15 run for 8 at-large City Council slots on final ballot

John Ruch

Part 1 of a 2-part series

The best-contested city election in years has drawn 15 candidates to the race for the four “at-large,” or citywide, Boston City Council seats. The Sept. 22 preliminary election will whittle the field down to eight candidates.

There will be at least two new city councilors after this election, because incumbents Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon are running for mayor instead.

Most of the candidates attended three forums held in July and early this month by the new organization Jamaica Plain Progressives. It appears that Jamaica Plain residents will not get any more chances to see the candidates in local forums or debates before the preliminary election. But the candidates will appear Sept. 9 at nearby Roxbury Community College in a forum hosted by Open Media Boston, whose news editor is a JP resident. [See JP Agenda.]

The following candidate list is based on the JP Progressives forums and Gazette interviews. The forum moderators particularly asked about affordable housing, the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and reform of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

The four mayoral candidates also appeared at the JP Progressives forums. JP will get another chance to see them on Sept. 17 at English High School. [See JP Agenda.]

Felix G. Arroyo: A JP resident, outgoing Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council vice-chair and son of former City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo, the union organizer says he will use “collaborative politics,” not “champion politics,” meaning he will get people to work together instead of being a one-man crusader. Arroyo, whose wife is a BPS teacher, called for BPS pilot schools rather than charter schools, saying that a charter school “has ways of encouraging children with lower test scores to leave, and that’s just true.” He said “affordable housing” needs to be redefined because many workers “can’t afford ‘affordable’ housing.” He claimed that city departments are not promoting enough people of color to higher positions based on merit. A youth baseball coach, he cited his firsthand knowledge of the challenges youths face, having taken some of them home to housing “you wouldn’t want to live in, right here in Jamaica Plain….You’re voting for someone who thinks a lot about the people on [Egleston Square’s] Dixwell Street.” (FelixArroyo.com)

Doug Bennett: A former Nantucket selectman, Bennett has embarked on a remarkable shoe-leather campaign, knocking on more than 70,000 front doors, while also getting fined for putting campaign stickers on city property, including in Pondside and Forest Hills. He supports an end to general school busing while still allowing parents some school choice. Bennett said the BRA board’s members should be elected, and called for a better city-backed mortgage program, saying that the mortgage crisis and unemployment are “the biggest issues in the city.” In a 2001 case touted in his campaign literature, Bennett was arrested at Penn State for prominently protesting the university’s lack of response to death threats from white supremacists. He was arrested again a few weeks later in Nantucket while, he said, breaking up a fight involving his friends, with his case continued without a finding and later dismissed; Bennett has always denied a widely reported witness’s claim that he used a racial slur in the incident. (BennettForBoston.com)

John Connolly: An incumbent city councilor, Connolly touts his experience as a former teacher in a tough New York City school that saw great improvements. He proposes creating a BPS Environmental Science Academy to improve the system while training kids in the green economy. He cited his strong concerns about alleged environmental problems at the local Agassiz Elementary School, and said he is moving closer to reversing his previous support for Boston University’s controversial South End biolab, which many JP activists oppose. Connolly cited the BRA as one of several city agencies “in need of serious reform” and called for a citywide real estate master plan. He said he supports transit-oriented development with a “priority” on some type of affordable housing on MBTA-owned parcels around the Forest Hills T Station. (ConnollyForCouncil.com)

Ego Ezedi: A Baptist minister, former aide to US Rep. Mike Capuano and current head of the Roxbury YMCA, Ezedi said his focus is on youth and families, calling for, “Jobs, jobs and more jobs.” He said he would go citywide with a Roxbury initiative he created to get local businesses to employ a certain number of young adults coming out of prison. He said he supports school choice, but ultimately supports equal quality of schools and a reduction in busing. Asked about the Forest Hills redevelopment, Ezedi appeared unfamiliar with the issue, but said he would broker community meetings and, smiling, held up one of his campaign ads touting his leadership qualities. A former real estate asset manager for Boston University, Ezedi revealed that he resigned because he morally opposes the biolab, and said he strongly supports same-sex marriage despite what others may assume about his religious background. (VoteForEzedi.com)

Robert Fortes: The son of a former state representative, Fortes recently resigned as assistant general manager of “strategic planning, performance and accountability” at the MBTA. At the T, Fortes created a problem-solving monitoring system modeled on CitiStat, a similar program for entire cities that Flaherty is promoting in his mayoral run, and which Fortes would like to see in Boston as well. Fortes said he is not familiar with the details of such local MBTA initiatives as the Route 39 bus improvement project, but said the main transit issue is getting the state to take over the MBTA’s enormous debt load from Big Dig mitigation projects, so that it can become financially healthy and offer new services. He called for more direct City Council oversight of the BRA and for easing the building permitting process to reduce housing prices by increasing demand, saying, “There are a lot of developers who frankly avoid Boston.” A board member of a charter school, Fortes supports lifting the cap on charters, ending BPS busing and supporting home-schoolers, according to his campaign materials. (FortesForBoston.com)

Tomás Gonzalez: Former citywide liaison to the Latino community under Mayor Thomas Menino, and former chief of staff on the Boston Elderly Commission, Gonzalez is familiar with City Hall and describes councilors as “lifeguards” for residents. A JP native who once ran unsuccessfully against local state Rep. Liz Malia, Gonzalez is working on a master’s degree in city planning, with his research partly focused on youth involvement in the Jackson Square redevelopment plans. He calls for giving people on the massive Boston Housing Authority waiting list priority for subsidized units in new housing developments, and for more single-room occupancy units particularly targeted to young African-American men. Schools should be made equally good across neighborhoods before busing is cut, he said, saying that recent school zone proposals were mostly about white parents not wanting “brown kids going to school with white-colored kids”; he also cited Egleston Square’s Hernandez School as a model for bilingual education. Gonzalez touts his membership in a church whose pastor has been controversial for calling for a militant conservative Christian takeover of government; Gonzalez, like most other candidates in this year’s city races, said he is much more socially liberal than his church is, adding that “gay marriage in particular is one of the places we part ways.” (VoteTomas.com)

Tito Jackson: Jackson heads a division of the state’s economic development office devoted to boosting information technology business, and says Boston often misses out on attracting corporate investment because of its outdated approval systems. He calls for breaking up the BRA and redefining affordable housing because it is “something of a misnomer” for most Bostonians today. Specifically, he said he supports a 50 percent affordable component of any housing in the Forest Hills redevelopment. BPS busing should be tweaked but not ended, he said, calling for a longer school day, a volunteer mentor for every young person and a mix of educational approaches that can included charter schools. “Poor education is synonymous with crime,” he said. (TitoJacksonForBoston.com)

Andrew Kenneally: Kenneally, who said a recent brain-tumor scare inspired his renewed commitment to public service, is a former aide to US Rep. Joe Moakley, former chief of staff for JP City Councilor Maura Hennigan and former policy director for Flaherty. The holder of a master’s in urban planning, he called for the creation of a citywide real estate master plan and for “realistic and practical” affordable housing at modest levels and lower densities; specifically, he said he could support 50 percent affordable housing at Forest Hills only if it was feasible, adding, “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” He said BPS needs more resources, which increasing charter schools does not help, but cutting busing would, if the money is reinvested in the classroom. On green issues, Kenneally touted his early awareness of the RecycleBank company, which gives people reward points for recycling that can be spent at partner companies, though the JP audience was noticeably unhappy with his suggestion that the points could be spent at the Starbucks coffee chain. Kenneally declined to comment to the Gazette about his involvement in or opinion about secret City Council meetings held under Flaherty that were exposed by a lawsuit filed by mayoral candidate Kevin McCrea. (AndrewKenneally.com)

The Gazette will profile the rest of the at-large City Council candidates in the Sept. 11 issue. They include Steve Murphy, Hiep Nguyen, Ayanna Pressley, Sean Ryan, Jean-Claude Sanon, Bill Trabucco and Scotland Willis.

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