A Guide to the Boston Mayoral Election Primary
Updated: Sep 15
9/15 Update: City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George will be moving on to the general election on Nov. 2. All other candidates have conceded.
On September 14, Boston will hold a nonpartisan primary for the upcoming mayoral election later this year on November 2. Following the confirmation of Former Boston Mayor Walsh to President Biden’s cabinet, Boston City Council President Kim Janey has been the acting mayor of Boston since March. With five total candidates, it is important to know what separates each candidate from the rest and what they can offer to the city of Boston. Below is a guide on each of the candidates and their respective platforms.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey
Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced that she would be running for mayor on April 6, less than a month into her tenure as acting mayor. She has since released a focused platform influenced in equal parts by her personal connections to the city and political experience in Boston. Janey is a fourth-generation Roxbury resident. Janey faced many challenges in her upbringing that shape who she is and what she represents today. When she was just 11 years old, Janey’s school bus bringing her to a newly desegregated district required police escorts as protesters shouted racial slurs, hurling rocks as the bus passed during the Boston Busing Crisis of the mid-1970s. During this time, Janey’s family lived in subsidized housing and shelters. She then had to go through high school and community college while raising her daughter with the help of her family and her community.
After working as a community organizer and doing non-profit work, Janey was elected to the Boston City Council as the District 7 Representative in 2017, prioritizing the very same issues that she herself faced growing up in Boston. In 2019, Janey notably established a new ordinance for Marijuana businesses to ensure equity in the cannabis industry, a move which garnered praise from organizations like the NAACP as well as her fellow city council members. In 2020, Janey was elected as president of the City Council, which was the most diverse city council in Boston’s history. As mentioned, Janey is currently the acting mayor of Boston. Not only that, but she is also the first Black mayor of Boston and the first woman mayor of Boston. Her time as acting mayor has been largely defined by the vaccination efforts, which have been fairly successful: over 70% of Boston is vaccinated. To increase vaccination rates, Janey launched the Hope Campaign aimed at increasing awareness of the vaccine across language barriers. She has also helped set up a number of mobile and community-based vaccine clinics to this same end. In her platform for her mayoral campaign, Janey has listed housing as her top priority, having already launched the Rental Relief Fund to ensure that Boston residents are not forced out of their homes due to the pandemic along with a ban on evictions. Housing is part of Janey’s HEART agenda, also including Education, Accountability, Recovery/Resiliency, and Transportation. According to Janey’s website, the HEART agenda encompasses “five tenets that have guided my time in City Hall and the policies that I plan to implement over the next four years.”
As acting mayor, Janey has faced backlash for not being as cooperative with her peers in City Council, which she still remains a member. In June, the City Council voted to allow the council to remove the president with a ⅔ majority, although there are no plans in place to remove Janey. To that end, Janey has also missed 30 of the 60 total mayoral forums so far, citing the various crises as a reason for her absence. Janey is currently in 2nd in the mayoral race, polling around 20%. She has received numerous endorsements from unions and political figures alike, including Massachusetts State Representative John Santiago and Massachusetts Women of Color Foundation co-founder Muikiya Baker Gomez.
Michelle Wu is currently the frontrunner of the mayoral election. Wu is a multilingual Harvard College and Harvard Law School graduate. Although she was born in Chicago, Wu currently resides in Roslindale with her family. After graduating from Harvard, Wu provided legal advice to small business owners. She eventually became a Rappaport fellow in Law and Public Policy under former Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. She was elected to City Council in 2013 at the age of 28. Three years later, she was elected as City Council President, becoming the first woman of color to do so. One of her crowning achievements from her time on the Council was the unanimous passing of Boston’s Paid Parental Leave Ordinance and Healthcare Equity Ordinance, which prohibited gender discrimination. Councilor Wu was the lead sponsor for both ordinances, which were eventually signed into law by former Boston Mayor Walsh. She herself wrote the Communications Access Ordinance which ensures that people who do not speak English fluently or people with disabilities can still access city services.
Wu has a progressive platform that she sums up as “ a call to action” to address a number of issues and approach a number of solutions that will ultimately make Boston a more just, efficient, and sustainable city. Firstly, Wu has drafted a City Level Green New Deal which takes a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing climate change. Wu has committed to having net zero carbon emissions by 2024, running on 100% renewable energy by 2030, and being carbon neutral by 2040. Moving into housing goals, Wu intends to prioritize the federal funds from the American Rescue Plan for housing, allocating $200 million towards preventing displacement, community land trusts, and green, affordable housing. Wu also intends to end urban renewal, which provides a loophole around community oversight.
In regards to public safety, Wu wants to transition away from the carceral approach for minor, non-violent offenses and remove police from Boston Public Schools, putting trauma resources and counseling services in their place. Wu also intends to redefine arts in schools as foundational school funding, guaranteeing that arts programs can continue. In keeping with this, Wu will dedicate a small percentage of the city budget to public art projects as well as supporting venues and other cultural infrastructure. In addition to protecting the arts, Wu intends to do the same for workers’ rights by instilling a Chief Of Worker Empowerment in the cabinet to ensure that workers are being treated fairly. Wu is currently polling in 1st place with 31% of the votes.
Annissa Essaibi George
Annissa Essaibi George is a first generation Bostonian, having grown up in the Dorchester area. She is the daughter of Tunisian immigrants. George completed her undergraduate studies with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from Boston University, followed by a Master’s Degree in Education from University of Massachusetts Boston. Before being elected to City Council in 2015, George was a teacher of Economics and Business Management along with Health and Human Services at East Boston High School. Preparing the next generation for their careers remains her “primary motivation” according to her bio on the official Boston Government website. She is also passionate about addressing the opioid epidemic, the homelessness crisis, and overall “insufficient mental health care” in Boston. On the City Council, George put her values into action, ensuring that mental health clinicians were a part of each BPD precinct. George is also the owner of a small business by the name of Stitch House. Located in Dorchester, Stitch House is a yarn and fabric store that also offers various classes in knitting and sewing. For this reason, George sees herself as a small business advocate.
George’s platform is multifaceted, drawing on her previous first hand experience with a diverse array of professions. As mayor, George will establish the first ever City of Boston Department of Economic Justice and Workers’ Rights to close the wage gap and ensure all workers get fair wages and benefits. The chief of this department will head the Economic Justice Task Force to identify problems with racial discrimination and create initiatives to foster “economic justice and prosperity.” George will also emphasize mental health resources to address several issues, mainly education and homelessness. To address the homelessness crisis, George will be taking a largely preventative approach through social work services and education, along with incentivizing affordable housing projects so that homeless persons can find a place to live. As mayor, George will ensure that students returning to the school environment after the pandemic have the social and emotional support that they need to succeed. In regards to education, George is committed to keeping appropriate staff ratios and maintaining district wide standards for curriculums. George has been endorsed by a number of unions and other organizations such as the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Boston Fire Department. George is currently polling at 3rd.
Like Acting Mayor Janey, Campbell grew up in Roxbury, undergoing many challenging yet formative experiences to get to where she is today. Campbell’s mother passed away when she and her twin brother Andre were just 8 months old. Because their father was in jail for the first 8 years of their lives, they spent their childhood living with other family members or in foster care. Andrea went on to attend Princeton and UCLA school of law, but her brother struggled academically and had several run-ins with the law. At just 29 years of age, Andre Campbell passed away while awaiting trial; a full accounting of his death was never given. Andrea Campbell cites the differences in their life paths as differences of the tremendous inequity in access to opportunity in Boston, an issue she is keen on rectifying for the sake of Boston’s future. As a lawyer, Campbell represented parents and students in discipline hearings, going on to serve as Deputy Legal Counsel for Governor Deval Patrick’s administration. Campbell was elected to Boston City Council in 2015 after defeating a 32 year incumbent.
Campbell’s thorough platform targets socioeconomic and climate inequities, addressing them from several angles. For example, life expectancy in Back Bay is around 92 years, while it is just 59 years in Roxbury. As a solution, Campbell plans to ensure that every Bostonian has a primary health care provider, access to affordable housing, along with investing in healthcare workers.
Campbell has placed a special emphasis on housing and education. Her campaign website states that housing is a “fundamental human right.” As mayor, Campbell plans to maximize emergency rental assistance and implement a “Housing First” approach to homeless persons. Campbell will reallocate at least 10% of the BPD budget to public health initiatives, economic justice, and youth programs to combat the racial inequities and cycles of poverty that cost her brother his life. In regards to more long term or gradual plans, Campbell wants to implement universal childcare in Boston and fully electrify trains and all city vehicles by 2024. To ensure equity in voting, Campbell has set a goal of making Election Day a city-wide holiday. Campbell is currently 4th in the polls.
John Barros is a first generation Bostonian as well as the son of immigrants from West Africa. He has lived in the Roxbury and Dorchester area for his whole life, where he currently lives with his family. Barros became a community organizer at age fourteen and has not looked back since. Later, Barros became the executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a non-profit group which builds homes and protects families from displacement. Shortly after getting his Masters in Public Policy from Tufts University, Barros got his start in City Hall. In 2014, Barros established the new Economic Development cabinet for the City of Boston and served as Chief of Economic Development as a member of Mayor Walsh’s administration. DUring his seven year tenure, Barros added 140,000 new jobs in Boston.
Barros’ main goal as mayor is achieving equity within an economic framework to move Boston forward. Barros plans to work closely with small businesses, such as increased flexibility for loans along with supplying resources to disadvantaged communities to encourage the establishment or expansion of small businesses. Barros also plans to revamp the public transportation system to maximize efficiency and minimize environmental impact. Barros plans to expand both bus and bike lanes, also adding stops on the Fairmount Line. Additionally, Barros intends to accelerate the current plans in place to transition to zero emission vehicles, committing to a complete transition to electric light-duty vehicles by 2028. Barros also plans to implement a Guaranteed Income program and invest in public education with the goal of closing the racial wealth gap, ensuring a more equitable Boston for all. Barros has several notable endorsements including Former Chief of Education for the City of Boston Turahn Dorsey and Veteran Advocate Dan Magoon.
Overall, although their proposals and plans may be differ slightly, each candidate shares many common goals and some common experiences, too. Each candidate is committed to addressing the inequalities and inequities of Boston to bring the city forward into a sustainable future. Regardless of who wins the election in November, the city of Boston, although it may undergo some serious changes, will undoubtedly be in capable, forward thinking hands.