At-Large candidates talk JP issues

All seven candidates for At-Large Boston City Council seats in the Nov. 8 election talked Jamaica Plain issues in response to written questions from the Gazette.

Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, William Dorcena, Michael Flaherty, Stephen Murphy, Ayanna Pressley and Sean Ryan were asked to weigh in on:

• Whether the Casey Overpass should be replaced with a bridge or a surface road.

• Whether the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s controversial handling of Whole Food Market’s move to JP affected their view on how the city interacts with neighborhood groups.

• Whether city government has gotten more or less transparent since 2009.

• What effect, if any, the recent alleged disappearance of $20,000 from Hyde/Jackson Square Main Street’s coffers has had on their opinion of the Main Streets program and the city’s support for the program.

The four incumbents—Arroyo, Connolly, Murphy and Pressley—took a pass when it came to taking a position on the overpass, deferring to state planners and traffic engineers and the community working advisory group.

Pressley acknowledged that the “issue pits neighborhood against neighborhood,” with many local residents supporting a surface road for aesthetic reasons, while commuters from other neighborhoods prefer the convenience of a bridge.

Flaherty said he supports a surface road, “Provided it can accommodate the 24,000-plus cars that use it daily.”

Dorcena came down squarely on the side of regional transportation, predicting, “a surface road would create a gridlock nightmare.”

Likewise, Ryan, also a JP resident, said “cosmetic implications” are secondary to him. “I am not opposed to a new bridge,” he said.

On the Whole Foods question, Ryan was the only one explicitly critical of the JPNC, saying, “I do not believe the JPNC did a good job representing the neighborhood as a whole.” But he did not draw any lessons from the controversy.

“One of the issues we experience across the city is that the cake is already baked,” by the time the city seeks community input, Flaherty said, speaking about the relationship between the city and neighborhood organizations in general.

All of the other candidates said they think neighborhood organizations generally continue to be relevant and important forums for city officials to interface with citizens.

“Although social media has proven to be a powerful tool by making government more transparent,” Murphy said, “when people come together to discuss their grievances, there is a sense of community that happens.”

On transparency, most of the incumbents pointed to their own efforts. Pressley noted that she authored an ordinance calling for city contractors’ compliance records with the Boston Residents Jobs Policy to be put online. Connolly noted that he had pushed for penalties for city councilors who fail to make personal financial disclosures.

Connolly and Arroyo both said they have worked to increase transparency by working more directly with city residents. Connolly, who chairs the council’s Education Committee, said he worked closely with residents reviewing the BPS budget. Arroyo said a lot of the legislation he has developed has been in consultation with resident “task forces” that he has convened on youth issues, economic development and asthma.

Dorcena, Flaherty and Ryan were all critical of the city’s efforts to be transparent. Dorcena called for a “return to an elected school committee to achieve more accountability” and Boston Redevelopment Authority reform.

Dorcena and Pressley were the only candidates to mention Hyde/Jackson Square Main Streets in their responses to the final question. Dorcena said the missing $20,000 is a “tiny example of the need for more transparency” in city finances.

“We need to strengthen Main Streets,” Dorcena said.

Pressley said, “The recent Hyde/Jackson Main Streets scandal does raise serious questions about the program’s management and fiscal oversight.” While the city may have to play a more active role in managing some of the programs, prioritizing projects and investments should be left up to the individual organizations, she said.

Connolly voiced support for Main Streets programs. Other candidates touted their own economic development initiatives.

Arroyo talked about his “Invest in Boston” proposal, which would require the city to consider how much community investments banks do when it is choosing what institutions to do business with.

Flaherty said licensing and permitting processes should be streamlined and a “one-stop shop” should be set up for business owners going through those processes or looking for information about support available through the city.

Ryan said city regulations should be streamlined and taxes should be lowered.

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