By Michael Coughlin Jr.
The day of reckoning is coming for one of the three contenders in the race for District 6 City Councilor as residents will cast their votes in the Preliminary Municipal Election on Tuesday, September 12, to determine which two candidates will move on to the Municipal Election in November.
In just a few days, residents in District 6 will be tasked with whittling the field of incumbent Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara, Ben Weber, and William King down to two.
Lara, elected to the City Council in 2021, is coming off a term in which she has accomplished quite a few things. Over the last two years, Lara’s office secured $94 million in new investments for District 6.
This money includes $22 million for a new library in Egleston Square and $6 million for the expansion of the city’s youth jobs program. Also, in her role as the Council’s Chair of the Committee on Housing and Community Development, she helped push for strengthening the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy and more.
Yet, with all this work done, Lara finds herself in what she described in an interview with the Gazette as a tough race.
This race is toughened by controversy stemming from an accident back in June when Lara reportedly crashed a vehicle into a house on Centre Street with a suspended license and her young son in the car.
Initially, reports indicated that Lara was driving an uninsured car and was estimated to be traveling at 53 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. However, Lara refutes both these claims, indicating the car she was driving was a friend’s and was insured and hoped the allegation regarding her speed would be corrected in court proceedings.
In speaking about the incident, Lara said, “I don’t believe that I am above the law, and I know that grace is a lot to ask for right now, and like I said before, the seriousness of the matter is not lost on me.”
“I hope that my worst moment doesn’t overshadow two years of reliable, progressive voting record and policies that have centered on working people,” she added.
While Lara might face a tough battle to remain in her seat, she says that she and her team are hard at work knocking on doors to make it past the preliminary election and that people are responding well.
In addition to speaking about the controversy that has been over her for most of the summer, Lara also talked about some things she would like to focus on if she were re-elected.
These priorities included continuing to work to protect renters from displacement, potentially drafting a renter’s Bill of Rights in Boston, and targeting poverty and combating it by creating a basic income pilot for the city.
While Lara indicated that all these different priorities are important in their own ways, she believes the climate crisis is the “issue of our generation.”
“If there’s not a planet left for us, we’re not going to be able to fight for all of those other policies, and marginalized communities are going to be most directly impacted by climate change,” said Lara.
As for what Lara believes sets her apart from the two other candidates? It comes down to experience.
“When I say experience, I don’t just mean my last two years on the Council. I mean my personal experience, my professional experience fighting for policy changes all across the city,” said Lara.
“Whether it be at the Boston Public Health Commission, whether it be doing violence prevention intervention work, as a youth worker, as a non-profit executive, I have been organizing in this district for longer than either of my opponents have even lived here,” she added.
Another candidate looking to earn your vote is Weber, a workers’ rights attorney and youth soccer coach who has been a resident of Jamaica Plain for 15 years.
As to why Weber is running for the position, he said, “I’ve been a workers’ rights attorney for 18 years, and I represent large groups of people who don’t have a voice, and I wanted to put my skills to work for people in District 6 and fight for my friends and neighbors here.”
He also explained that a specific event led to him running: the closure of the Mission Hill School, where both his kids went.
“Rather than help us deal with issues in the school, BPS (Boston Public Schools) made it impossible for us to fix the problems in the school for a whole year and then closed the school,” said Weber.
He went on to mention how that event made him want to use the skills he has sharpened in his work representing low-wage workers across the country and make a difference.
In terms of specific issues, Weber spoke about wanting everyone in BPS who needs special services to be able to get them and wanting to allow families to access information through the city and to be able to learn how to challenge IEP decisions and get the resources they need.
He also stated that he would support the right to counsel for those being evicted or with other housing-related problems. Other priorities Weber is running on that are mentioned on his website include protecting workers’ rights, expanding youth sports, park facilities, and more.
Specifically, Weber spoke to the point that in his time as a youth soccer coach, he had seen how much individuals have had to fill gaps at athletic facilities by fixing spaces or paying for lights at fields and wants the city to give its kids the same resources in this area as kids in the suburbs have.
Moreover, Weber indicated that the number one thing for him was having a City Council that is working for its constituents.
“Regardless of what the issue was, I think the City Council can do a lot better job working for people and making people feel like they have a representative on the council who’s fighting for them effectively,” said Weber.
As for what Weber believes sets him apart from his political competitors, he pointed to his 18 years of legal experience working to help people in complex situations and getting them results, along with the fact that he has raised two kids in the city and has dealt with things other residents have like BPS and their response to the Mission Hill School.
He also mentioned his background in journalism, covering sports and city issues at the New York Post. Weber says if elected, he would use as many ways to engage with constituents as he could, like publishing a newsletter in the paper to let residents know what the critical issues are and what the council is dealing with.
Weber indicated he felt that he has enough support to make it to the Municipal Election in November, and it’s just a matter of getting the voter turnout come next week.
“I want to help my friends and neighbors and community members live in a place that measures up to all of its potential,” said Weber.
King, who was born and raised in Boston and currently resides in West Roxbury, is tossing his hat in the ring for the District 6 race after running at-large in 2017 and 2019.
King, who works as an IT Director for a local conservation non-profit, explained that he is running because he did not feel that the district was being “adequately represented.”
“Talking to people on the doors and just the people in the community in both JP and West Roxbury, you know, they felt like their Councilor wasn’t active and present in the district and constituent services were lacking,” said King.
In speaking about some of his priorities, King mentioned the need to stabilize rent in the city. “We’re pricing out a lot of hardworking families and individuals who want to stay, but at the same time, those who want to come can’t afford to come to the city,” he said.
King also mentioned the need to create more pathways to homeownership and spoke about how to do that by expanding on existing programs the city has and increasing eligibility.
While his website lays out several priorities, like public safety, climate justice, and transportation, King explained that education was important considering the number of families in the district who have youth in or are preparing to go to BPS.
“I’d say second to affordability when it comes to people leaving the city; it’s because of our education system that families decide to leave the city,” said King.
“We need to make sure that we’re investing in our youth’s future, better preparing kids for college. So many kids, when they graduate BPS, they have to go into remedial math and english classes when they enter college,” he added.
King also thought that the city needed to expand its vo-tech, trade, and agricultural programs in high school to give kids more options coming out of school.
In terms of what he thought sets him apart from his opponents, King mentioned quite a few things, such as the fact that he has been in the race since December and has been putting in the work.
He also spoke about how he is from the city and a BPS graduate. “I’ve seen the history of this city. I’ve seen where we have been, what we’ve come from, and where we want to go,” said King.
Moreover, King talked about bringing his lived experience with him on the job and how he looks at issues on a case-by-case basis, is willing to work with everyone regardless of personal beliefs or ideology, and will work for constituents while being active in the community.
As election day draws near, King said he is feeling very confident that he will make it to the November election and urged residents to vote and make their voices heard.
“We like the response that we’re getting from voters across the district — I’m overwhelmed with support. We have people who are volunteering on a regular basis and out there helping,” said King.
“We’re seeing the support, we’re feeling confident — I would just ask everybody to get out and vote and let their voices be heard,” he added.
Although it is coming down to crunch time regarding the preliminary election, candidates are still finding time to discuss significant issues in the district with their constituents.
For example, on Wednesday, all three candidates joined a forum hosted by the Coalition for Region-wide Services beyond Franklin Park (CORES) to give their thoughts on a hot topic: the redevelopment of the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital Campus.
As part of this meeting, elected officials and candidates running for these positions were given time to answer three questions concerning a redevelopment proposal for the site from the Boston Medical Center and its partners.
A website dedicated to the redevelopment — https://www.mortonstreetredevelopment.org — states that the proposal intends to “offer an innovative model of clinical treatment and housing aimed at curbing the interlocking public health crises of mental illness, addiction, and homelessness.”
Specifically, according to a presentation from an August 15 community meeting, the redevelopment proposes 446 total beds and 405 units of supportive housing while increasing the amount of green space and providing clinical and emergency housing services.
The three aforementioned questions posed to candidates and elected officials were: What is your understanding of the BMC’s proposal, and do you support the current proposal? How would you address your constituent’s concerns regarding safety and management of the campus as well as in the surrounding park and communities? Would you be open to working with CORES to halt the proposal and restart a new, transparent CAB process that would include all impacted neighborhoods?
The first District 6 Candidate to provide comments and answers to these questions was King, who opposed the current plans.
“I believe this plan, in its current form, would do little to actually solve the problem we are seeing on Mass and Cass and would instead simply relocate it to Franklin Park, and in my opinion, that’s just unacceptable,” said King.
Though King acknowledged the need for increasing access to recovery services and finding more affordable housing options for those struggling with substance use issues, he felt the plan places an “unfair burden” on the surrounding communities.
Moreover, he spoke about how the substance use issue is a statewide problem and that a statewide solution is needed. Further, he discussed the need for enforcement concerning illegal activity and mentioned that he is open to working with CORES.
Weber was next to address the Shattuck and spoke about how this directly impacts him as his kids play sports at Franklin Park and how he found the proposal to be a bit confusing.
In terms of supporting or opposing the proposal, Weber said, “I do support housing first; I think we need to help the people both in the South End having to deal with this and the people on Mass and Cass who need treatment, and I do support a plan that would create supportive housing for those people.”
However, he added, “I would need to hear more from DCAMM (Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance) to make sure they’re doing everything they could to mitigate the effects on the neighborhood — I haven’t heard that yet. I also haven’t heard about the benefits to this large group of people to be housed in the same place, so I’d want to learn more about that.”
Weber also thought the community needed more assurances that the area would not turn into the next Mass and Cass. He wants to see a regional solution and said he would be willing to work with CORES to ensure there is a regional solution and the community is protected.
Finally, Lara joined the discussion and talked about how polarizing the subject has been, citing “mixed reviews” from those in support, those in opposition, and those in between.
In her comments, Lara did not seem to voice her support or opposition to the proposal and spoke about wanting to hear from her constituents.
“The state is in the process, and so am I in the process of listening to people’s concerns and reactions to this particular proposal and fighting to make changes and be responsive to the proposal based on that feedback to hopefully end up with something that works for all of us,” said Lara.
Lara also talked about how having conversations with elected officials and those at the state level about the proposal was essential and supported slowing down the process. She also mentioned that as the Chair of the Parks Committee on the City Council, a primary focus for her when reviewing this proposal is the park.
“Our parks are really a gem to everybody in our community, and we want to make sure that they’re up to standards for our families and individuals so that people feel safe and they can walk and explore without fear,” said Lara.
Overall, it is clear that as the preliminary election approaches, all three candidates are doing their best to stay alive and move on to November’s election.
To learn more about each candidate, you can visit the links below.