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Scorecard for grading the debate performances of Boston mayoral candidates

Scorecard for grading the debate performances of Boston mayoral candidates

In the years that the Globe has given grades to candidates in political debates, few people have faced the same daunting task as Boston City Councilor Annissa Essibi George as she entered her first debate of the general mayoral election against fellow Councillor Michelle Wu on Wednesday.

These are based on two variables. First is the candidates performance on stage, such as their understanding of the issues and ability to grab attention. The second question is whether the candidate did what they needed to do in the context of the election.

The situation of this election for Essaibi George is rather grim. A new poll released Wednesday showed her trailing Wu by 32 points just 10 days before early voting begins and less than three weeks until Election Day.

Essaibi George's chances of winning the Massachusetts presidential election depended on a performance that was so great it became part of Massachusetts political lore.

Wu, on the other hand, knew exactly what she had to accomplish: First, do no harm.

Lets examine how each candidate performed.

Annissa Essibi George Essesibi Annsse Esaibi

Grade: B- Grade

Essaibi George was the subject of this debate. Wus path, after all, was obvious. All she had to do was avoid engaging with her opponent and run out the clock. In Wednesdays poll, Essaibi George was down over 30 points, and all the pressure was on him to make the race interesting. Wu entered the debate as something of an incumbent, and Essaibi George needed to follow the rules of a challenger, which is to fireat the person in charge first and then show an aptitude to be palatable.

Or, in the context of this debate, Essaibi George needed to yell to the citys voters, Wu must be stopped now.

She didnt.

In the first seven minutes, the debate had concluded. Essaibi George was handed the keys by WBZ debate moderator Jon Keller right at the top, asking her and challenging her to tell voters the difference between herself and Wu. She did not make the argument that Wu needed to be stopped, other than with subtlety about talking bold and acting.

Essaibi George often talks about her growing up in Dorchester and how she knows how to fight. She came to the debate prepared to challenge Wu on the issues. Essaibi George was a poor performer in Massachusetts politics because Keller actually engages candidates.

She did get close once. Her resistance to Wus rent control efforts was strong in the beginning. Wu slipped out of it by talking about housing in general, and never had to defend the plan or explain how it would be implemented.

Essaibi George, who specializes in style and substance, emphasized that she understands the issues and can explain where she is coming from. If that is all we were grading on she would score well. But in the context of the campaign, however, this debate was a very high-profile event that could have changed the race, but it did not. She will never get that night again. There are only two more television debates remaining, and their moderators aren't going to give her as much time as Keller did to try and score a hit.

Michelle Wu is a fictional character created by Michelle

Grade: A Grade

Wu had to appear, pretend her opponent wasnt there, and take as little time as possible to make a few remarks to win this debate. Every time she was talking but not engaging with Essaibi George , she made a claim to victory.

Boston voters or anyone watching, for that matter likely came away from the debate with no better idea of who Mayor Wu would be than they had before.

Each answer she gave reassured that she understood the issues, but she did so by answering in a progressive word salad of urgency, boldness, "community," conversation and leaning in. It sounded good enough, but it was often nothing.

You know who also rarely offers anything other than cliches? Bill Belichick, Patriots' head coach, is heading to Buffalo for the first time. Because he let his actions on the field speak for him, He has a record number of Super Bowl rings.

Wu is now on his way to a huge victory, and nothing in this debate has stopped him from doing so.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell to follow him.

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