Boston mayoral candidate Mike Ross does not think throwing money at a problem and hoping it goes away is the best solution to a problem, he said during a recent hour-long interview at the Gazette’s office this week.
Take public safety, for an example. Ross wants to measure where the City is most effective and fund those areas while cutting the rest.
“Where do we say yes and where do we say no?” Ross said.
Besides public safety, Ross discussed not changing the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) during a construction boom in the city; creating an “urban caucus” to fight at the State House for improved public transportation; and his 14 years as a city councilor representing Mission Hill, part of Jamaica Plain and other areas of the city.
Throughout the mayoral campaign, Ross can often be heard relaying one motto or another. One of his favorites is, “Who is doing it better and how do we learn from them?” That is how he came to his conclusion about measuring public safety.
Ross was speaking with Geoffrey Canada about his nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone and a successful program it has that helps low-income families from prenatal to when the child is 18 years old. When Ross asked Canada about the program’s success, he replied that it is about measurement: finding what works and what doesn’t.
Ross wants to bring that philosophy to public safety. He said Boston has a lot of “well-intentioned people” whose programs are “not effective.” Ross said the money often goes to the loudest people, whether it is a pastor or members of a nonprofit organization.
“We don’t know who is effective,” he said.
Ross criticized other mayoral candidates who think that police is just the answer and said another of his favorite mottos: “The opposite of violence is opportunity.” He said we need to bring opportunities, such as youth and summer jobs, to areas that are the hardest hit by violence—Mattapan, Roxbury and Dorchester.
Ross also said he wants to give more resources to community-based organizations, as they are better than police at preventing crime.
The candidate said the City needs to “act a little smarter” when it comes to public safety. He noted that Boston has two street workers programs—the City’s and the nonprofit Boston Foundation’s. Ross said they need to be merged “under one roof.”
He said that the Boston Police Department (BPD) should look like the community it serves, noting that there are no women at the senior superintendent level and no person of color at the district captain level. Ross said that is “counterintuitive” and “has to change.”
He called for more police substations in the neighborhoods and giving officers technology enabling them to file police reports out in the field.
During the interview, Ross also discussed the development boom underway in the city. He said cities throughout the country are experiencing a “metropolitan revolution,” as people leave suburbs and rural areas, and that people are coming to Boston.
“We need to build housing. That should surprise no one,” said Ross.
But, he said, with ample construction happening, the City should not separate planning from the BRA, as some other mayoral candidates have suggested. He said that might “stall our economy.” Ross said he has a “very simple” mandate for development in the city: plan first and build second.
The councilor pointed to the Fenway neighborhood, which he represents, as an example of that philosophy working. Fenway is experiencing tremendous development, including the already-built Fenway Community Health Center and the under-construction MBTA stop, according to Ross. He said that that process engaged the public and found out what the community wants. And although he recognizes now that there was not enough affordable housing put into the development, Ross said he “stands by the process.”
Ross talked about other areas of the city where there are development opportunities, such as along the MBTA’s Fairmount commuter line. He said he rode that train during the campaign and that it was empty because there is no housing along the line.
“It is a perfect opportunity and we have missed it,” said Ross, noting that he would like to build 10,000 units of housing along the line.
Speaking of the MBTA, Ross said he wants to create an “urban caucus” with surrounding communities, such as Cambridge, Newton and Somerville, to fight at the State House for “meaningful public transportation improvement.” He said the fact that public transit doesn’t fall under any City agency “can’t be a defense” for not doing anything.
Ross said that there has to be a “multi-faceted approach” to improving public transportation. He said he wants to have a “U-pass” for local college students that would be low price and bring in $50 million to the MBTA.
“As mayor of Boston, I can make that happen,” he said.
Education has been a key issue in the mayoral race and Ross said he wants to have universal early education and extend the school day for electives, such as art, music, gym and computer science. He said he wants to start with schools “no one wants to go to” and expand from there.
Ross also discussed investing in Roxbury’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, so it’s able to train students for entry-level jobs. He talked about bringing in partnerships and he said he has experience with that, pointing to a training classroom in the Longwood Medical Area (LMA) he helped start with local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez. He said the classroom allows Boston residents to learn skills to “move up the ladder” with jobs in the LMA.
“That’s a microcosm of what we can do,” he said.
Another idea Ross wants to bring to Boston comes from a high school in Virginia where students can earn half an associate degree in high school for free.
“That’s what we’ll do in my high schools,” he said.
Ross has served for 14 years as the District 8 city councilor, covering Mission Hill, Fenway, Back Bay, Beacon Hill and part of JP. He said he is most proud of his leadership moments and standing up for what he believes in. He pointed to the City’s negotiations with the firefighters’ union several years ago. He said he was the lone city councilor to stand up and say the City couldn’t afford a contract that would have closed three libraries and laid off hundreds of City workers.
For more information, visit mikerossboston.com.