Candidate Chat: Annissa Essaibi-George
This is the first of a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. First up is Annissa Essaibi-George, a teacher at East Boston High School and a small business owner.
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for an at-large city council seat?
Annissa Essaibi-George: I’m running for a couple of different reasons. The first is, if anyone was ever interested in running for office, this is the year to do it, with all the wholesale changes happening at City Hall. The other reason is that, as I decided to look at it for that first reason, I realized that it didn’t feel like I was represented at City Hall. There are no mothers currently on the City Council, which is obviously an important part of my life, being the mother of four kids. There were no teachers on the City Council, and I’m a Boston school teacher. And, there are no small business owners on the City Council, and I own a small business in Dorchester.
Let me ask you about the second piece of that first. Some folks would argue that teachers are well represented, that the teachers’ union has a lot of influence. What viewpoint as a teacher would you bring that isn’t represented?
The teachers union is represented in a loose way, as opposed to being there every single day. I’m in a classroom every single day. I have real classroom experience, I’ve been in a classroom for 12 years. I have students, kids that I care about; kids that are having positive experiences and kids that are having negative experiences, whether it’s at school, or at home, or somewhere in the middle.
What are you teaching at East Boston High School?
I’m teaching the electives. One is social studies, which now is called political science/political philosophy. Right now I’m teaching health professions, for people considering going into healthcare and human services. We work with Mass. General Hospital with internships, for some real-world connections, and we work with some schools in East Boston for hands-on experiences. I have also taught an economics class, and we have a program for entrepreneurship.
Speaking of entrepreneurship, you own the Stitch House. I admit I think of people like my mother, knitting everywhere they go, as a sort of stress reliever—am I unfairly stereotyping you and your customers?
No, [Laughs] no, that’s one of the reasons I knit. Knitting and yoga and self-reflection, and expressing one’s creative side—those all go together. And it’s obviously thriving because I have a very successful business.
Why is that a successful niche right now?
There aren’t that many of them. There’s only a few locally. And, it’s not only a product that I sell. I sell yarn and fabric, but we also have classes to teach people to knit and sew, and we also have created a community around those crafts. So, people who are new to the Boston area, they’re looking for a way to meet people, they use our classes as a way to do that. And we have a pretty active social community around the store. Of the people who come into the store, only a handful come from Dorchester. We have people who come from Allston, Cambridge, the South Shore.
Could you hold on for a moment? [Calls out: “Don't throw that.”]
Well, that’s a perfect transition to ask you about being a mother, the third piece you mentioned—
That’s where the questions should always start!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have triplets?
I do. I have four boys, three of them triplets. They’re seven. [Calls out: “If that can explodes, there's going to be a problem.”]
So do you have direct experience with the Boston Public Schools assignment system?
My kids all go to parochial school—partly because of the school assignment system. My older son is a year-and-a-half older. We didn’t get a placement for him, for kindergarten, so we sort of created our own neighborhood school at Pope John Paul II, Columbia campus. Which was the same grammar school I went to, and my husband went to, as little kids. It’s a quick walk at the end of our street.
Are there any issues that you think will help you stand out from what will be a large field of candidates?
One of the things that’s really important to me is public safety. A lot of people just assume that because I’m a parent with four younger children, that the schools would be most important to me. Really for me it’s public safety. My own house has been broken into twice; once a number of years ago, and then once more recently. And my shop windows have been blown out. They are not life-changing, but life-affecting things.
Is there anything that you think Mayor Tom Menino or Commissioner Ed Davis has not done effectively enough, that you’d like to push when you’re on the City Council?
The quality of life crimes, the smaller crimes, they’re not as important as the big stuff that happens. Obviously gun violence is very important, obviously the marathon bombings. But the regular day-to-day crime that chips away at residents’ morale, over the long term if it’s not paid attention to more closely, it affects quality of life to the point where we’re going to drive away people. It’s the crime that happens to someone’s personal property, that broken-windows theory, that we ignore pockets of neighborhoods. I feel like the police don’t have all the resources they could have, or should have, to pay attention to those issues. It’s also business owners and property owners that need to pay more attention—some are very good, but some aren’t. Business owners need to reinvest not just their financial resources but their emotional resources into that community.
You have an unusual name, which according to your bio came from your father who immigrated from Tunisia. I don’t think there is a very big Tunisian community in the area, but do you identify with other first-generation Bostonians?
My family makes up a large percentage of the Tunisians in Boston. I’m also half Polish. It definitely creates a connection, understanding what my parents went through. My mother’s parents came over when my mother was very young, so watching them as I grew up, building their lives; and then my father came here in his early 20s to build his life. It was very clear to me from watching him what he was going through for me. And every child of immigrants has a very similar story, because that’s what their parents came here for, was to build a better life for themselves and for their children.
I find that anyone who runs city-wide for the first time learns about parts of the city that they didn’t really know well before. I know it’s early, but is there any part of the city that you have learned something about, or are hoping to learn about?
Most people just reading the newspaper, or just paying attention superficially, don’t realize how invested the Allston-Brighton community is. Most of us think of it as a very college, rental community, and it’s not. They’re a real Boston neighborhood, with real families that are very invested in their community. It’s good for me to have realized that early on in the campaign.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.