Council candidates take stances

October 5, 2007
By

John Ruch

Candidates for citywide Boston City Council seats offered a variety of proposals at a Jamaica Plain forum last week, including the return of rent control, year-round youth jobs programs and a fee on luxury housing sales to fund affordable units.

In Egleston Square’s District 7 City Council race, challenger Carlos Henriquez and incumbent Chuck Turner will face off in the Nov. 6 final election, after Althea Garrison was eliminated in the Sept. 25 preliminary.

JP’s other city councilors—John Tobin in District 6 and Mike Ross in District 8—are running unopposed. Both have campaign war chests of more than $100,000 that may set them up for future runs for mayor or other higher office.

Six of the nine candidates for at-large City Council seats attended the Sept. 26 forum, held by the local Coalition to Educate Mobilize and Vote at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School. So did an audience of more than 80 people, many of them local youths who helped organize and run the forum.

Newcomer Matt Geary and incumbents Felix Arroyo and Sam Yoon were the only candidates to show up on time. Incumbent Michael Flaherty and candidates John Connolly and Martin Hogan arrived late and missed portions of the questions.

Candidates who did not show up included incumbent Stephen Murphy along with William Estrada and David James Wyatt.

Geary, a 22-year-old democratic socialist candidate, appeared to be a crowd favorite—though much of the crowd appeared to be below voting age.

Geary drew loud applause for quoting abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress.’ That is my mantra for what I want my City Council campaign to be.”

Among his proposals were a ban on military recruiters in Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the return of rent control and an elected school committee. He also pledged he would not vote for a city budget that included any cuts to the BPS budget.

Arroyo, a JP resident and a longtime neighborhood favorite, promised continued attention on a number of controversial issues. That includes his ongoing call for a break-up of the Boston Redevelopment Authority into separate planning and development agencies.

Questioned about affordable housing, Arroyo brought up his examination of how “affordable” is defined, noting that it is often based on regional, rather that Boston or neighborhood, incomes.

Arroyo especially emphasized racial disparities in public education and the high drop-out rate. “We’re wasting a lot of minds,” he said, calling for extensive examination of the issue.

“The fact is, Boston is a rental city,” Yoon said, adding that about half of the city’s rental units are not affordable to average residents. He said he is exploring the idea of a “transfer fee” on the sales of luxury units to help fund affordable housing.

Yoon said he is also preparing a proposal that would help parents attend school functions by giving their employers financial incentives to offer the time off.

Flaherty introduced his campaign theme of a tale of two cities. “Oftentimes, I hear from constituents we’re living in two Bostons,” he said, noting that some neighborhoods have low crime, good schools and affordable housing—and some don’t.

He said he wants to bring the “two Bostons” together under principles of “inclusion, accessibility and equality.” Those principles seem to carry some echo of Arroyo’s longtime mantra of “equity, justice and respect.”

“Given the gentrification of just about all of Boston’s neighborhoods, clearly there is a need for affordable housing,” Flaherty said. However, he said, he supports only initiatives that result in direct solutions.

Flaherty also continued his longtime call for increased drug treatment programs and proposed year-round youth jobs programs.

Connolly, a former teacher, focused on youth opportunities as well, calling for universal, year-round, after-school-type programs.

“What we’re fast becoming is a city of the very rich and the very poor,” Connolly said on the issue of affordable housing. He called for an end to a city policy that allows housing developers to build their required number of affordable units off-site.

“Supply isn’t the answer if all we do is build luxury housing,” he said.

After the forum, activists from the local tenant rights group City Life/Vida Urbana pressed Connolly about a tenant collective bargaining proposal that was recently shot down by the City Council. Connolly indicated he was hesitant about that proposal, but agreed to meet with City Life for more discussion on housing issues. When Connolly ran a failed campaign for at at-large seat in 2005, he supported limited rent regulation.

Hogan was the latest arrival and did not offer specific proposals, instead positioning himself variously as the “education candidate” and the “people’s candidate.”

Hogan said that he and his wife are tenants who struggle to make the rent in the Boston housing market—“and forget about owning.” He called for particular attention to public housing, saying that “it’s literally Super Glue and some tape” patching developments in South Boston and Dorchester.

Hogan, the son of a 27-year BPS teacher, also called for a detailed examination of the BPS budget with an eye on the basics. He said many schools lack simple supplies.

All of the candidates were asked about a forthcoming, youth-backed proposal for a BPS civics curriculum. Not surprisingly, none of the candidates called for mass ignorance about the basics of government. Several pledged to personally support the proposal.

There was not enough time to answer all audience questions. Left-over questions will be e-mailed to the candidates, and any answers will be posted on the web sites of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (www.jpndc.org) and the Hyde Square Task Force (www.hydesquare.org).

Turner vs. Henriquez

The District 7 preliminary was little-publicized following the controversial and confusing cancellation of the main at-large preliminary for cost-savings reasons.

With only about 2,000 voters participating, Turner drew the most votes (1,476), followed by Henriquez (317) and Garrison (151), according to unofficial election results. As the top two vote-getters, Henriquez and Turner will go on the final ballot.

Campaign finance reports showed Henriquez and Turner about equal in funding going into the preliminary. And the funding levels were low: Henriquez reported about $820 in the bank, while Turner had slightly more than $1,000. Turner’s campaign also reported more than $111,000 in debt, all owed to Turner himself for campaign and district office expenses going back to 1999.

War chests

In District 6, money is no problem for Tobin, who managed to spend about $76,000 since Jan. 1 and still have almost $114,000 in the bank, according to his campaign finance report.

With no electoral opponent this year, Tobin is free to pad his war chest for a future run for the Mayor’s Office—a fruit he has been openly eyeing for two years.

As usual, Tobin’s donors include many large real estate developers, attorneys, lobbyists and unions. But he had many donations from JP residents as well.

In turn, a significant amount of Tobin’s expenditures were donations to local organizations, including ESAC, Regan League Youth Baseball, the Friends of the Connolly Branch Library and Shattuck Hospital.

Ross, whose District 8 includes a large portion of Hyde Square, is in a similar situation—no opponent, almost $116,000 in the bank and an acknowledged eye on an unspecified “higher office” sometime in the future.

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