Politics

Boston mayoral candidates lay out plans for tackling systemic racism in the city

"A lot of the inequities that we see exposed and exacerbated by COVID-19 were here long before COVID and were created by discriminatory policies."

City Councilors Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George, State Rep. Jon Santiago, Boston's former economic development chief John Barros, and Acting Mayor Kim Janey have all declared their candidacy for mayor of Boston. Michael Swensen/Jim Davis/Craig F. Walker/Erin Clark/John Tlumaki, Boston Globe; Elise Amendola, AP

From education and police reform to re-precincting and climate workforce development, all six mayoral candidates have plans for addressing systemic racism in Boston.

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On June 16, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Annissa Essaibi George, Andrea Campbell, John Barros, and Jon Santiago gathered at Boston’s historic Museum of African American History for a forum on systemic racism hosted by the The Epsilon Gamma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

While all candidates had the chance to answer the same audience questions at the end — each committed to supporting the re-precincting of Boston’s neighborhoods — most candidates were asked individual questions.

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Here’s what they got into:

Economic development

Every candidate committed to more funding for main streets organizations, and Campbell noted her desire to expand the main streets model to more of Boston’s squares. An audience member also asked about how workforce development in the green energy industry could be an opportunity for people of color to access those jobs, and each candidate agreed and shared their support for programs that make that possible.

“The scale of what we need to get done to attack climate change is enough to close the racial wealth gap and then some,” said Wu. “We are talking about more than 90,000 buildings in the city of Boston that need to be retrofitted in the next decade or so, we’re talking about how to build sea barriers and sea walls. I put out the first local Green New Deal focused on the city level…a year and a half of work to say how do we connect green jobs with climate justice, economic justice, racial justice, and to lay out what we can do immediately.”

Santiago committed to addressing the lack of diversity in the city’s contract procedures.

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“For too long we’ve failed black and brown communities in this city,” he said. “I look at my job as the mayor of Boston as a facilitator, there’s no lack of intelligence, no lack of drive, no lack of resources, no lack of will and Black and brown communities… We have to give them opportunity — what’s missing in Boston today is opportunity, whether that’s in the educational system, whether that’s in the contracting business at City Hall.”

Education

Barros committed to mandating teaching the history of racism in America in Boston Public Schools.

“We need to mandate teaching the true history of America, and that includes Black history and indigenous history,” he said. “People need to understand as we look at history what has happened and where we are today. We need to know that Black men make up 7% of the state’s population but 27% of those incarcerated.”

Campbell and Wu talked about how to make Boston schools world class for all kids and closing the learning gaps across city schools. Both support universal preschool.

“The status of Boston Public Schools and the inequities in BPS that drove me to jump into the mayor’s race,” said Campbell. “This is the moment in time, with the backdrop of COVID and George Floyd, to eradicate these persistent inequities in the city of Boston.”

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Wu shared plans for a whole child approach – establishing a family cabinet to coordinate trauma supports, rental assistance, and food services to ensure a child can just focus on learning.

“There are a couple pieces we have to fit together,” she said. “One, start earlier, we have to close the gap for early education and universal preK and we have the resources to do it. Second, make sure we have a whole child approach…what happens in the classroom is intimately connected to what our families experience at home and in the community. …Three, we need a facilities overhaul. It’s unacceptable that some of our buildings are the most beautiful anywhere, and many have crumbling facilities.”

Tackling racism

Essaibi George shared her plans to increase the affordable housing that families, elders, and homeless individuals actually need, and ensure other supports.

“Housing is critical…to make sure residents can maintain that housing and stability is so important,” she said. “It’s about increasing stock, increasing the quality of stock and the type of stock… and making sure we’re creating direct pathways to homeownership.”

Janey, asked to describe her vision of an antiracist Boston, said it was about creating spaces to have honest conversations about history and dismantling structural racism.

“A lot of the inequities that we see exposed and exacerbated by COVID-19 were here long before COVID and were created by discriminatory policies,” she said. “It’s important that we tackle them much in the same way, that we create new policies that would advance a racial justice agenda.”

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