin Clark / Globe Staff

Essaibi George’s campaign promises to “promote and root out racism and discrimination in urban business, politics and initiatives” and to ensure that people in the city’s marginalized communities, including black residents, are “heard and raised”.

But wooing the black voice will be a delicate dance for Wu and Essaibi George, both largely unknown in the black community, where the post-election blues remain strong and government disaffection.

“My ward is in mourning,” said State Representative Russell Holmes of Mattapan, a predominantly black neighborhood.

Malia Lazu, MIT lecturer and founder of MassVote who is Afro Latina said winning the black votes was “not a piece of cake for any of these candidates”.

“Black voters know … that they have the edge in their community, and they will make sure that candidates stand up for solutions that involve them,” Lazu said.

Though Janey supported Wu, Councilor Andrea Campbell – who had a solid performance among black voters in the September 14 primaries – said she is holding back her support for the time being. Instead, she wrote a comment last week in which she said her support would “go to the candidate who brings the most credible case and who inspires the greatest confidence that she will overcome these challenges”.

She wrote that the next mayor must take decisive, transformative action to close the racial wealth gap; dramatic improvement in Boston Public Schools; Adoption of police reforms; make all neighborhoods safer; and implement a comprehensive plan to address the public health and public safety crisis in the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area.

Wu, who is from Roslindale, and Essaibi George, from Dorchester, need to make real connections with the Black community, be authentic, and come up with concrete and measurable plans, said Eric Esteves, a community activist in Roxbury.

It’s a big job. Black voters are already holding private meetings on Zoom and planning their alliances. One such meeting, organized by Holmes, was held at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan on Saturday, where nearly four dozen black politicians, religious leaders, activists and residents gathered for more than two hours. They made a list of priorities on large white Post-it sheets, which they then reduced to six. Potential priorities range from education to housing to economic development, public health and public safety, Holmes said. The goal is to develop a questionnaire and get commitments from Wu and Essaibi George on the six key topics, said Holmes and others.

Yet the blow of choice is on the minds of many in the black community. Holmes said the results were harder to take than in 2013, the last open mayoral election that produced a multitude of candidates. This time he found the city had an incumbent black mayor and could not hold onto it.

The same grieving voters are now among the city’s most desirable constituencies for Wu and Essaibi George as they seek to form a coalition that can carry them to the corner office. A Globe analysis of the 25 boroughs in the city with the highest number of black residents found that Janey dominated these districts, while Campbell followed with 26 percent and Wu came third with 14 percent of the vote.

Support for Essaibi George has fluctuated in the single digits in these counties, followed by John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development.

Lazu said that both Wu and Essaibi George had different avenues for winning the Black voice. Wu has to convince black voters that she stands by them and their problems, and Essaibi George has to show them that Boston is “not the old school,” as her recommendations portray it.

“You try to expand a relationship and you try to start a relationship,” Lazu said.

Annissa Essaibi George was accompanied by Rev. Arthur T. Gerald Jr. on a campaign walk in Roxbury on Friday.
Annissa Essaibi George was accompanied by Rev. Arthur T. Gerald Jr. on a campaign walk in Roxbury on Friday.
Erin Clark / Globe Staff

Law enforcement-backed Essaibi George must win over black voters who live in communities that feel over-controlled. Wu, best known for supporting lofty political goals like rent caps and free public transportation, must also convince voters that her plans are realistic and rooted in blacks’ needs today.

Both face voters like Anthony Meeks, a 65-year-old real estate agent who lives in Hyde Park and who voted for Janey, like many of his neighbors in Ward 18 along the Hyde Park-Mattapan Line. Without Janey, Weeks said he may not vote again this year.

“We’re left alone,” he said, adding that he never endorsed Wu or Essaibi George’s mayoral platforms. “I’ll put this in God’s hands and do my best. It is sad.”

Grace Roberts, who is Black and lives in a High Janey district in Hyde Park, said she voted for Wu because the councilor “was always on the ballot.” She will choose them again. “I don’t know any of the other candidates,” she said.

On Friday morning, Essaibi George admitted her single-digit performance in the black community and attributed the split vote to the fact that “high-profile candidates” were on the ballot. She stressed on Black News Hour, the Globe’s new radio show with Boston Black News, that she would continue to knock on doors in every neighborhood and meet people where they are in “living rooms” and on “verandas” to overlook talk about the problems.

She spent Friday afternoon on a peace walk in Roxbury with black clergymen and members of the Twelfth Baptist Church, the former Boston church of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.She took selfies in barber shops and thumped schoolchildren. Your tour of the neighborhoods includes coffee lessons and meetings with Haitian community leaders. She is due to appear at a public safety meeting on Wednesday at Ella J. Baker House, which is in a mostly black neighborhood of Dorchester.

Wu made a less impressive appearance at the Baker House meeting last Wednesday. The candidate arrived halfway through the hour-long morning session, made a brief statement, and then seemed surprised by a series of questions from those in attendance, according to eight attendees at the meeting.

She shared with the group that she was invited to listen and study and was initially unwilling to take questions, which surprised some in the audience who said any candidate for mayor should be ready to share their plans.

A member of the gang unit asked if she had gone with the unit, a clergyman asked for an obligation not to remove the police from the city schools, and a man asked for additional community services, according to the meeting staff.

Questions ranged from harsh and respectful to edgy, and Wu’s answers often turned into “political talk,” according to reports from the meeting.

“She really didn’t answer any of the questions,” said Isabella Harris, a member of a religious anti-violence group that attended. “She ran away from the questions.”

“It was a little [her] not being prepared for this group and environment, ”said Rev. David Searles, senior pastor of the Central Assembly of God Church in East Boston. “There was no clear proposal for public safety” [from her]. “

Wu appeared to be recovering later Wednesday night at a forum she and Essaibi George attended Wednesday night at the Second Church of Dorchester in Codman Square. The event was hosted in part by the Black Ministers Alliance-Ten Point Coalition.

“She did really well in church. She seemed more relaxed, ” said Rev. Vernard Coulter, who attended both meetings. “A lot of people were disappointed with her at the Baker House meeting.”

Wu also didn’t appear on Black News Hour on Friday at 8:45 a.m. as planned. She arrived after the show ended at 9 a.m., sorry.

In an interview, she stated that she was ready to take notes at the Baker House event and said she had “answered every question I was asked”. She was invited to another gig with the group.

Wu also criticized “an unexpected logistical situation” that the Black News Hour did not go ahead as planned.

The next day, she attended the celebration in front of the Faces of Dudley mural when Janey Wu gave her unreserved support.

But Essaibi George, in comments to a WGBH reporter Saturday, picking up on Wu’s absence from the radio interview, told the reporter that she was discouraged by Janey’s endorsement, and stressed that she showed up for the radio show while “Council Chairman Wu did not show up.”

Wu said in an interview with the Globe that her campaign will continue to build a multiethnic, multilingual coalition and “rely heavily on direct public relations, organization, door-to-door walking and attendance at community events.”

She has traveled all over town, to Roxbury, Mattapan, and Grove Hall. Acknowledging the challenges that remain in a “silo” city, she added that for nearly eight years on the city council she had worked to get to know “every corner of our city” and that her campaign was to promote the election through a “ organizing “and community building lens.”

“I will continue to fight to ensure that families in our city have everything that I think the city can deliver,” she said. “I am happy to be involved at any time.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons. Andrew Ryan can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.

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