Does Wu have a Teflon coating?

Essaibi George tries to stick it to mayoral race frontrunner

MICHELLE WU has made it clear she’s no Charlie Baker fan, telling the Boston Globe her ambitious agenda for Boston would be easier to achieve with a Democrat in the governor’s office. But she seems to share one trait with the Republican pol (besides their Harvard degrees): A popularity that seems impervious to almost anything that gets thrown at them.

With the second poll in two weeks showing Wu with a 32-point lead over fellow Boston city councilor Annissa Essaibi George, Globe columnist Adrian Walker asks, “Is the mayor’s race effectively over?” 

What was clear from Tuesday night’s televised debate is that Essaibi George knows she’s running from behind. She was on the offensive for most of the night, hammering Wu for pushing unrealistic goals that rely on backing from the Legislature and governor that is not there. 

She pointed out that even Wu supporter Aaron Michlewitz, the North End state rep who helms the powerful House budget-writing committee, poured cold water on her idea of a fare-free MBTA. And she continued to pound away at Wu’s support for rent control, which also depends on state authorization that seems unlikely to be forthcoming, saying it’s a failed policy that could promote disinvestment and hurt small landlords. 

The problem with the attacks? Both ideas seem popular with voters, and they don’t seem especially bothered by the fact that they are more aspirational than something Wu can actually make happen if she takes office next month. 

“I’m not running for mayor to say what we can’t do,” Wu said in Tuesday’s debate. “I’m fighting for what we need and deserve.”

With the candidates’ views on big issues like housing, transportation, and policing already pretty clearly laid out and litigated, Essaibi George sought to turn up the heat with more basic questions about Wu’s integrity and consistency on the campaign trail. 

On this year’s big shift in the admission policies for the city’s three selective-entry exam schools, Essaibi George said Wu had “delivered inconsistent messages depending on the neighborhood you’re in.” 

“That’s simply not true, Annissa,” Wu shot back and said it was a big distinction between them that she supports “having equity in every part of our system.” 

“I support having an entrance exam plus grades plus socioeconomic criteria so there is fairness across the board,” Wu said. Allotting seats to the schools within eight tiers based on the socioeconomic status of census tracts is the big change that was adopted, a move that is expected to markedly increase the number of Black and Hispanic students admitted, especially to Boston Latin School.

Essaibi George’s campaign pointed to a candidates’ forum before the preliminary election in which, according to the Dorchester Reporter, Wu said she would favor permanently doing away with the entrance exam as part of the admissions process. The exam was scrapped last year because of the pandemic.

The decision to maintain an exam as part of the process was an important one, but it’s a pretty weedy point to try to prosecute in a fast-moving TV debate. What’s more, Essaibi George never actually put Wu on the spot by spelling out the exact inconsistency.  

It also was hard for Essaibi George to land a blow when raising questions about the story of Wu’s original purchase of the Roslindale two-family home she and her husband now own, which was accomplished with one of Wu’s closest friends from college, Elizabeth Likovich. Likovich’s father, Terry Considine, a Republican businessman, has donated to Wu’s campaign.

Essaibi George asked Wu to disavow his support, charging that he was a “hate-monger” who made racist statements in a US Senate campaign. She also raised questions about Wu’s husband, Conor Pewarski, being listed in state records as the “resident agent” for a limited liability company that Likovich and family members established that owns a three-family house outside Harvard Square. But the only problem the Globe identifies with the arrangement is that Pewarski is still listed in state records at the South End address where he and Wu last lived in 2015. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Wu ignored the jabs about Considine’s views and said everything was above board in her home purchase. 

With time running short to catch up, it’s understandable that Essaibi George is looking for any opening to take some of the sheen off Wu’s Teflon coating. Whether any of the attacks will actually stick is a lot less clear.