Two mayoral candidates – John Barros and City Councilor at-Large Annissa Essaibi-George – were on hand for the May 4 virtual meeting of the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association.
Barros, who previously served as the city’s Chief of Economic Development, grew up in Roxbury and Dorchester as the son of immigrants from the Islands of Cabo Verde in West Africa and now lives in Dorchester, in the neighborhood where he grew up, with his wife and four children.
His first foray into political activism came when at about age 15, said Barros, when he participated in a neighborhood cleanup organized by the Dudley Street Initiative, a community-run nonprofit he would later lead as executive director.
In 2014, Barros established the city’s new Economic Development Cabinet and served as a member of former Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration for seven years, including five years as Chief of Economic Development.
As Mayor of Boston, affordable housing, education and climate resiliency would rank among his top priorities, said Barros, while his approach to tackling the persistent problems of addiction and homelessness would involve partnering with other service providers, as well as promoting a Housing First model and putting a moratorium on evictions to better combat housing insecurity.
“We also need to create more services for people to get into and stay in housing,” Barros added.
To address the ongoing public health crisis at Mass Cass, Barros said his “long-term answer” is to develop Long Island into a comprehensive campus with a hospital.
This will take “some years,” however, said Barros, so in the meantime, he believes services offered around Mass Cass need to be “decentralized.”
The shelter currently at Mass Cass “is too big,” he added, so Barros proposes moving 150 beds to the Shattuck Hospital while relocating “50 at a time” to other parts of the city.
Additionally, Barros proposes putting “more boots on the ground” in the form of street workers to support people in recovery who might not yet be employed.
Barros said he’s currently assembling his Mass Cass Plan, which, based on his assertion that about two-thirds of the people there are from outside the city, includes plans to introduce an ID system to verify that people belong in the neighborhood because they live or use services there, and to help people from outside the neighborhood get access to services they might need.
“We have to figure out a way where these conversations have some teeth to them,” he said.
As a drummer and visual artist, Barros said he’s very much on board with former Mayor Walsh’s aspiration of turning Boston into a more arts-oriented city, and was part of the team that helped keep the Huntington Theatre in its current home at the Boston University Theatre.
Barros, meanwhile, said President Biden’s planned infrastructure investments could help free up federal funds for transit improvements, as well as for climate-resiliency measures in the city.
“We need to make sure Boston is shovel-ready for the opportunities coming this fall,” Barros added.
City Councilor at-Large Essaibi-George, who was featured during a “political spotlight” with the EBNA about six months ago, prior to announcing her mayoral candidacy, was also on hand for the meeting, and she assured her constituents she would serve out the remainder of her term as city councilor with the same proven commitment to the job she’s shown so far.
Essaibi-George grew up in Dorchester as the daughter of two immigrants – her father an Arab Muslim and her mother a Polish Catholic. She went on to become a high school teacher in the Boston Public School system that she herself once attended as a student and said that she continues to put education at the top of her priorities. Essaibi-George ran unsuccessfully for a City Council at-Large seat in 2013 before winning the election for one of the same at-Large seats in 2015.
As chair of the City Council’s Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health and Recovery, Essaibi-George said she has seen firsthand the “chaos and failures” at Mass Cass.
Essaibi-George is in favor of rebuilding the bridge to Long Island, which, she said, is expected to cost $100 million to repair, and that she would further advocate for ferry service to the site.
Essaibi-George said any facility built there should make adequate provisions for long-term recovery, and, she said, as patients go from detox to long-term treatment, “ideally, their beds wouldn’t change.”
But this, she said, would need to happen in close partnership with nearby cities and towns.
“There are a tremendous saturation of service [around Mass Cass,” she said, “and we need to decentralize them.”
Essaibi-George also pointed to the need for more social workers and said she had worked on the council to expand their ranks to 19 positions, which have now all been filled.
More social workers would help alleviate some of the overwhelming burden that now falls on the shoulders of Boston Police, she said, although she would also like to see more officers on the street.
Police reforms, meanwhile, need to be implemented, said Essaibi-George, in such a way that the force as a whole and individual officers can be held accountable for their actions.
As for any federal funds the city receives, that money, she said, should be spent in two ways: first, to support small businesses and the local economy; and secondly, to support public health issues unrelated to COVID (i.e. the opioid crisis.)
Moreover, the city needs to “get back to basics,” said Essaibi-George, like fixing potholes and repairing cracks in sidewalks, as well as investing in city playgrounds.
As Mayor of Boston, Essaibi-George said she would also work to nurture arts in the city via a task force that would help recent graduates find studio space and other resources they often lack upon entering the professional world.
“I don’t want to lose artists to other city because they’ve rolled out the red carpet for them,” she said. “I want them to be right here in the City of Boston.”
East Berkeley Love Your Block cleanup set for May 15
A Love Your Block Neighborhood Cleanup, under the auspices of the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association, is scheduled for Saturday, May 15, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., which will focus on Peters Park. Volunteers are asked to meet at 9:30 a.m. at the tennis courts, and to bring their own gloves.