At least 3,300 early votes had already been cast when Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George faced off in a final intense debate Monday night. Boston’s two mayoral candidates entered the last week of the campaign sparring over the city's ballooning tent city in and around the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, or Mass and Cass, where crises of homelessness and substance abuse collide.

Recent polls show Wu with a striking lead over Essaibi George. The front-runner defended her aspirational agenda more aggressively than in previous matchups, an agenda that rests on building coalitions with the state to make public transit free for city riders and reinstate rent control. But Essaibi George remained aggressive — albeit more controlled than in last week's debate — in arguing against the practicality of Wu's proposals when both measures rely on action beyond the city level.

The debate's passion bloomed over the public health crisis at Mass and Cass. The two candidates hammered at each other with ideas that are by now familiarly divergent: Essaibi George vowing to take up the years-long legal battle to rebuild a bridge to a recovery campus on Long Island, and Wu promising to activate a ferry shuttle service as a way around the bridge while finding vacant buildings to house people in the meantime.

"I do not support focusing our energy on building back a bridge," Wu said. "I want to make sure we're taking action in the four-year mayoral term that I am seeking, not for a bridge project that is out of that frame."

Essaibi George countered, painting Wu as "stuck in conversations" and unable to "truly understand" the scope of the crisis at Mass and Cass.

"I'm not going to walk away from the battle with Quincy," Essaibi George said, referring to the ongoing legal fight with the neighboring municipality over Boston's right to rebuild the bridge.

Neither candidate supported Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins’ plan to involuntarily commit some of those at Mass and Cass at the South Bay Correctional Center. Wu offered support, though, for his idea of a special court to divert individual cases away from criminal consequences.

Asked for concrete ways to generate money for their climate resiliency proposals, Wu proposed changing the financing for stormwater infrastructure and collecting a new slice of funds from development projects while Essaibi George struggled to articulate a financial strategy.

The two women reiterated their positions on the city’s downtown waterfront development plan. Acting Mayor Kim Janey attempted to scrap the proposal in August after the county court ruled that Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration flouted state law when it approved the plan back in 2018. Baker has signaled he won’t accept the withdrawal.

Wu said she supports Janey’s move to completely restart the process of developing the 42-acre plot beside the Seaport. (Janey has endorsed Wu.) Essaibi George said she is in favor tweaking the plan but that throwing away years of work with multiple interest groups was bad municipal practice.

On easing traffic within the first year of service as mayor, Wu said she would deliver additional dedicated bus and bike lanes, while Essaibi George said she would work to expand the city's fare-free bus pilot and lower public transit costs for students and seniors.

But Essaibi George pointed out that Wu has not laid out a funding strategy for her signature proposal of free public transit, asking her: Who would foot the bill?

Wu pointed to federal legislation filed by two of her endorsers, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey, that “would generate billions of dollars for transit agencies across the country” if passed.

The two tread familiar ground on housing, with Essaibi George contending that rent control has been tested and failed in the city. Instead, she said, her administration would focus on funding homeownership opportunities, particularly for first-time homebuyers.

Asked again about the feasibility of bringing rent stabilization to Boston, which would require legislative action at the state level, Wu pointed to her group of elected endorsers who — presumably — support her plan to advocate for the proposal.

Both women said they would be prepared to fire workers who fail to comply with the city's COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

The mayoral matchup, sponsored by WCVB, was the third and final televised debate ahead of the Nov. 2 election, with more nonprofit and community interest group forums planned for the last week of the race.