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For months, Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell has criticized fellow mayoral candidate and Acting Mayor Kim Janey on every issue from Mass. and Cass to police reform to the city’s budget to the COVID-19 response to campaign swag.
And in recent weeks, Campbell has seen her poll numbers rise in the wake of the pressure campaign, locking herself, Janey, and City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George in a three-way race for second to advance in next week’s preliminary election.
Now, Janey supporters are punching back.
But Campbell says the broadside — a 30-second radio ad invoking her past support for expanding charter schools — goes too far.
“The acting mayor’s super PAC is actually putting out attack ads specifically naming only me and perpetuating lies about my record of accomplishment, about my candidacy, and my stance on education,” Campbell said Tuesday during a rally in Dorchester, calling on Janey to disavow the “upsetting” and “disappointing” ad.
Janey’s campaign is not directly responsible for the ad. However, a super PAC formed by UNITE HERE Local 26, a hospitality workers union that has endorsed Janey, is spending over $31,000 to run the anti-Campbell spot on local radio.
According to a recording obtained by Boston.com, the ad accuses Campbell’s campaign of being “supported by special interests that want to take money from our schools, and give it to other schools that discriminate against kids with special needs,” an apparent reference to a pro-Campbell super PAC whose backers include several high-profile charter school proponents (charter schools aren’t allowed to discriminate against kids with disabilities, but have historically enrolled special needs students at lower rates than public schools).
“Special interest versus kids with special needs,” a deep male voice ominously intones in the ad, “Andrea Campbell is on the wrong side.”
Campbell was a supporter of an unsuccessful 2016 ballot question to raise the statewide cap on charter schools in Massachusetts, but no longer holds that position, according to her campaign. If elected mayor, she says her sole focus would be on improving Boston Public Schools.
During the rally Tuesday, she called the claim that she didn’t care about special needs students “laughable,” citing her early experience as a lawyer representing parents and students in discipline hearings.
“I’m the only candidate that actually has represented students with special needs in education cases, sometimes against Boston Public Schools, to ensure that they got the rights they were entitled to,” Campbell said.
“I’m calling on the acting mayor to disavow her super PAC that is putting out these ads specifically targeting me with lies, and to do it with a sense of urgency, because this race should be about race of ideas,” she added.
However, Janey’s campaign isn’t backing away from the ad, far from it.
“Andrea Campbell’s entire campaign is based on negative political attacks on Mayor Janey, so it’s the height of hypocrisy for her to complain about an outside group providing voters with information about her,” Kirby Chandler, Janey’s campaign manager, said in a statement Tuesday.
“Instead of attacking hotel workers for expressing their political views, Campbell should condemn the dark-money, right-wing millionaires who want to privatize our public schools and have poured millions of dollars into TV ads supporting Campbell’s campaign,” Chandler said.
According to public filings, the pro-Campbell super PAC, Better Boston, has spent more than $1.1 million on TV ads, highlighting the Mattapan city councilor’s biography and advocacy for police reform. None mention charter schools, but the group’s top financial contributors include several prominent liberal charter school supporters, such as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, as The Boston Globe reported at the time.
The response from Janey’s campaign was also echoed by the union-backed super PAC responsible for the ad, the Hospitality Workers Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee.
“This is nothing new,” the PAC said a statement. “Working people are used to being praised on Labor Day and chastised the next day for using their voice and speaking the truth.”
The statement went on to knock Campbell for working for several years after college at the “notorious anti-union” law firm Proskauer Rose, which represented the four major professional sports leagues in labor disputes with players’ unions.
“Her campaign is supported by a Super PAC dripping in donations from those who want to take money out of BPS schools,” the group said. “Compare that to Kim Janey’s campaign that is supported by hotel workers, janitors, and Stop & Shop workers. That is the issue here.”
Campbell said the “idea that folks are investing in me” because of charter schools “is just not true.” And while her campaign says it’s a moot issue because of the statewide cap, Campbell spelled out the inequities that motivated her 2016 support for expanding charter schools Tuesday.
“I want every constituent to go to Boston Public Schools, like I did,” she said. “And I’m the only candidate that went to five of them. All five were excellent. So I’ve done the work to make sure every family has access, but I’m also living in reality. And the reality is if you live in Mattapan, like I do with my two boys, you have a 5 percent chance of getting your kids into a high-quality Boston public school. If you live in downtown neighborhoods, it’s 80 percent. Those inequities are real.”
Campbell added that, if elected mayor, her focus “will absolutely be to improve Boston Public Schools so our children don’t have to choose another system.”
Pressed why the group was supporting her, Campbell told reporters, “I have no idea,” and reiterated that campaigns do not control outside expenditure PACs. She noted that all five mayoral candidates have at least one super PAC supporting them, but that only one was “putting out lies and misinformation.”
“When I talk about holding someone accountable, including the acting mayor, it’s on the issues,” Campbell said. “It’s not personal. It’s about accountability. This is not what that is.”
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