^ at large Council candidates at West Roxbury-Roslindale Progressives Forum  : Annissa Essaibi George; Michael Flaherty; Ayanna Pressley; Michelle Wu; Stephen Murphy

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Last night I attended a candidates Forum, hosted by the West Roxbury-Roslinale Progressives group, at which all five people seeking Boston’s four city-wide Council seats spoke and took questions. The room was full; As quiet as this election — voting day is November 3rd — may seem, it is not quiet for activists. THe Forum lasted for two hours — District Council candidates held court first — and not one person left the room.

So : what do I think of the five, Annissa Essaibi George, Michael Flaherty, Stephen Murphy, Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu ? It’s not a question I answer easily. I’m friendly with them all; good friends with two; have advised Ms Essaibi George; and share with Michael Flaherty a commitment to Governor Baker. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best to write this article fairly.

Using a grade system A, B, C, D, and E, I will rate the five on the following bases : ( 1 ) command of an issue identifiably his or hers ( 2 ) relationship with Mayor Walsh ( 3 ) relationship with Governor Baker ( 4 ) knowledge of the City government functions. After I’ve done that, I’ll assess their campaigns — and the personality of the candidate — as I’ve seen and heard them.

( 1 ) Command of an Issue identifiable to the candidate : A : Ayanna Pressley, who secured home rule success for the City to take charge of its liquor licenses and who now advances three issues, of community empowerment under the rubric “the power of us.” B: Annissa Essaibi George, whose tandem advocacy of small business growth and public education comports credibly with her status as East Boston High School teacher and small business owner. C : Michael Flaherty, for whom authoritative command of city issues and services is such that it has become a campaign theme in itself. D : Stephen Murphy’s theme — which he expressed in last night’s opener — is longevity. If re-elected he’ll serve his 10th term. I’m not sure that that theme works in a year when voters want complete newbies, not long-serving professionals; but you go with what you have. E : No disrespect to Michelle Wu, but I have yet to hear her say what she has that makes her stand out. Wu comes across extremely modest and frustratingly soft spoken. Those make her  a charming person, but as I see it, a Councillor needs to speak up and to act boldly.

( 2 ) relationship with Mayor Walsh : given the Council’s lack of final power under our City Charter, it behooves every Councillor to be liked by the Mayor. Nor is it easy to tell who stands where in his regard. Perhaps the best measure thereof is the Councillor’s own political strength. As I see it, this rating goes like this : A : Annissa Essaibi George, because she comes from the part of Boston that is the Mayor’s base ad has many of the same core supporters that he has, and because her priorities comport well with his. B : Michael Flaherty : he and Walsh share the same neighborhood base; and his command of the City almost guarantees that this first-term Mayor should enjoy his advice. Yet it was not that way between Flaherty and Walsh’s predecessor. C : Stephen Murphy : I don’t see him as especially in sync with Mayor Walsh but neither do I think Walsh sees Murphy as a problem. D : Ayanna Pressley’s relationship with Mayor Walsh looks to me more frenemy than not, as she is often mentioned as a credible 2017 challenger, given that she has the deepest support of these five among former Connolly voters. E: Michelle Wu : I’m not clear on what sort of relationship she has with Walsh. I doubt that it’s an adversarial one.

( 3 ) relationship with Governor Baker : A : Michael Flaherty, who endorsed Baker in his 2014 campaign, worked his endorsement, and cited his relationship with  Baker pointedly at last night’s Forum when asked a question about state-related Council issues. B: Annissa Essaibi George. Her husband is a max donor to Baker’s coffers, and Essaibi George herself enjoys solid support from Team Baker’s star members within the City. Today, alone among Council candidates, she attended Baker’s opioid addiction legislation press conference. C: Stephen Murphy : he recently attended a major Baker fundraiser and asserts a friendship with the Governor going back to 2010. Curiously, he didn’t mention his closeness to Baker at last night’s Forum while answering the question about state related issues, in which he touted a bill to give Boston Police jurisdiction over the Seaport District (Massport police now patrol this growing neighborhood.) One might have thought that the quality of Murphy’s relationship with Baker would be important to the bill’s passage. D: Michelle Wu : as with the Mayor, I have no idea what sort of relationship Wu has with Baker, if indeed she has one. I have never seen them  together in person or in a photo. E: Ayanna Pressley : during last year’s campaign she was all in for Martha Coakley, and her constituency is one that Baker did very poorly with. She and Baker seek much the same future for Boston’s communities of color, but their supporters hardly overlap at all, nor their ways of advocating.

( 4 ) knowledge of City government and its functions : you’ve read enough, if you’ve lasted this far, to know the answer here. So I will just give a grade. A : Michael Flaherty B: Ayanna Pressley C: Stephen Murphy D: Michelle Wu  E: Annissa Essaibi George, simply because she’s a challenger, not an incumbent.

So how do I sum up the candidacy of each according to my criteria ? On grades alone, it’s Michael Flaherty first — 2 A’s, a B, and a C. Second is Annissa Essaibi George : B, A, B, and E. Third goes to Ayanna Pressley : A, D, B, and E. Fourth : Stephen Murphy, with three C’s and a D. Last is Michelle Wu : two D’s and two E’s.

But any candidacy consists of more than objective ratings. There’s the person. Michelle Wu may rank fifth in my assessments, but she is a power in one on one meetings, works doggedly hard, runs authoritative social media, and has a smart office staff. Murphy, on the other hand, can be quirky and is given to unusual campaign priorities. Who the blazes advised him, for example, to call, in last night’s Forum, for a moratorium on development in Boston, when the building boom is the biggest single provider of good jobs ?

Meanwhile, Essaibi George has a local, neighborhood-ish, tomboy quality about her that gives her electric appeal to all kinds of people in her general age group — which just happens to be the City’s core age quadrant, people 35 to 50; Ayanna Pressley epitomizes the up-up, you-c an-do-it inspiration message of that same core age group, but less neighborhood-ish, more attuned to Black church tradition. It’s a powerful voice in a city with a large, centrally located population of color (not to mention Pressley’s professional woman’s look and stance, appealing to all corners of new Boston.

And then there’s Michael Flaherty : old Boston born and resident (in Southie, no less) but a civic reformer not that different from Governor Baker (though less the health care guy, more the BRA chief) and the consummate administrative professional, persuasive to many levels of voters in every neighborhood. Flaherty seems a throwback to the age of Mayors as administrators first, policy preachers second. It’s a dying political art, but Flaherty keeps it alive and prospering.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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