Wards 11 and 19 hold candidate forum for District 6 City Council candidates

The Ward 11 and Ward 19 Democratic Committees held a virtual forum for District 6 City Council Candidates on August 31. Incumbent District 6 councilor Matt O’Malley has said he will not seek re-election, so Winnie Eke, Kendra Hicks, and Mary Tamer are now vying for the seat.

During the forum, the three women tackled questions on a wide variety of topics ranging from housing to environmental justice to education. The format included some yes/no questions as well as open ended questions, for which the candidates had 90 seconds to answer.

All three said housing was one of the top issues facing residents in District 6, and all three said they support the state’s plan to put behavioral and public health services on the Shattuck Hospital site once the hospital moves to the South End.

Candidates were asked what they would do to “protect low and moderate income residents from displacement and stabilize rents in District 6,” as well as how they would tackle “the lack of affordable and appropriately sized housing for families” and how they would support small landlords owning between one and six units.

Hicks said that she believes half of new construction of units should be designated for renters and homeowners who are at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). She added that she would “direct at least half of the housing funds from linkage fees” for housing for people making below 30 percent AMI.

She also called for a transformation of the city’s zoning code, as well as “more permanent supportive senior housing.” In “high risk neighborhoods,” Hicks said that there need to be “anti-displacement zones.”

Tamer said that “we need to produce and protect affordable housing,” and called on all elected officials to push for more at the state level. “We need help to address this from a regional perspective,” she said.

Tamer also said that students should not be occupying “all of the thee and four and five bedroom” units in the city, and that federal funds should be used to help with rent costs.

“One thing that I do not understand,” Eke said, is that “there should never be a reason that in the City of Boston somebody should be evicted.” She said residents should be properly “educated” about their rights as tenants, and landlords should be given assistance to help pay for their mortgages so people can remain in their homes.

Candidates were also asked questions about community engagement, including what they would do to “engage the community of District 6 and the work of the City Council.”

Eke suggested that the City Council hold some of its meetings in different districts so they are accessible to more residents and the Council can “listen to constituents.”

Hicks said that she would hold “people’s assemblies,” as “I think we need to engage people in a more direct democracy.” She called for better language access for the meetings as well as ensure all are accessible via video.

“As a community organizer for my entire life, I know the importance of including people in the decision-making process,” she said.

“It’s all about outreach,” Tamer said, as well as “building community, accessibility, and taking in all of the voices and all of the perspectives. That comes from the grassroots; it comes from the ground up.” Tamer also said that it’s “about having really difficult conversations sometimes…” and as a city councilor, she would hold “very regular office hours” to discuss issues with constituents.

Candidates were asked how they would advocate for racial justice both in the district and citywide.

“This is work I’ve already done in the City of Boston,” Hicks said, who added that she has “trained all 1100 employees at the Public Health Commission.”

Hicks said that “as a Black woman…the work of racial justice is a part of my everyday life.”She also said that “it’s time that we have leadership in District 6 that is not running away from difficult conversations.”

Tamer said that “I also embrace difficult conversations,” adding that the district is 87 percent students of color” and full day programming is only accessible to “some students but not all, and that is not good enough.” She called for full day programs for all three and four year olds I the city.

Eke said that she has trained pastors and other religious leaders on “what it means to have racial equity,” as well as racial bias.

“Most people can say, and honestly do believe, that they are not racist,” she said, adding that “implicit bias is what the main problem is.” Eke said that “we want a councilor who can speak truth to power.”

On education, candidates were asked how they would use the Council’s budgetary power “to address inequalities” in the Boston Public Schools (BPS), many of which were made worse by the pandemic.

Tamer said she would use federal funds to increase mental health services in BPS, and to ensure that students have the resources they need after so much isolation and uncertainty. She said that the city “cannot expect children to learn if they are not being supported in every possible way.”

Eke said that “psychotherapists” should be on hand as well as mental health councilors, and two or three mental health workers should be employed in each BPS high school. She also suggested doctors and nurses be in school to ensure students’ physical health is up to par along with their mental health.

Hicks said that she is the “only candidate who has had direct experience with trauma work in the city,” and said she would “advocate for a baseline budget to ensure all schools have the resources necessary.”

Addressing public safety in the district was another question.

Eke suggested that police “avoid any contact with people of color,” and instead called for cameras in places like streets and traffic lights to catch any crime or wrongdoing, and “letters” will be sent to the offender. She said that this “could save the life of a black person.”

Hicks aid that “safe communities come from well-invested communities,” and “we need to reconsider when and how we deploy police in the community.” She said that increasing year round jobs for youth would contribute to a decrease in youth violence.

“Boston is struggling with substance use disorder,” Tamer said. “I believe in harm reduction.” She said she also “believes in police reform,” and said that 911 should be used “as a triage” to decide whether police or mental health councilors should be dispatched in a particular situation.

Candidates were also asked about child care, the Boston Planning and Development Agency, and other challenges facing the district. The full video with all questions and answers can be found on the Boston Ward 19 Democratic Committee’s Facebook page.

The preliminary municipal election will be held on September 14. There are also several early voting options throughout the city, and more information can be found at boston.gov/election.

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