Boston mayoral candidates square off in historic debate

BOSTON — A historic debate venue for a historic Boston mayoral race. Six candidates in the most diverse election field in city history faced off in a forum at the Suffolk County House of Correction. The questions came from those serving on the inside.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, Rep. Jon Santiago, Boston’s former Economic Development Chief John Barros, and city councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu were asked about mental health programs and the school-to-prison pipeline in the first of its kind event.

Campbell, whose twin brother died in prison custody, and Barros drew on their own experiences with the criminal justice system.

“When I see you, I see me,” Barros said.

Just steps outside were homeless encampments and open drug use along the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard corridor – also called ‘methadone mile.’ Acting Mayor Kim Janey and the Walsh administration drew sharp criticism for its management.

“When I see a patient in the emergency room, it’s a failing of the system,” Rep. Santiago said.

“It is time for greater investment by the City of Boston,” Campbell added.

“On average, four people a day are saved from the work that is happening on the ground. This notion that nothing is happening is not true. People want to talk about that because they don’t like what they see,” said acting Mayor Janey.

Swift rebuttal came from the candidates after Essaibi George expressed her support of school resource officers in response to a question on education programs for kids with parents behind bars.

Essaibi George has been endorsed by former police commissioner William Gross, as well as Boston Police and fire unions.

“I am a proponent of school police resource officers working in our buildings,” Essaibi George said. “They provide some really great services. Really great opportunities for mentorship. And a good presence in our schools.”

“We cannot have the expectation that some of our students who look like us in this room compared to those in a suburban are going to go to schools in settings that feel like a prison,” Wu rebutted.

Candidates also took the opportunity to showcase plans for police reform, education and affordable housing.