Essaibi George vies for mayor as ‘Boston girl’ with immigrant roots
At-large city councilor calls herself ‘pragmatic and practical’ politician
SOME HAVE CALLED her a moderate in the race, a candidate looking to corral some of the base of voters loyal to former mayor Marty Walsh, her Dorchester neighbor growing up and a longtime political ally. Annissa Essaibi George describes herself simply as a “pragmatic and practical elected official, legislator, leader.”
One of six candidates vying in the open race for mayor, the at-large city councilor often cites the on-the-ground experience that would guide her pragmatic approach to challenges facing the city. That includes her time operating a small business — Essaibi George owns the Stitch House, a Dorchester yarn shop — but foremost among the practical experiences she points to are her 13 years as a Boston high school teacher prior to her 2015 election to the council.
“Every candidate for mayor for generations has always said, give me the responsibility of the schools. Let me do this work. I will lead, I will change,” Essaibi George said on this week’s episode of The Codcast. “I believe that that argument, that debate needs to end with me. As a former classroom teacher, I think that I’ve got both the experiences and the understanding of our school system to actually do this work. It’s time to hire a teacher for that job.”
Three years ago, a city-commissioned report found that, a decade after an earlier report said 1 in 5 Boston Public Schools students had fallen “off track” to graduate from high school, that figure had barely changed. The report painted a particularly devastating picture of the city’s “open enrollment” high schools, such as East Boston High School, where Essaibi George taught.
We say, “our kids fell off track,” said Essaibi George. “They didn’t fall. The adults in the room, the adults making the decisions, pushed those kids off track.” She said the system has particularly failed special education students, with way too many students, especially “black and brown boys,” consigned to separate classrooms who could, with the right supports, be mainstreamed into regular classes.
“When we talk about the school-to-prison pipeline, I believe that that pipeline goes directly through our special education sub[stantially] separate classrooms,” she said.
Essaibi George did not point to the usual suspect in conversations about public school woes — funding. “It’s not about additional resources,” she said, citing Boston’s per pupil spending level of $27,000 per student “We’ve got a school budget that’s a billion and a half dollars. I mean, that is a significant amount of money. I think that we’ve made some poor decisions on how we spend that money.”
She cited things like the need for a literacy curriculum that is aligned across all schools, revamped school starting times so that high schools begin later, and a strategic plan for long-troubled Madison Park Vocational Technical High School, which she vowed to roll out in her first 100 days in office, if elected.
Essaibi George has received lots of donations from Boston police officers, and she recently won the endorsement of former police commissioner William Gross. While that might be a clear boon in previous races, it raises questions today about her commitment to reform amid local and national movements for greater police accountability.
“I’m proud of the support that I have from former commissioner Gross, and in his endorsement, he spoke to the relationship that we built over the years in my capacity as a city councilor to do the work and to hold those that are doing the work accountable,” she said.
“I’ve always been asked this question, where are you from?” she said. “I usually first respond by saying Dorchester. That’s not really what they mean.”“As an Arab, as an Arab woman, as the daughter of an Arab who had, I think, a very difficult experience sort of settling here in the city of Boston, identity has always been really important to me,” she said. “When we think about ethnicity, when we think about whether a person qualifies as a person of color, Arabs, over time, always fell in this sort of in-between place where sometimes we count, sometimes we don’t. It creates challenges for those of us that are Arab to not be seen sometimes for who we are and to not have our stories and our experiences present, or acknowledged.”
“I always use those conversations as an opportunity to share my story, to share my history, to talk about my dad in particular,” she said “and to share the way growing up in a mixed household, both culturally, ethnically, and religiously — how that impacted me and how that continues to influence me.”