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Candidates for mayor get asked questions, answer them

The five major candidates for mayor stood in NBC Boston's Needham studios for an hour tonight answering questions, at least when the moderator remembered to call on them (Campbell was bypassed twice, Janey and Barros each once).

Among their replies:

Covid-19

The candidates were asked to grade Boston's response to the pandemic and what they'd do differently.

Wu: C+. Said the pandemic worsened and exposed a variety of gaps in the city.

Campbell: D. Said we need masks and we need vaccination, that it's sad Boston doesn't require proof of vaccination at some indoor space and said the city needs to do more to get shots in arms in areas with low vaccination rates, like Mattapan.

Essaibi George: C. She started by reminding us, and not for the first time, she's the only teacher on the stage. She said we need to boost testing rates, especially now that breakthrough cases are a thing. And more needs to be done to help small businesses get through it all.

Barros: B. Barros, who was Marty Walsh's chief of economic development when the pandemic hit, said "government was swift and nimble" in its response. Pointed to the $34 million the city raised for a pandemic relief fund, which went to such things as buying PPE for local businesses and testing, in addition to $26 million the city spent to help stablize small businesses.

Janey: A-. She pointed to $3 million in grants the city has given out to increase vaccinations and said 70% of the city now has had at least one shot. She said Boston under her leadership was the first city in the state to require masks in schools and pointed to her mandating masks in indoor spaces.

If vaccines are approved for children, should masks still be required in schools?

Barros: Says all students who can be vaccinated should be. He would still require masks, because the combination would provide the best protection for both students and school staffers in an era of breakthrough cases.

Wu: Yes, masks should still be required. At same time, the city should set up schools as vaccination sites - and do something about the fact that only 30 of its schools now have modern ventilation systems.

Essaibi George: Said the city should be "following the science," but added, "I don't expect masks will come off at any time this year."

Janey: (Was not called on by the moderator).

Campbell: (Was not called on by the moderator).

BPS and bus drivers

Janey: "We are expecting all bus drivers back" thanks to an agreement with the bus drivers's union - which had originally called for a delay in the opening of schools. She remains encouraged that school will re-open smoothly.

Barros: Said he keeps hearing from parents that they're not so optimistic and are expecting problems.

Campbell: She said her four-year-old son starts kindergarten next week and so she got a voice message from BPS about the potential shortage of bus drivers with no information on what to do. "That's just absolutely unacceptable." The city should have been planning for this months earlier; it's not like nobody knew not all bus drivers wanted to return.

Wu: BPS has no long-term plan or vision, and it's past time for the city to deal with that, rather than just constantly applying an endless series of Band-aids to the latest problem.

Campbell: Agreed with Wu that BPS needs a long-term plan, but added that parents need immediate action now. "It's really essential we get this right immediately."

Making Boston Public Schools a viable option for parents of young children

Wu: Has spent a decade dealing with BPS, first as a guardian for her younger sister, now as mother of two in BPS schools. "We are in a system that is in midst of a mecca of eduction" and yet BPS has so many problems. She said the city needs to close the gap on early education, offer far more support for students, rebuild or replace the city's aging schools and expand vocational education.

Essaibi George: "Our schools need a great deal of work." Noted that Boston spends $137 millon a year on transportation, often to move kids from one neighborhood with poorly performing schools to another neighborhood with poorly performing schools. All schools should offer students "a high quality experience." Want to ensure that? Well, she is a teacher.

Barros: Complimented Essaibi George on reading his Web site, where he has posted plans that include a $4-billion project to physically revamp all Boston schools, with labs, libraries, theaters and working ventilation systems. And instead of busing, "we should all be walking to our neighborhood schools.

Janey: As a student who lived through the busing crisis, the parent of a BPS graduate and somebody who, before her election, worked for quality schools, she said she realizes the challenges schools face and called for increased money for early childhood education and STEM. As mayor, she said she has already allocated $30 million for school ventiliation systems. She adeed, "we can't just focus on three schools."

Campbell: She is the only candidate who went to five different BPS schools, including Boston Latin School, she knows what Boston schools can do. And yet, she said, they failed her twin brother Andre, who wound up dying locked up awaiting trial. Every student deserves the same programs and support she got, she said.

Climate change

Essaibi George: It's important to deal with, we need to act quickly and we need to bring communities of color into the conversation, rather than letting "affluent people from other places" tell us what to do.

Wu: "Climate justice is racial justice." Look at what happened in New York, where poor immigrant families drowned in basement apartments last week. Look at the difference in daylight temperature - some ten degrees - between leafy West Roxbury and less tree-filled Roxbury. She said she would spend a good part of the $500 million Boston may get from Washington on immediate steps in converting to electric school buses, planting trees, making city buildings more resilient. And she said she will fight for a measure, now before the City Council, to make private developers make their buildings more efficient and resilient.

Barros: Said that federal aid "is not going to cut it," said the city needs to invest between $4 billion and $20 billion on getting the city in shape to survive rising seas and more intense storms. He pointed specifically to Fort Point Channel and Dorchester Bay - one bad storm and the two would turn into "a river" that could take out "South Boston, all that public housing, the South End, Chinatown."

Campbell: (Was not called on by the moderator).

Janey: (Was not called on by the moderator).

Mass and Cass

Campbell: It's Boston's other public-health crisis, "and it's only getting worse." Noted she grew up on Mass. Ave. nearby and didn't have to worry about needles on stoops or parks. She called for decentralized services, a dedicated Mass/Cass czar at City Hall and immediate reactivation of Long Island, even if that means hiring ferries to get people to and from the island.

Janey: "This isn't about an intersection in our city," it's about individuals who need more services, she said, noting that in the 1980s, her uncle was found dead with a needle in his arm. Janey said she is already working with DA Rachael Rollins to go after the dealers who prey on the addicts who congregate there, but that, ultimately, other communities and the state have to get involved, because Boston alone can't solve a problem with so many people from out of town ending up there. "This can't just fall on Boston.

Essaibi George: In 2016, she and Wu set up a committee on mental health and recovery. It's unfortunate, she said, that then Council President Janey decided last year to eliminate that committee. "Since then, things have fallen apart," and now the area is filled with dozens of tents, she said. The city is failing both the people in the tents and nearby residents.

Barros: Said he lives near the intersection, while trying to raise four kids - who debate whether to bring money with them to give to panhandlers or whether they would just spend it on drugs. He said it was a mstake for the city to shut a Mass/Cass comofrt station. He called for a 24-hour team with experts in various fields to get people to help and away from Mass and Cass.

Wu: Said she has walked through the area numerous times with residents. "It feels like we have given up," she said. "That is unacceptable." She said the city is putting resources into the area - it's swept multiple times a day and a team picks up needles and yet, the next morning, it's back to the way it was. She said the problem is not just one of public health, but of housing and said that in her first 100 days, she have a team scour city buildings and lots to see which one could be quickly turned into supportive housing.

Janey: Said Wu is right, and she has talked to residents who are afraid of going outside and business owners afraid to come to work. But, she added, "We can't lose site of individuals" and the problems that drove them to Mass and Cass in the first place. Turning to Essaibi George, she said the reason she decided to eliminate her committee was not because she didn't care, but because as council president, she decided it was vital to get all health-related issues in a single committee - right before Covid-19 hit.

Housing insecurity

Janey: In her first week, she found $50 million to invest in rent relief for renters hard hit by Covid-19-related job losses. And she increased the amount of downpayment aid for first-time homebuyers from $10,000 to $40,000. But she acknowledged "we've got more work to do."

Essaibi George: She said homeownership is the key to reducing the huge wealth gap between Boston's Whites and its Black and Hispanic residents. She noted the city lost Black residents over the past ten years, according to the 2020 census. "We need greater affordability" in housing. But that alone isn't enough, "families leave this city because they don't have access to the things they need," like good schools. She said the city needs a fund to help first-time homebuyers make their down payments.

Campbell: Said she's been working to "activate" vaant lots for use as housing for years, 30 just on Blue Hill Avenue. She said she also helped bring about the Community Preservation Fund act, which uses a surcharge on property taxes to pay for, among other things, increased housing.

Janey: She said the White House just asked her to speak about her efforts to stabilize housing and to continue to the local moratorium on evictions. Boston "is a model for the rest of the country, she said. Turning to Essaibi George, she said the city already has a downpayment assistance program. She noted that Boston's housing crisis existed long before Covid-19.

Wu: She said she is the only candidate to support rent stabilization. Far too many Boston renters pay more than half their income just for rent, and that's just not sustainable, she said.

Barros: (Was not called on by the moderator).

Police reform

Campbell: She said she doesn't just want to reduce violence but to eradicate it. She called for breaking up several specialized BPD units and sending their officers into neighborhood districts, "so every neighborhood has community policing." That would help reallocate reources to some of the "root causes" of violence, including mental health, poverty and trauma, she said. She said she helped get body cams into BPD, which she said was no easy task, given opposition within the ranks.

Janey: Said she has lost count of all the gunfire incidents right in front of her house. Still, she said that in her tenur, homicides are down 32% and shootings 50%. She pointed to the creation of a new office with subpoena power to investigate police problems and to a pilot to get mental-health specialists on more calls. "My plan has been working but we've got to do more."

Barros: "I'm not sure what Mayor Janey's plan is," because she hasn't released one. He said her stats were based on work done by the Walsh administraiton, and said part of that involved bringing more jobs and housing to Boston - to the point where Boston now has more affordable housing per capita than any other city in the Country.

Janey: Said her numbers are based on a comparison of 2021 with 2020.

Wu: Said the city has to shift policing to more of a "public-health model," and said negotations over a currently expired police union presents a good opportunity to begin addressing that.

Essaibi George: Said she worked to increase the number of social workers assigned to BPD calls and will uphold "the promise of community policing." She said all the talk of reallocating police funds is "just another word for defunding public safety" and she's not going to do that.

You vaccinated?

All the candidates raised their hands when asked if they'd gotten their shots.

You patronized one of Boston's cannabis stores?

Campbell quickly raised her hand. Janey looked around, then raised her hand as well. None of the others did.

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Comments

Well done, thanks for the summary. They all seem like decent and capable folks overall, but I wish they brought up some bolder ideas.

The only thing that stood out to me on reading this was Barros' suggestion to do away with the absurd scholl busing scheme.

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Wow, no questions (or answers) on shootings, stabbings, or the violent crime rate.

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They did talk about it.

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Wow, so we'll get the mayor we deserve.

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In the 15 minute period each morning I walk my dog I witness at least one drug deal daily in the SW Corridor. I know this is technically state police territory and they don't seem to give a shit about it, but to get in and out of there you need to walk through Boston police jurisdiction. Most the deals I see happens at the entrances of the park. I would think, if in my tiny 15 minute window I'm able to without any sort of effort identify a drug dealer, then the police could easily make multiple arrests a day with minimal effort. Why is this not happening?

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Voting closed 26

I can assure you, it is. And most are quickly re-released and right back out there to do it over and over and over again.

- a Boston Cop

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That must be frustrating, I meant this as an indictment of the city leadership not the police so much as it seems like the direction is just not coming down from the top. I think we all just want this solved. Thanks for the input.

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reported this to the police?

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You patronized one of Boston's canabis stores?

Campbell quickly raised her hand.

This should be all anyone needs to know about which candidate to pick.

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Voting closed 29

I don't care whether or not candidates have ever patronized cannabis stores or liquor stores, and especially don't care if they haven't. If someone hasn't patronized a cannabis store, it doesn't necessarily mean they object to them - some people just don't want to get high or drunk or whatever.

I haven't gone to a liquor store in over 2 decades, because I'm allergic to all forms of alcohol that I enjoy It doesn't mean I want alcohol criminalized. Same with marijuana dispensaries.

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Voting closed 25

After watching the presidential debates where the moderators lost controlled and the candidates sounded like they were auditioning for the gong show I thought all the candidates last night performed well. I thought Campbell did well as did George. If the first day of school goes well and all the buses roll on time and the kids who ride the MBTA get home safely then Mayor Janey will score some points. If the first day of school ends in disaster she will soon be out of a job.

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One of the improvements cited for ranked choice voting is that (at least or especially in primaries) the candidates are less likely to go negative on their opponents because there is value in being the second choice or later for their supporters. You want your difference in positions to stand out, but you also want to display where you align with the others to woo that secondary support which may put you over the top.

The format here where two of the five will face off in the general has a similar dynamic. Whoever is in that one will need as many of the voters for the other three as possible to pull off the victory.

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The two finalists would benefit from endorsements by the losing candidates, which could influence some of their voters in the general election.

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I find some of the choices to not call on candidates odd. Janey is the acting Mayor and yet a hot button topic like if masks should stay on it schools if a child vaccine was created was not addressed. Barros not being asked about housing was also weird. Considering his past position.

Thank you for this summary. Very useful information.

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