CHICAGO: Tunisian American politician Annissa Essaibi George is in a tight race to become a run-off finalist as the first female mayor of the US city of Boston, recent polling has shown.
Her late father, Ezzeddine, a Tunisian, met her Polish mother, Barbara, when they were studying in Paris. George said that the election season marked a critical moment for Boston not just in terms of electing its first woman mayor, but also possibly its first Arab American mayor.
Since its founding in 1630, Boston has only elected white males as its chief executive officer. That ended when Boston Mayor Marty Walsh left office in March to become labor secretary in US President Joe Biden’s administration.
Currently, 65 percent of Boston’s population identifies as “people of color,” and the four leading candidates to succeed Walsh are all women who are serving as members of the 11-member Boston City Council.
George was first elected as a citywide delegate-at-large to the council in 2015. Rival Michelle Wu, also a citywide delegate-at-large, held a slight lead over George in recent polling. The two other council members leading in the race are Kim Janey, the city council’s president who was named to fill Walsh’s vacancy, and Andrea Campbell.
In the Sept. 14 election, the top two vote-getters will continue on to the Nov. 2 general election. That election will be a critical turning point in Boston politics, as it is extremely likely that the next mayor will be a woman and possibly an Arab American.
George said: “Women are coming into their own power here in the city of Boston. Obviously the four of us come from the city council. It is about building bench strength and that is the bench, the city council in many ways has become the bench for the mayor’s office although mayors have come from the state legislature.
“Our former mayor, now Secretary Walsh, was a state representative prior to becoming mayor of the city. Before him, mayor (Thomas) Menino actually came from the city council. So, there is a little bit of a pipeline that we are able to cultivate.
“But women are becoming more involved in political life running for office and winning. And that has been a real shift especially over the last five years or so, or if you look a little further back 10 years you saw that tide begin to change.
“This is about women in public life. Women sort of taking the lead which is so important for women to do. But also, high-quality women candidates, that is also really important.
“You want the women in office because that is important. Representation in office. But you want the right woman in office. You want the woman that has the skillset and experiences to lead, and I believe that’s me. I think the voters of Boston, the residents of Boston, see that as well and that is why I have done so well in the polls,” she added.
George said her Tunisia-born father objected to her pursuing politics and encouraged her to become an educator and she was an educator and teacher at East Boston High School for 13 years before entering politics.
“When I was in high school here in Boston, I got engaged in student government. I became a member of my school student council. We have a citywide Boston student advisory council that does a lot of work, especially around education and student voice and all of that work,” she added.
“I said to my parents, and I said to my father specifically, that I am going to run for mayor of Boston. I’m 15, 16 years old at this point. My father was very direct and said an Arab girl with an Arab name will win nothing in this city. Consider a life in law. Go to business school. Do something else.
“And he was always my biggest cheerleader, my biggest supporter. He always encouraged me to strive and set high goals. But he just didn’t see a future for me in politics because of the city that he had come to. And his experience was not always an easy one being an immigrant to the city, being a foreigner, being an Arab, being a Muslim.”
The three male candidates in the race, Richard Spagnuolo, Robert Cappucci, and John Barros are all trailing far behind the four women, who also represent a wide racial diversity. George is Tunisian and Polish, Wu is Asian, and Campbell and Janey are African American.
George is recognized as the first and only Tunisian American to hold public office.
“The Arab population here in Boston is growing, but it is growing slowly. We see it in certain parts of our city. We don’t have a critical mass here in the city,” George said.
“So being an Arab comes up in some conversations that are more of an inquisition, an education, and an introduction to the Arab community, to the Tunisian population, and to the culture and the religion.
“We do have in Boston a very large Lebanese population and again in parts of our city they tend to be really great supporters in this race. As an Arab woman, engaging with them has been a lot of fun, sort of reconnecting in my own roots,” she added.
George’s husband Doug is part Albanian, and they have four sons.
George made her comments during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” which is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit and Washington, D.C., and is sponsored by Arab News. The interview is available in podcast format online at ArabNews.com.