As current Mayor Marty Walsh looks to serving as President Biden’s Secretary of Labor, Boston will be electing a new chief executive. It is fitting that this should be so. Boston in the coming four years will be a very different City from what it has been these past eight.
Myself, I am all in for Councillor Essaiabi-George. I have for some time now been looking for her to seek the Mayor’s office, were Walsh to not run, and my reasons for committing to her election remain the same. Hear me out :
As I see it, the coming phase will be one of major readjustment, as we make working from home a permanent feature and thus tone down the demand by everyone to live close to Downtown, a stampede which has overturned all the housing price expectations of everyone. KEEPING people IN Boston — making the City worth staying in — is very likely to be the major 2022-2026 challenge, as it was during the period 1960-1980. That means, above all, a school system in which Boston parents have full confidence — unlike the situation now; and Annissa Essaibi-George’s core expertise is schools. No Mayor candidate that I know of matches her mastery of this major matter. The moment is uniquely Annissa’s.
Few observers of Boston have yet published any focus on the significant change I have just evoked; I think they ought to start doing so, because working from home is here to stay, with all the changes that it imposes. Car traffic has cut down by over 50 percent — traverse the Ted Williams tunnel at rush hour now and see the difference from 2019 — which means that we no longer need focus on “congestion Pricing” or “dedicated lanes” or any of the other radical restrictions that some sought to impose. Bicycle people can now bike the City in comparative peace without annoying those of us who use cars. Problem solved.
Immigration will continue to demand the City’s constant attention, the more so now that President Biden is in office, directing an expansionist view of newcomers to America the opposite of his predecessor’s persecutions. Most immigrants will not be doing jobs that can be handled from home, which means that transportation within the City will focus even more on newcomers than it already does. As the Covid pandemic has forced the State to cut back public transportation because few riders want to risk the exposure in closed-quarters trains or buses, the next mayor will have to work out rider-van and small-bus alternatives, probably in partnership with Governor Baker and whoever succeeds Stephanie Pollock as Transportation Secretary. (My money is on Steve Poftak, a Roslindale resident, who has rebuilt much of the subway works in record time and below budget.) I should here note that Annissa is the daughter of immigrants, a father from Tunisia, a mother from Poland, who met after World War II in a displaced persons camp. The immigrant experience — and the wonderful diversity of it — is — as we say today — written into her DNA.
Housing will no longer be a matter of building umpteen zillion crapitecture apartment boxes. Already, rents have flattened — house prices too. To cite one example of this change, in 2019, apartments in Winthrop were 20 percent cheaper than those in East Boston. today, apartments in Winthrop run 20 percent MORE EXPENSIVE than similar East Boston offerings. I suspect much the same is true of West Roxbury and Hyde Park versus Dedham and Milton, or of Southie and Dorchester versus Quincy, Braintree and Weymouth. Any easing of development mania means fewer jobs for Building trades workers, many of whom live well outside the City anyway and thus less political pressure from the trades on the next mayor’s priorities.
Yet all of the above said, keeping people living in Boston begins with the City’s schools. Boston’s Schools allocation takes up over one-third of the entire City budget. Managing that budget, 85 to 87 percent of which goes to salaries, requires constant executive attention. These past seven years, since interim superintendent John McDonough was eased out, have been years of budget failure. Audits have not been done, or on time; accounts have been borrowed from to fund other accounts; supplies allocations have fallen far short; the system’s meals don’t always meet nutrition or freshness requirements; many schools have been seen, by staff, as assignments to avoid — and most of these have, unfortunately, been schools serving primarily people of color. Last, but definitely not least, a school committee entirely appointed by the Mayor has shut the school parent public out of the mix. A new school committee, at least in part elected, seems urgent.
I suspect that the above list doesn’t come close to enumerating all the problems that parents and soon to be parents see in their kids’ futures and which make moving out of the City even more attractive than it was during the previous eight years despite the urge among many to live, shop and socialize close to Downtown. I say it again : IF PARENTS AND SOON TOI BE PARENTS LACK COINFIDENCE IN THE CITY’S SCHOOLS, THEY ARE GOING TO MOVE OUT OFG THE CITY.
Annissa Essaibi-George is the right person to tackle these situations because she understands their details; profoundly well. Anyone who reads her seasonal newsletter knows her mastery of City administrative fine points as well as grand policy goals.
Then there’s her character as a leader, her operating style. To me she is a prudent yet bold elected, much in the vein of Governor Charlie Baker, who has shown us, these past six years, just how an executive leader should lead in order to deliver the most feasible good to the most voters. Annissa dismisses the comparison, telling me “I am not a Republican,” but there’s nothing Republican or Democrat about Governor Baker’s administrative diligence, nor should there be. Same for Boston’s Mayor. Our City elections are non-partisan anyway, and leadership styles are not matters of party, they work for anyone who practices them. That Essaibi-George does her job without attention-seeking vicarity or news TV drama is, to me, a major plus. The French essayist Michel de Montaigne, who in the 1570s served a term as Mayor of Bordeaux, liked to boast that during his term there was no news — and, so he wrote, as most news is of disasters, that was, he felt, a good thing. I see Annissa as Mayor following much the same principle, which in today’s lingo we call “do your job.”
I expect to join Annissa’s campaign full time as soon as she calls me to serve. Obviously I am therefore not an objective observer, and the other Mayor candidates have cases to be made as well, cases that I cannot make for them. That said, I honestly do feel, as i have written, that the times have met their applicant. The moment is truly Annissa’s.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere