Tito Jackson: City needs to ‘step up game’

October 23, 2009
By

David Taber

City Council At-Large candidate Tito Jackson had some constructive criticism for city government officials during an Oct. 16 interview in the Gazette office.

“People have underperformed in [city] government…We need to step up our game,” said Jackson, who formerly directed the state’s efforts to promote the information technology industry in the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

That analysis came in response to Gazette questions about Jackson’s perspective on the role of City Council in Boston’s strong mayoral system.

In May, City Council held its first-ever regular meeting outside of City Hall, at the English High School in JP. Jackson said he attended that meeting and was disappointed to see that only about 30 residents showed up.

“Where is their base?” he asked of the current council members. Announcements for that meeting went out only two days before it happened.

Jackson said his goal, if he is elected, will be to cultivate an active base, so he can bring out “400 or 500 people,” to “be able to flex,” on specific issues and agenda items. He offered the example of advocating on Beacon Hill for state funding for home weatherization project or to convert foreclosed homes to affordable housing.

His experience in government, he said, is, “If you do extra, they will let you do it…I am going to push the envelope.”

He cited the example of his father, Herbert Kwaku Zulu Jackson, who in the 1970s founded the Greater Roxbury Workers Council.

The younger Jackson said his father used to take a direct-action approach in encouraging adherence to the Boston Residents Jobs Policy. That city law, passed in the 1980s, calls for development projects built with city administered funds or subject to large-project review by the city to employ at least 50 percent Boston residents; 25 percent minorities; and 10 percent women.

Jackson’s father, “Would walk on job sites and ask them ‘how many women, how many people of color, do you have on your site?’…His life was threatened several times…Since he passed we have lost ground,” Jackson said.

Jackson, who claims to have brought over 2,000 jobs to Massachusetts during his time working for the state, said he sees himself, to some extent, as following in his father’s foot steps. “When it comes down to it, if I had to walk on a job site and shut it down, I would do it,” he said.

He said his father had received death threats while he was doing that work.

Jackson said he too was the target of violent harrasment on the night prior to the Gazette interview. “Someone threw a brick through my window last night,” he said.

He said there was no direct evidence the incident was related to his City Council candidacy, but his interpretation was, “It means I’m doing the right thing,” he said.

Boston Police spokesperson Jill Flynn told the Gazette in an e-mail that there was no report of an incident at Jackson’s Grove Hall residence on October 15.

Jackson said he recently purchased the house where he was raised. “I am not going anywhere,” he said.

Speaking to the Gazette this week, Brook Woodson, head the City’s Employment Commission—which enforces the jobs policy— recalled Tito Jackson’s father fondly. “We worked very closely with Kwaku for a number of years before he passed away,” he said, noting that the council and another advocacy group, Women in the Building Trades, are now essentially defunct. “Any group that is interested, we try to stay in touch the best we can,” Woodson said.

Mayor Thomas Menino has come under fire this election season for not pushing for stricter enforcement of the jobs policy. Woodson said the city is barred from strictly enforcing the policy by a 1984 Supreme Court ruling that bars employment discrimination based on municipal residence.

That ruling has stopped the city from penalizing projects that are not in compliance, but the commission does regularly withhold funding from projects that are not making a “good faith effort” on the policy, Woodson said.

But Jackson said he would like to see more aggressive enforcement. The policy is an important avenue into the workforce for people with criminal records, he said. “Construction for white folks has been a saving grace. If you mess up, you walk down the street and your dad or your friends dad will hire you…[People] of color should have that saving grace,” he said. [For more Gazette coverage of the Boston Jobs Policy, see www.jamaicaplaingazette.com.]

Jackson said he is also interested in working toward a viable plan for neighborhood schools. Last year, Boston Public Schools (BPS) put forward a plan to reorganize the school system from a three-zone into a five-zone system. That controversial plan was shelved, in part because it was revealed that the proposed Zone 3, which includes JP, did not have enough seats for the students in the zone.

Jackson gave some credit for his personal success to participation in the METCO program—a state grant program that offers city youth access to public school systems in nearby cities and towns—nonetheless he said he would have preferred to attend a local school.

“How cool would it have been for me to go to school in my own neighborhood?” he said.

Parents in underserved communities “are willing to have a serious conversation around neighborhood schools,” he said. But that conversation needs to include long-term proposals for how the transportation cost savings—a major motivation for the proposed plan—would be reinvested. “If you are going to save $80 million, half of that over five or 10 years should be reinvested into these [underserved] schools,” he said.

Jackson said he is interested in using City Council’s auditing power—one of the body’s few powers along with approving the city budget—to keep closer tabs on the BPS budget and try to make sure as much funding as possible is finding its way into city classrooms.

He also called for reform of the city’s licensing and permitting processes. Echoing a chorus of criticisms this campaign season, he said the current process is cumbersome and fraught with favoritism. “There should be hard and fast rules for permitting, like, ‘here are the ten things you have to do,’” he said.

While Jackson was working with the state, Microsoft, which opened offices in Cambridge in 1997, was looking to expand, he said. The company had a six-month timeframe, and was looking for a versatile space that could accommodate the fast pace of change in technology development. “They wanted a space where they could cut a hole in the floor…Boston was not an option because we would not have been able to expedite the permitting process,” he said.

To that end, Jackson said he supports a citywide master planning process, even though he likened his experience participating in the recent Roxbury neighborhood master plan process to a “colonoscopy.”
“We should figure out what rules [make sense] instead of breaking them all the time,’ he said.

Jackson also said the city needs to be more inviting to college students. “We do a bad job with our young people. Kids want to come here their whole lives. By the time they are 22, they want to move to New York or San Francisco,” he said.

Jackson said he hopes to institute an annual party to welcome new college students to the area, to say, “Thanks for coming and spending $1 billion, annually,” and promote mentoring and other volunteer opportunities.

“Students are an untapped resource. They have time and they are smart. We have to give them something to care about,” he said.

The candidate also put in a plug for more citywide pride in general. “People in West Roxbury and Dudley Square have the same issues,” he said. “A small group benefits from us not talking to each other.”

Jackson said the troublesome appearance of favoritism for certain neighborhoods could be lessened by an automated system for city services that generates work ticket information, including trackable open and close dates for each job. That proposal is similar to mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty’s call for Boston to institute the 311 and Citystat systems.

Services should not be delivered “to West Roxbury faster than Roxbury,” Jackson said. “Our property tax bills come due the same day.”

The candidate said he has been impressed with what he has learned about Jamaica Plain on the campaign trail. “ “I like what I have seen here. The people are engaged. They vote,” he said.

John Ruch contributed to this article.

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