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Michelle Wu and Annissa Essibi George, both running for mayor of Boston, square off in their first post-preliminary debate

Michelle Wu and Annissa Essibi George, both running for mayor of Boston, square off in their first post-preliminary debate

Michelle Wu and Annissa Essabi George tangled on Wednesday night over schools, housing, public safety, and the citys opioid crisis during the first televised debate between them, hoping to work out their differences as they approach the final weeks of a historic Nov. 2 election.

Essaibi George's participation in Wednesday'' event, which was broadcast on WBZ-TV, provided a great opportunity to gain ground on Wu, who according to Reuters has slipped to within three weeks of Election Day. Wu's victory gave her a chance to establish herself as the top-runner.

Essaibi George emerged strong and confident, presenting herself as the candidate with more than 20 years of experience working at the neighborhood level, an ex-teacher who has received the support of city workers. She fought hard at Wu on several fronts, challenging her views on housing and policing as ill-judged.

Read more news and resources about the Boston mayoral race.

Wu stayed steady enough, and though her performance wasn't always as strong as that of her opponent, she made no major errors. Essaibi George, who has been accused of fear-mongering with her criticism of Wus intentions, accused Esaaba George at several turns of teasing.

When Essaibi George poked Wu in the face, the differences between them became apparent. Wu was asked to explain how she would implement rent control and what she'd do to protect small landlords. Essaibi George said rent control would keep rents high and that it can only be implemented by the state Legislature. She also emphasised her own initiatives to increase opportunities for homeownership and access to housing stability services in the city.

Michelle does not believe in the power of that tiny landlord, she added, noting that Wus approach would create further disinvestment in our city.... and push our community s residents further and further away.

Wu stated in response that she would take a multi-pronged approach that would stabilize rents while also generating new investments.

Everything should be on the table when it comes to addressing our housing crisis, she said. We cant be afraid and ignore the scare tactics surrounding what our residents require right now, he added.

The biggest difference was in the area of public safety: Wu pushed for a more public health-oriented approach to police, while Essaibi George accused her of wanting to defund police which became largely ignored during the police reform debate in 2014.

Voters say housing is their top priority. What do they want in a contested part of the city?

We must ensure that our city is a safe city and if justice is maintained, that work is crucial, Essaibi George said. She pledged to fulfill the promise of community policing, by connecting residents with police officers. But, she added, I believe in investing in public safety, not defunding our public security agencies and the work we need to do as a city.

Wu blasted the suggestion that she would defund police, saying, What Boston needs right now are solutions, not sound bites, and not scare tactics.

Wu said she would bring greater accountability and openness to the department. She argued for a different approach to health crises, citing her own experience in having her mother, who has suffered mental health episodes, treated by medical workers rather than police officers.

We must ensure that our resources are being used in the appropriate way, providing the services that residents need," she added.

Essaibi George drew another contrast, citing their differences over the city budget in recent years. 43 emergency medical technicians and paramedics will be laid off if the mayor fails to pass his budget proposal amid the epidemic, according to former mayor Martin J. Walsh, in 2020. Opponents at the time described the warning as fear-mongering.

Essaibi George re-discussed the topic again Tuesday night, when he spoke after dropping his second debate. She added, If we want these activities, these actions, and these decisions to succeed, we must invest in them. It takes money, it takes dollars, and it requires decisive decisions to make it happen, he added.

Boston mayoral race 2021: A running list of all the candidate debates and forums.

Wu responded, That is simply not true. Again, we dont need scare tactics in the city of Boston. We dont want to make false choices that pit our residents against each other or underestimate what is possible for this city.

Wu leads Essaibi George by 57 percent to Esaabi Georges 25 percent, according to a new poll released today. MassINC Polling Group conducted the survey of 500 likely registered Boston voters for WBUR, the Dorchester Reporter, and the Boston Foundation. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Nineteen percent of voters surveyed said they remain undecided.

Each candidate sought advantages on the school front, in hopes of swaying those undecideds. Wu pushed for improving the school assignment process so that it is more equitable, closing gaps in early education and child care, providing universal pre-K, and rebuilding crumbling school facilities. Wu also highlighted the importance of details, whether it's the timely school buses or the lack of working water fountains in buildings.

She added, "We need to get the operations right."

Essaibi George stressed the importance of a strong early literacy program and curricular that ensures every school is high-quality.

You want to fix the Boston Public Schools, hire a teacher. She said, "Ill get it done."

The candidates for Boston mayoral offices are presenting their views on five key issues.

Wu reiterated her desire to conduct a city audit within her first 100 days as mayor to determine what city properties could be repurposed for housing and services to help alleviate problems in the area, known as Mass. and Cass.

Essaibi George, like Wu, indicated she was open to discussing turning a former detention center run by the county sheriff into temporary housing with addiction services, and also using the Shattuck Hospital at Franklin Park for housing and services to assist with the Mass. and Cass crisis.

Essaibi George also discussed the importance of resurfacing the Long Island Bridge, where the city provided housing for homeless and addiction services for years before it was shut in 2014. However, Wu claimed that such a project is still in the works and will be costly.

Wu added, We need to act immediately.

Essaibi George said a mayor is also responsible for the "little things that maybe arent considered broad vision, or big goals,or fancy," referring to Wus bold proposals.

We need to fill potholes, repair sidewalks and make sure the trash is picked up and the lights are turned on every single evening, she added. Its not fancy, but it s important, he added.

Wu agreed, stating that her Green New Deal has a big vision approach to everyday things, such as planting more street trees in Boston and electrifying the citys school bus fleet to help reduce diesel pollution.

Which Boston mayoral candidate do you most like? Take our quiz.

This is about the day to day, and we can only fix it if we are actually getting to the scale of where the problems are in the city, she said.

Both were delighted when asked how they rated Walsh. Wu, who had been one of the mayor's strongest critics on the council, unexpectedly said Walsh performed well as mayor, though she said the city is under increasing pressure to improve schools and address a housing crisis. I will make sure that we are not only continuing to take small steps to get to where we need to go, she added.

Essaibi George called Walsh a good mayor and said the two have similar values. But she said she would bring her years as a teacher and her experience as councilor addressing homelessness to her administration.

Theres so much work we have to continue to do, and do in a completely different way, but I look forward to that as Mayor Essaibi George, she said.

Emma Platoff and Shannon Larson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Milton J. Valencia is a correspondent at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.

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