Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

Michelle Wu's Zooming into Boston mayoral forum from car suggests that some African and Muslim community members feel snubbed. Some African-American and Muslims community leaders say they feel threatened by Wu Zoomsing in from vehicle to Boston' "mayoral meeting"

Michelle Wu's Zooming into Boston mayoral forum from car suggests that some African and Muslim community members feel snubbed. Some African-American and Muslims community leaders say they feel threatened by Wu Zoomsing in from vehicle to Boston' "mayoral meeting"

Members of Bostons African immigrant and Muslim community were hoping to get answers from the two mayoral candidates on a range of important topics at an event in Roxbury on Saturday. Many now say they feel snubbed after Michelle Wu did not attend the event in person, appearing via Zoom from a car and leaving halfway through the forum.

Said Abdikarim, a former at-large city councilor candidate and community leader, organized Saturdays event, which was preceded by sabdirim upcoming community meeting in Roxbury to discuss what local voters wanted the candidates to address. Two Globe reporters, including this one, were asked to moderate the event and wrote the questions asked for candidates, using Abdikarims notes.

The event was divided into three hour-long sessions, with the first reserved for the mayoral candidates. Over 50 people, including about two dozen during the mayoral session, attended throughout the day. The next sessions included at-large city council candidates and a handful of other council candidate candidates in the third slot.

Wus rival Annissa Essibi George attended in person and ended up having most of the floor to herself after Wu, appearing on a television connected to Zoom, left the event midway due to unforeseen circumstances.

Several members of the community said the situation left an unflattering impression. The Globe spoke with several community members who expressed their disappointment, but did not want to go on record.

With just days to go before Election Day, having the opportunity to meet and connect with candidates in person can help many voters in areas that feel isolated, they added.

Wu was sitting in a car when she was reelected as at-large councilor in 2019, according to Hussean Fiin, whose organization canvassed for Wu during her upcoming renomination as mayor. He recorded a video of Saturdays forum for the website ceegaag.com.

The incident, while involving only one forum among dozens candidates attending in the final days of the election, shows how discrete moments can influence individual votes, even so late in campaign.

Fiin, for example, said he knew little about Essaibi George before Saturdays event. He said he's now convinced his entire six-member family to vote for her. Even his progressive-leaning children, who originally planned to vote for Wu, are now considering her rival, Fiin said.

In this democracy, we will definitely be at the polling booth, he added.

Organizer Abdikarim said he had shared the details of the event with Wu and Essaibi George at least a month in advance.

Wu told the Globe in a statement that she's grateful for the partnership and many opportunities to meet African and Muslim community members during my time in City Hall and before, from numerous forums and visits to the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, to listening sessions with community residents, and I was pleased to be offered the option to participate remotely in this forum.

Wu stated, I look forward to continuing and deepening that collaboration.

Candidates must deal with so many forums, community events, and campaigning, it is difficult for them to attend every event. But some in this African immigrant community claim they wish Wu had prioritized them, especially if shes seeking their vote. Fiin had recently visited the ISBCC, but she felt this was a unique opportunity to get to know voters more personally.

Fiin, who lives in Dorchester, added, "She just told us that she doesnt need us."

Wu on Zoom was filmed on a large TV next to Essaibi George and the event organizers attempted to accommodate Wu by linking her video to. But due to technical issues, the audio was still coming through speakers on a laptop, making it difficult for the audience to hear her. Wu said she was unable to see anything in the room at one time.

The result was a somewhat tumultuous experience.

Wu apologized and the Zoom call was ended shortly after the mayoral session, after briefly introducing herself and answering three questions on housing, education, and reducing the administrative burden on small businesses owners who dont speak English.

Essaibi George was then able to answer the remaining questions without any time constraints, and communicate with the audience in an intimate manner.

Essaibi George answered a community members question about how they could trust her that she wasnt simply there to make false promises. When asked why she was only making promises she intends to keep, the community participant replied, "It's only because she'll keep them." She warned against those making unreasonable promises, a reference to Wus free transit idea, which Essaibi George has repeatedly criticized.

Wu wasn't around to defend her plan.

Wu has attended and participated in several campaign events within Black communities, including on that fateful Saturday, the launch of early voting.

Wu took part in early voting in Mattapan, attended a rally with Senator Elizabeth Warren and state Senator Sonia Chang-Daz outside the Boston Public Library, spoke at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Matapon, participated in the Black Joy Project mayoral debate, and attended an assembly in Dorchester.

But, Fiin added, the African and Muslim community forum was a chance to connect with specialized Black community with distinct needs.

Mothers who attended told community leaders they wanted to hear Wu explain why local schools dont have the same resources as the citys exam schools.

Wu missed some questions that addressed issues specific to the Muslim community, such as parking restrictions at mosques during large prayer services, women-only hours at public pools and gyms, and official recognition and days off for Muslim holidays.

Wu said a local community member was in the room representing her campaign when she introduced herself at the event. Community members said this person was unable to answer their questions and seemed to know as much about Wus policies as they did.

If the person feels like they dont need you, you don't have to vote [for them], Fiin said. Its democracy.

Sahar Fatima can be reached at sahar.fatima@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @shahar_fatimia.

You may also like: