Boston City Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Michelle Wu hosted a press conference for student journalists on Saturday afternoon where she talked about connecting Eastern and Western Massachusetts, creating affordable and accessible higher education and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wu, a Boston city council member since 2014, announced her candidacy for mayor in September even before the then President-elect, Joe Biden, nominated Mayor Marty Walsh to the role of United States Secretary of Labor.
Wu is endorsed by elected officials such as United States Senator Elizabeth Warren and Pittsfield City Councilor Helen Moon, and advocacy groups such as the Sunrise Movement Boston.
If elected mayor in the state’s capital, Wu could have an impact across the state.
Wu said that Eastern and Western Massachusetts are interconnected. “The deepest issues that our communities are facing around housing, affordability and transportation access and climate resiliency can’t be solved unless we have a regional and statewide approach to organizing and policy,” Wu said. “Many of the priorities that I have for Boston think about our role linked to the rest of the state and Western Massachusetts as part of the same economy and housing system and community.”
When asked about how she would support Western Massachusetts if elected mayor, Wu discussed her excitement to connect the state’s economy through food. Wu said that her food justice plan would support racial equity, nutrition and health, fair labor standards and animal welfare practices.
“If we all got together to define how many pounds of chicken we needed every year or apples… we could create so much stability and economic opportunity for our local food producers. One of the best examples of how to do this is UMass Amherst,” Wu said.
“Everything is local. That means that costs are lower, because there’s less shipping and transportation factored in from having to truck everything in. It’s healthier and it ends up keeping that local economy growing. So we learned a lot from [UMass] on food, especially in terms of the folks who run the food procurement program there and looking to expand that and keep the connections going across the state.”
Wu also talked Western Massachusetts in the context of her work on the East-West Passenger Rail.
“I’ve been proud to really champion [that] alongside my colleagues in Western Mass, and to ensure that there will be direct, fast connection to open up economic opportunities for everyone,” Wu said.
Wu then touched on affordable and accessible higher education, first stating that she supports loan forgiveness.
“I know what it’s like to be thinking about post-graduation options and what job you might take or not be able to take given the size of the loan set that you’ve had to take on for your education,” the mayoral candidate said.
Wu also spoke on how debt makes it harder for people to purchase a home or build up equity in that home.
“And it just perpetuates cycles of inequity in our communities. So I think particularly when it comes to public, higher ed and our community colleges and state universities, there’s just so much potential to build direct pipelines to connect our students from early education through elementary and high school all the way through.”
“We really need to see our higher education institutions as partners, in closing our educational equity gaps across the city and… expanding the classrooms for our students,” she said.
The city councilor also spoke extensively on the COVID-19 pandemic at the press conference.
“Right now the state is projecting that mass vaccinations and phase three won’t be until the summer. At this point, it’s looking like that is an ambitious goal. I hope and am determined that we will stick to that,” she said.
On Feb. 4, WBUR reported that Massachusetts is ranked 13th from the bottom in vaccination distribution in the country.
To improve distribution, Wu suggested, “streamlining the information, making it transparent and removing barriers for everyone to be able to know about, sign up for and get to the places where the vaccinations are taking place.”
Wu said that distributing vaccines in an “an accessible, equitable way” is the most urgent thing right now.
“We’ve not had clear information about how to get the vaccine, how to schedule yourself for an appointment and then where and how to actually get to where you need to go to receive it,” Wu said. “All of those pieces are meant for building trust in the process, particularly in communities with a history of medical disenfranchisement.”
Wu said this is being addressed by allowing Massachusetts residents to schedule appointments not just online, but also over the phone which will make vaccinations more accessible to those without internet access.
Additionally, the candidate has a goal to have a vaccination site in every residential zip code.
“These sites would be open in every neighborhood at times of the day that fit families’ lives — early morning evenings, weekends, not just nine to five during the traditional work day,” she said.
Wu is also in support of paid sick leave to people who are experiencing side effects from the vaccine.
“We know that an important part of building trust in the vaccine is being honest and open about what the impacts are, what the experience is like of receiving it. Many folks report it’s very standard to have to experience side effects, chills, fever, aches, especially after the second dose.”
Wu expressed the urgency of successfully distributing mass vaccinations by the summer seeing that the warm weather offers safer environments for people to be outdoors — rather than inside where the virus is more likely to spread.
“This is a race against variants,” Wu said. “The longer we take to vaccinate, the greater the chance that a new strain will pop up that will be resistant to this vaccine.”
If Walsh is confirmed before March 5, Boston will elect an acting mayor until the election in November.
Cassie McGrath can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @cassiemcgrath_.