By Seth Daniel
City Council candidate Annissa Essaibi George is the one person in this year’s City Council at-large race that is on the outside looking in, but her generational roots in the City and vast experience – from being a high school teacher to owning a small business – puts her on the inside circle of most Council-related issues.
George, 41, is one of five candidates running for an at-Large seat in the November City Election, and in a recent interview, she said she has been campaigning non-stop since last November.
“We’ve been at this a long time,” she said in her shop, ‘The Stitch House’ on Dorchester Avenue in Dorchester, during a recent interview. “We announced the campaign kickoff last November and here we are now, only weeks away.”
And it’s pretty apparent that she’s been working hard.
Her Hot Pink colored signs can be found all over Boston, from Brighton to Mattapan to Beacon Hill to Eastie, and as the only challenger, she has received quite a bit of media exposure – challenging Council positions publicly such as the controversial Council pay raise issue.
George entered the at-Large race during the last election cycle, but said she got in too late in a crowded field that required many months of campaigning. She fared well, despite the short time, but finished just one spot out of the running. After a short break where she got things back in order, she again hit the campaign trail – but with time on her side in this run.
“I knew right away I’d run again, but I went back to doing the normal things that I always do – such as the civic meetings and the community involvement,” she said. “Last November and into December, I decided it was time to get back on this in a real way.”
George grew up in Dorchester, and is now married to her husband, Doug, and they have four children – including a set a triplets. Her grandfather was a prisoner of war in the Polish Army during World War II, and he met her grandmother in a displaced person’s camp. Eventually, they found their way to the neighborhood in Dorchester where George still lives and has her business. Her mother and father, uniquely enough, also met in Europe. While studying in Paris, her mother fell in love with a Tunisian man who eventually followed her back to Dorchester – where they were married and raised their family.
Needless to say, she has deep roots on Dot Ave.
However, for the past 13 years (though she is on leave now), George has not been in Dorchester during most working hours, but rather in East Boston where she has been a social studies and electives teacher at East Boston High School.
That experience, as a teacher and a softball coach too, has given her unique insight into the school system – not to mention being a mother of school-aged kids as well.
One thing she said she would look to implement right off the bat is changing the start times of the schools.
“A 7:20 a.m. start time in some schools is just too early for kids,” she said. “School needs to be more convenient for families in the City of Boston…We know in the school day that the first period of the day kids aren’t as successful as later in the day. It’s because they’re not awake yet.”
She also touted the idea of expanding high school to seventh grade – making them grades 7-12 as is done in some of the more successful exam schools. Currently, many students move to a middle school in sixth grade, and then on to high school in ninth grade.
“There’s a lot of movement during middle school at times when kids need stability and predictability,” she said. “We’re creating chaos when they need stability the most.”
Looking from the inside out, George also has experience as a small business owner. She was the director of the Fields Corner (Dorchester) Main Streets program for many years and currently is the owner of The Stitch House in a small business cluster near Columbia Road, Dorchester.
“I believe very strongly that neighborhoods in Boston are and should be our backbone,” she said. “It’s our economic driver. We’ve done a good job of attracting big business downtown, but we need to make sure we’re not losing sight of what’s happening in our neighborhoods. There are more than our Main Streets districts. There are clusters of small businesses that exist outside those districts as well.”
She said she would like to expand the Main Streets services to businesses outside the official districts, and that she would like to see big commercial development set aside a portion of space for affordable business opportunities.
“Like we do with affordable housing requirements in downtown developments, I’d like us to also create affordable business requirements too,” she said. “I’d like to see our small businesses have a chance to get in on the action in these new areas and the exposure to the international and national tourism markets. It’s not going to happen at market rates.”
She also said it’s time for Boston to lose some of its red tape.
“I think we definitely need to make it easier to make business happen in Boston,” she said. “There’s a lot of the old Boston left with regards to entertainment licenses, sandwich boards on the sidewalk and playing a radio in your business. That’s the part of old Boston that needs to go.”
Another part of Boston she said needs to go is the muzzle that has been on the City Council for so long. She said she would advocate for a more powerful Council in the upcoming City Charter meetings in 2016.
“I think the Council absolutely needs a little more power,” she said. “When we take a look at the Charter in 2016, we should take a look at the legal obligations of the Council…I think it’s important that we look at the Charter and give the Council more thought. You can yell from the bully pulpit or you can go for charter change and create a better balance of power.”
When it comes to the Wynn casino, George said she supports the path that Mayor Martin Walsh has taken.
“It’s incredibly unfortunate Charlestown and the citizens of Boston weren’t heard,” she said. “To get to the Everett site, you have to go through Charlestown…I think the City is on the path that they need to be on to slow down the project to get a better handle on it.”
In the end, George said her perso
nal experiences are very important in understanding the issues that will surface at the Council, if she is elected.
“All my experiences will inform what I bring when I encounter issues at City Hall,” she said. “Being able to reflect on my own experiences makes a difference. It’s not someone else’s experience. It’s my experience and much more real.”