Q&A: Essaibi George Talks Police, Development, Gentrification, and More

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At-Large City Councilor and mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George fielded questions about police body cameras, gentrification, development and more.

The following interview was conducted through email.

Q: What is your specific plan to address the rising cost of living in Boston?

Essaibi George: Boston’s residents are struggling to pay rent, our families can’t find or afford stable housing, and too many individuals are experiencing chronic homelessness. COVID-19 has only emphasized these realities, and those effects will last long after the pandemic.

Rent control is not the answer. It fuels gentrification, reduces economic growth, and pushes people out of our neighborhoods. That’s the opposite of what we need to do. On top of that, the mayor of Boston does not have the power to implement rent control. As mayor, I will focus on solutions that I can take action on to tackle our housing crisis head on. We need to build more affordable housing and invest in better paths to homeownership, with focus on creating generational wealth to break down systemic racism and increase equity across every neighborhood.

I’ll do this by intentionally engaging communities impacted by Boston’s history of discriminatory homeownership policies and investing in successful matched saving programs that enable first-generation homebuyers to afford the costs associated with purchasing a house. I’ve committed to laying the groundwork. More specifically, I will double the city’s $325,000 commitment to the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance’s STASH (Saving Toward Affordable Sustainable Homeownership) program. My goal is to reach $1 million in homebuyers assistance, and I will begin that work on day one of my administration.

Q: You want to increase funding to the Boston Police Department. What, if anything, would you like to change about how the Boston Police Department operates?

Essaibi George: Boston has the opportunity to implement reforms and demonstrate the benefit of accountability and transparency. We can be both safe and just, and truly lead on community policing. I have committed to fully implementing the recommendations of the BPD Police Reform Task Force within my first 100 days. Additionally, I will make critical changes including reforming the gang database, mandating body camera footage be released within 24 hours, expanding implicit bias training and mental health clinicians, bettering the internal affairs division, and stepping up community outreach.

To ensure both a safe and just Boston requires a multifaceted and coordinated response and investments in community policing, relationship building with neighborhood leaders and organizations, appropriate police staffing and enforcement, and community programming and initiatives across our city.

Q: Would you insist on a formal policy to check compliance on Boston Police officers to wear body cams?

Essaibi George: Yes. I voted in support of the measure to require body cameras, and I believe that they are an important tool to increase transparency and improve trust between our communities and law enforcement. As stated above, as mayor, I will mandate that body camera footage is released within 24 hours.

Q: How are you voting on Question 1 and why?

Essaibi George: I am voting yes on Question 1 because I believe Boston residents should have more of a voice in the budgeting process.

Q: How are you voting on Question 3 and why?

Essaibi George: I am voting no on Question 3 because I believe that our school committee needs to be empowered to make decisions for Boston students, families, and educators without worrying about special interests or re-elections.

There is no doubt that we need to make changes to the school committee structure, which is why I instead support a nine-member school committee with five members appointed by the mayor and four chosen by the city council. The mayoral appointees will ensure that a diverse group of experts and stakeholders are represented. The council appointees will ensure that Boston’s voters also have a seat at the decision making table. These appointees will undergo a rigorous nomination and selection process to ensure transparency and community engagement. I believe that we can have a more transparent and effective school committee without elections, and I look forward to being held accountable for that as mayor.

I will note that I did vote in favor of the council’s non-binding resolution to put on the ballot whether or not Boston should have an elected school committee, as I believe it is important to know and understand the will of the voters.

Q: You often mention that you were born and raised in Boston. Why does that matter? What does that say to all of the Bostonians who were raised elsewhere and moved here? Would your administration favor those who were born and raised here?

Essaibi George: My experiences matter, and that includes the experience of being born and raised here. Growing up in Boston, going to Boston Public Schools, teaching at East Boston High School, building a small business here, and raising my family here, is relevant to me and my story. That’s why I talk about it.

I didn’t knock anyone who wasn’t born in this city, or say that disqualifies them from anything in this city. My parents are immigrants who chose to make this city their home.

All are and will be welcome in Boston under an Essaibi George administration. My work on the city council has reflected that, and my cabinet will reflect that. Our differences and diversity is what makes us strong.

Q: Have you received vaccinations for COVID-19? As mayor, how would you continue the fight against the spread of COVID and misinformation about it?

Essaibi George: Yes, I received my COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as I was able to. I know how important vaccines are to putting this pandemic behind us, and I believe that our priority needs to be getting shots in as many arms as possible. This starts with fighting misinformation and making sure that all of our city’s residents feel equipped to make the best decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities. We must provide more culturally competent and linguistically accessible in all of our neighborhoods, especially those with the lowest rates of vaccination. We also need to meet people where they are, and I have said that from day one. As mayor, I will mobilize EMTs and invest in community health centers (CHCs) to make getting vaccinated as seamless as possible. I was lucky to receive my vaccine in my neighborhood at Dot House Health, somewhere I was already comfortable—and for many people, that makes all the difference. I will also continue to advocate for increased testing options across the city. So many of our testing centers have closed or reduced capacity, even though they’re still needed. 

Q: Both the state and city have been fortunate during the last 18 months to have infusions of federal money. This may be a cushion for changes in commercial real estate and property taxes during the next two years. What happens after that?

Essaibi George: We need to make thoughtful decisions around the incoming federal funds to ensure we’re making sustainable investments in things that will help tackle issues directly and effectively. I’ve called for approximately $30 million of the federal funds to implement a Public Health Surge at Mass and Cass, a multi-day effort to bring services to those suffering directly where they are.

Q: What are your plans to make Boston more accessible to people with disabilities in wintertime when snowbanks block curb cuts and bus stops for days or weeks at a time?

Essaibi George: To improve the quality of life for all of our residents, we have to continue working to make Boston a more accessible and inclusive city for people with disabilities. Basic city services like snow removal are critical issues to any mayoral administration precisely because they affect every aspect of residents’ lives: access to employment, healthcare, transportation, and other essential services. As mayor, I will be a strong advocate for Bostonians with disabilities and partner with the Disabilities Commission by promoting equity so that residents with disabilities have the freedom and support to fully participate in all aspects of life in Boston. I will continue to ensure that all city-owned property is accessible, and I will empower the Disabilities Commission to help residents file ADA grievances and access legal information. Additionally, I will work with local landlords and businesses to ensure that we are all doing our part to create a truly accessible city. If our city isn’t accessible, then it isn’t welcoming. And my administration will work tirelessly to make sure that Boston is welcoming to everyone.

Q: Should the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) be reformed, and if so, how would you change it?

Essaibi George: Yes. I believe that we need to address the root causes of inconsistency and unpredictability in our zoning process, and that starts with reforming the ZBA.

As mayor, I will work to update our decades-old zoning processes to be more transparent and more easy to navigate. We need modernized guidelines that better reflect the housing needs of Boston residents. Additionally, I am open to exploring an increase to the number of seats on the ZBA to ensure that it is more representative and responsive.

Q: Is gentrification good, bad, or both?

Essaibi George: We need to make sure that our city’s growth is equitable, and benefits every single neighborhood in Boston. We have to be more intentional about how we engage all of our communities in discussions about development and investment.

That is why, on the city council, I have fought to improve the development notification process so that all of Boston’s residents have the chance to shape their skyline.

We also have to be investing in all of our communities. This starts with empowering our Black and brown entrepreneurs to start businesses in their neighborhoods. As mayor, I will create a New Business Liaison in each neighborhood to facilitate knowledge and resource sharing for residents who have historically been left out and left behind.

We also have to invest in our existing housing stock through deeper subsidies and increased renovation components to facilitate investment and ownership in the communities that are too often excluded.

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