City Council candidates make final pitches

November 2, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

In the Tues., Nov. 6 city election, local voters will have their choice of nine candidates for four citywide Boston City Council seats.

And residents of Egleston Square’s City Council District 7 will decide between incumbent Chuck Turner and challenger Carlos “Tony” Henriquez.

District 6 Councilor John Tobin and District 8 Councilor Mike Ross are running unopposed, but hoping to display relatively impressive vote totals.

Voter turnout was already going to be a challenge, with the Mayor’s Office not on the ballot and no challenger in District 6, which covers most of Jamaica Plain. But in a controversial decision, the city canceled the September preliminary election for at-large seats, saving money but also reducing the amount of campaigning and candidate forums.

JP’s Coalition to Educate, Mobilize and Vote (CEMV)—a joint effort by the Hyde Square Task Force and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation—is once again conducting its own campaign to boost local voter turnout, especially in Egleston, Hyde and Jackson Squares. For information on that effort, contact CEMV at 522-2424 ext. 279.

CEMV also hosted JP’s only citywide candidates’ forum of the campaign in September.

The incumbents in the at-large, or citywide, council seats are Felix Arroyo, Michael Flaherty, Stephen Murphy and Sam Yoon.

Challengers include John Connolly, William Estrada, Matt Geary, Martin Hogan and David James Wyatt.

All of the candidates have raised three main issues to tackle: public education, youth violence and high housing costs.

Arroyo, a JP resident, is focused on reducing the high-school drop-out rate and continues to call for breaking up the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) into separate planning and development agencies.

Connolly, son of a former Massachusetts secretary of state, is proposing year-round youth programs and a planning focused on truly affordable housing.

Flaherty has presented the idea of “two Bostons”—one with good quality of life and one without—that need to be united under principles of “inclusion, accessibility and equality.”

Geary, a democratic socialist, calls for the return of rent control and an elected school committee, among other reforms.

Hogan has offered few proposals, instead presenting himself as the “people’s candidate” who rents his housing and otherwise lives like an average Boston resident. He has promised to scrutinize the Boston Public Schools (BPS) budget and work on public housing improvements.

Murphy was unable to attend the JP forum. In a Gazette interview, he emphasized his experience in his 11th year on the council, as well as his budget expertise. He highlighted his 2003 discovery of a quirk in Boston’s tax escrow account requirements that allowed the city to free up $32 million in a time of fiscal crisis.

“It’s just a demonstration of my financial ability,” Murphy said. “I’m the council’s go-to person on finance, for the most part.”

His other efforts of JP interest include continual work to save the Boston Park Rangers and his support of reform of criminal record reports that prevent some small-time offenders from getting jobs.

Yoon has said he is exploring some innovative ideas for his next term. One is a “transfer fee” on sales of luxury housing units to fund affordable housing. Another is providing financial incentives to employers to give parents time off for parent-teacher meetings.

Wyatt, the vice president of the Academy Homes I Tenant Council in Jackson Square, also was unable to attend the JP forum. In a Gazette interview, he backed Arroyo’s plan to dismantle the BRA and called for more crime watches. A former BPS teacher, he emphasized his experience with public education, while acknowledging that some other candidates have similar experience.

Wyatt also highlighted his unusually hands-on campaigning. He personally collected all of the more than 1,000 signatures to get his name on the ballot by walking the entire length of the city’s main streets. Many of those signatures were disqualified by the election department, he said, because the signers were homeless.

“Nevertheless, I was proud to have their names on my petition, even though City Hall would not find their signatures to be valid, because they are my people,” Wyatt said.

Estrada, another socialist candidate, did not appear at the JP forum and has been essentially invisible on the campaign trail. He did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

On the at-large ballot, voters can choose up to four candidates. The top four vote-getters will win the at-large seats.
District 7

In District 7, Henriquez—Flaherty’s former community liaison and vice president of Roxbury’s Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative—is attempting to frame the election as a battle between youth and age, practicality and ideology.

“My main concern is the energy and focus to do the work we need to see get done,” said Henriquez, who at 30 is less than half Turner’s age.

“Everybody, no matter where, knows what the issues are,” Henriquez said,
adding that the district needs practical solutions. He has complained that Turner is too focused on protests and other political gestures.

Asked about Egleston Square—the area where JP and Roxbury meet at Columbus Avenue and Washington Street—Henriquez praised the revived Main Streets program but expressed concerns about homelessness and public drug abuse.

“It should be rivaling Roslindale Square and Cleary Square as commercial districts,” Henriquez said, calling it a diverse neighborhood that too many people now only drive through. Asked if it is challenging to revive a border neighborhood, he said, “I think it’s actually a plus. It’s a gateway.”

Henriquez is the son of Boston Housing Authority head Sandra Henriquez. His father, Julio, is a well-known activist who made his own run for the District 7 seat in 1999, the year Turner won it.

“My dinner table conversation is a little different,” Carlos Henriquez said, adding that political debates are common—except at Christmas and Thanksgiving, when his mom is “always right.”

“I couldn’t ask for better role models as parents,” he said.

Turner, who did not return a Gazette phone call for this article, recently tackled local police and crime issues. He has called for council hearings about controversial helicopter traffic over JP. Earlier this year, he began a “Peace and Prosperity Initiative,” a series of self-help meetings for district residents to address what he called a culture of violence.

Turner, a Green-Rainbow Party member, is well-known for high-profile political activism, starting with his role in the 1970s opposition to plowing a highway through JP and Roxbury.

His stances have sometimes backfired. Most infamously, he held a 2004 press conference to reveal supposed photos of US troops raping Iraqi women. The photos turned out to be hoaxes.

On the other hand, Turner has sometimes been ahead of the curve. Council colleagues long complained about his call for a resolution opposing the Iraq War, then eventually voted to support it as public opinion shifted.

District 6

While Tobin lost the JP vote to a challenger in 2005, retaining his seat on the strength of his West Roxbury home neighborhood, no one decided to take a shot against him this year.

“I’m grateful that I’m unopposed,” Tobin told the Gazette. “By no means do I take it for granted. I feel like it’s a reward for the work we’ve done.”

New work is also on the way, Tobin said. One proposal he will soon file is an increase in the BPS drop-out age from 16 to 18 years old. That idea came from a youth council he recently assembled, he said.

Another proposal he is working on would require local colleges to partner with individual BPS schools as a meaningful way to share resources.

While Tobin will see no fresh face on the ballot, he may see one at home, he said. His wife is expecting their second child around Election Day.

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