Candidates for the At-Large and District 7 City Council seats staked out positions aon many issues at two recent Jamaica Plain forums
All seven At-Large candidates—Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, William Dorcena, Michael Flaherty, Stephen Murphy, Ayanna Pressley and Sean Ryan—appeared at a forum hosted by the Wards 10, 11 and 19 Democratic Committees Oct. 20. District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson and challenger Sheneal Parker also appeared at that forum.
All three of the Ward Committees endorsed the incumbents in the At-Large race and their incumbent City Councilors.
And six of the seven At-Large candidates appeared at an Oct. 27 forum hosted by the Hyde Square Task Force and Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation.
Here are some highlights from their performances.
Arroyo’s most striking forum moment came when he addressed the topic of youth violence at the Oct. 20 forum. JP resident Kenneth Soto, 19, died in an alleged knife fight in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at 451 Centre St., on Oct. 17, and Arroyo—an incumbent and JP resident—was visibly distraught.
“Youth violence is not politics for me. It is real life,” he said. Soto had been one of Arroyo’s brother’s best friends he said, and was one of many youths Arroyo has known through his life who have been victims of violence.
While he and other candidates had plenty of policy ideas for curbing youth violence, Arroyo emphasized the need for adults throughout JP’s diverse community to find ways to mentor local youths.
“I hope you can make one of your four votes for an education councilor,” incumbent At-Large Councilor Connolly said at the Oct. 27 forum. He has generated headlines in the past year for his investigation into Boston Public Schools cafeterias keeping expired food, and frequently talks about having increased BPS budget transparency in his role as head of the City Council’s Education Committee.
His priorities include revamping vocational education in city schools so that it offers students technical skills that would prepare them for jobs in the “green” economy. He is also co-sponsoring legislation to have the drop-out age changed from 16 to 18, and, he said, he wants to see support services at school increased. “We should have social workers and counselors at all schools,” he said.
A political newcomer mounting his first campaign, Dorcena struck a populist tone at the two forums. Discussing the Boston Residents Jobs Policy—a policy that requires that certain percentages of locals, minorities and women be hired for publicly funded construction projects—he said unions are a major stumbling block to making it work.
The policy “doesn’t work because most union members don’t live in the city,” he said. His solution, he said is to work with unions to recruit more local workers.
Flaherty served for 10 years as an At-Large City Councilor before an unsuccessful mayoral run in 2009. He called for citywide and neighborhood-based master plans to deal with crime in the city, including regular round-table discussions between law enforcement officers, school officials and social service providers to discuss youth violence.
He was harsh in his assessment of the city’s inability to get buses to school on time this year, saying the problem is one of “operating systems and logistics that starts at the top.” The global positioning system-based bus routing technology that the city implemented this year should be scrapped immediately he said. “This needs to stop, starting tomorrow,” he said.
Murphy mostly focused on presenting himself as a city budget expert. His leadership in negotiating a new payment in lieu of taxes program with the city’s non-profit institutions will generate over $40 million by 2015, he said. And his recommendations for refinancing the city’s debt last year saved the city over $20 million.
Murphy proposed perhaps one of the boldest policy initiatives of any candidate at the Oct 20 forum, suggesting that Boston seek ways to finance private development at problem sites like the former Filenes’s site at Downtown Crossing, and sell the buildings to private investors.
Pressley’s most enthusiastic moment came when she talked at the Oct. 27 forum about her efforts to revamp BPS’s sex education policy. “I led City Council in calling for a culturally competant, culturally sensitive” sex ed program, she said She has also, she said, been pushing BPS to do more to support teen parents.
Pressley also said she plans to push for Boston neighborhoods, including JP, as cultural districts, a designation that would make them eligible for promotional support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. People should know that Boston’s arts and culture scene “extends beyond the Theater District,” she said.
A JP resident, Ryan did the most of any candidate to distinguish himself from the pack at the two forums. He said he does not support sex ediucation in school because, “The only moral choices you can make are ones you value yourself.”
He also suggested that he would support a school voucher program, saying that parents should be able to take the money that would be spent on their children in public schools and spend it on private or parochial educations. “Why force people to go to a school that is failing?” he said.
He also said he would like to see vacant land in the city turned over to city youths for farming in the summer.
Incumbent Tito Jackson and challenger Sheneal Parker squared off at the Oct. 20 forum.
The candidates largely agreed on the issues were raised, saying that more needs to be done to spur economic development and offer educational opportunities in the district.
Parker said that, if elected, she would take a personal interest in supporting crime victims in the district, hiring a staffer whose sole responsibility will be following up with them.
Jackson said that desperation “is at an all-time high” in the district and that he will continue to work with the Boston Public Health Commission and others to makes sure that support services are available in the community.
He also called for strengthening the city’s Police Community Review Board.
Jackson said he is absolutely opposed to Wal-Mart moving to the district. Parker said she opposes the national chain as well, but that she is not sure that opposition will matter in the end, and that she would take a leadership role in negotiating with WalMart officials if it does move to the district.