Annissa Essaibi-George property-tax cover-up raises doubts about suitability for office

By | October 24, 2015
Dear Ms. Essaibi-George,

Before today, my wife and I were unreservedly looking forward to voting for you in the upcoming election. Now, however, we’re no longer sure you’re the kind of person Boston’s City Council needs to fairly and effectively represent its residents. We’re worried that you’re just another hypocritical politician who places your own ambition above the needs of your constituents and will say anything, truth be damned, to further yourself.

I am referring, of course, to the article in this morning’s Herald, reporting on your husband’s failure to pay on time the property taxes on 23 properties, and how you responded to being asked about it.

The Herald, of course, is a muck-raking tabloid, and one must always keep that in mind when judging the accuracy, relevance, and significance of its reporting. Having said that, if we assume that the basic facts of the story — that your husband owns 23 properties in the city of Boston; that he was over two months late paying the current tax bill on those properties; that he paid the bill immediately after the Herald inquired about the overdue payments; and that your reaction to being asked about all this by the Herald was as reported — then I really see no way to interpret these facts that doesn’t call into question your fitness for office.

Generally speaking, there are three possible explanations for the late tax payment: (1) your husband almost always pays on time; this was an aberration, perhaps attributable to the overly busy schedule your family has had to endure as a result of your run for office; (2) your husband is a bit sloppy with his book-keeping and often ends up paying his property-tax bills a bit late, but he always pays them eventually; or (3) your husband is habitually extremely late paying his taxes and often has to be dunned repeatedly by the city.

If (3) is closest to the truth, then I can certainly understand why you lied and prevaricated when confronted by the Herald. There is no way to put a positive spin on that, so trying to cover it up is really the only option. But this seems to be the least likely explanation, because we can assume that if your husband habitually paid his taxes extremely late, the Herald would have reported that.

So let’s assume that either the recent overdue payment was an aberration, or that your husband often pays his taxes a bit late, but he always eventually pays them. Either way, you could have honestly and sincerely admitted this to the Herald reporter who contacted you. For example:

Reporter: Ms. Essaibi-George? We’re calling to ask about why your husband hasn’t paid the property-tax bill on the 23 properties he owns in the city of Boston.

Essaibi-George: What? Doug’s property-tax bill is overdue? That’s really weird. He usually pays it on time; you’ll see that if you review the records. Maybe it slipped through the cracks because we’ve been so busy with my campaign. I’ll look into it and get back to you right away.

An hour later:

Essaibi-George: I’m returning your call about our property-tax bill. You were right, we did miss a recent payment. That means we’ll be paying extra in interest to the city this quarter! Thanks for letting us know about it. We’ve just paid that bill. We also went ahead and pre-paid the one that’s coming due on November 2, so that we don’t have to worry about missing another deadline while we’re crazy busy in the run-up to the election.

An honest, sincere reaction like that would have endeared you to voters. Everyone knows what it’s like to let a bill payment fall through the cracks when life is crazy. Everyone hates paying penalties when they mess up and pay a bill late. If that happens in your family as well, that doesn’t mean you’re trying to avoid paying your bills; it just means you’re human like the rest of us.

Alas, that’s not how you reacted. First, you disassociated yourself from your husband’s business. I’m sorry, but that’s just not OK. Married couples are a team, and their finances are co-mingled.  Your husband’s business, and his business ethics, absolutely reflect on your fitness to be a city councillor.

Then, your husband went ahead and paid the overdue tax bill, but your campaign refused to actually admit that the bill had been overdue. Your transparent attempt to use double-speak to cover up a mistake is an insult to the intelligence of the people you’re asking to vote for you in the upcoming election.

Finally, you told the Herald reporter that you would call him back and then never did.

In short, when confronted with perhaps the first real crisis in your campaign, you and your staff responded to it in just about the worst way possible. This does not bode well for your ability to represent the residents of Boston on the city council transparently, honestly, and with integrity.

But that’s not all. The article in today’s Herald raised a much bigger question than a late property-tax bill…

Your husband owns 23 properties in the city of Boston? Say what?!

I am not one of those people who thinks that all landlords are evil. There are good and bad landlords, just like there are good and bad actors in any other kind of business. I have no reason to believe your husband is anything but honest, upright, and decent in all of the dealings related to the properties he owns.

However, owning 23 properties in the city of Boston is not a small thing. Judging from the amount of his overdue tax bill, your husband — and therefore your family — owns more than $5 million worth of property. Nevertheless, although the biography you’ve published on your web site and emphasized throughout your campaign mentions your husband repeatedly, and discusses at length the small business that you own, it doesn’t say a single word about your husband’s much larger real-estate business.

This is surely not a coincidence. Nearly half of Boston’s residents can’t afford to own even their own homes, let alone 23 business properties. More and more people are being squeezed by higher and higher rents. News stories about abusive landlords are a regular occurrence. Because of all this, many residents view all landlords as the other side in the continuing battle of “us vs. them.” You’ve hidden the crucial fact of your family’s property ownership because it contradicts your populist message.

But there’s an even bigger issue than whether your family’s property ownership calls into question your populist credentials. Property ownership is heavily regulated, and property owners deal with the city government for various matters — inspections, permitting, variances, evictions, complaints from tenants, etc. — on an ongoing basis. Property owners who have connections within city government can use them to “fix” problems in a way that people without connections cannot. In other words, it is arguably a significant conflict of interest for a person who owns 23 properties in the city of Boston — or his spouse — to be a city councillor.

For these reasons, the people you’re asking to vote for you deserve to know about your family’s property ownership. Your failure to disclose this information wasn’t just a simple oversight. It was an intentional lie by omission which calls into question your honesty and integrity even more than did your reaction to the Herald‘s inquiry about your husband’s overdue property tax bill.


Jonathan Kamens

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