15 at-large City Council candidates on Sept. 22 ballot

John Ruch

Part 2 of a 2-part series

The best-contested city election in years has drawn 15 candidates to the race for the four “at-large,” or citywide, Boston City Council seats. The Sept. 22 preliminary election will whittle the field down to eight candidates.

There will be at least two new city councilors after this election, because incumbents Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon are running for mayor instead.

The following candidate list is based on forums held in July and August by Jamaica Plain Progressives and on Gazette interviews.

The Gazette profiled the other eight candidates in the first part of this series on Aug. 28. Those candidates include: Felix G. Arroyo, Doug Bennett, John Connolly, Ego Ezedi, Robert Fortes, Tomás Gonzalez, Tito Jackson and Andrew Kenneally.

Steve Murphy: A longtime incumbent city councilor with a politically centrist reputation, Murphy told the Jamaica Plain audience that he wouldn’t “be everyone’s cup of tea in this room,” but that he doesn’t “automatically say ‘no’ to anything.” Easily citing facts and figures, Murphy touted his financial background and number-crunching experience on such issues as payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) by large non-profit institutions; he is on a city task force working on reforming the PILOT system, and calls Boston’s overreliance on property taxes a throwback to “Colonial days.” He promoted his work on reforming criminal record reporting to employers, so that ex-offenders don’t have as much trouble getting regular jobs, and also called for more vocational programs for students who might not want to go to a liberal arts college. He drew some irritation from the crowd for claiming that the City Council is essentially powerless on two controversial issues: possible reform of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), and Boston University’s proposed federal biolab, which he supports based on job-creation and “activity in the community.” (www.Steve-Murphy.com)

Hiep Nguyen: Nguyen moved to Boston from Vietnam in 1991 with his nine siblings, learned English from scratch, and became a certified public accountant who runs his own business in Dorchester. “The most important thing is accessibility and accountability from those in public office,” he said, calling for high-tech performance reviews of all city employees, as well employees of the quasi-independent BRA. In an idea that intrigued the JP crowd, he called for new housing that is not only mixed-income but also “multigenerational,” so that young people can benefit from living with elders “instead of building a senior center away from the city”; in the meantime, he suggested a pen-pal program. He supports eliminating most Boston Public Schools (BPS) busing and putting the funds into underperforming schools. He opposes Mayor Thomas Menino’s proposed meals and hotel tax increases, and any other tax increase in the current economy. (NguyenForCouncil.com)

Ayanna Pressley: Former political director for US Sen. John Kerry and an aide on Social Security casework for former US Rep. Joe Kennedy, Pressley was raised by a single mother, saw her heroin-addicted father do 16 years in prison and survived sexual abuse. She said she knows “what it is to live on the margin and feel marginalized,” but added that she has “never been cynical about government.” She largely avoided making specific policy proposals on such issues as affordable housing, environmental efficiency and budget-cutting, instead emphasizing a collaborative, community-based process about them. She supports neighborhood schools, local-option taxes and a wide range of government transparency initiatives, including keeping the BRA in place but making its inner workings more open. She is also a proponent of youth mentoring programs, particularly for girls, saying she is “on a personal mission to save our girls.” (AyannaPressley.com)

Sean Ryan: A JP resident, professional orchestral musician, former Ohio congressional candidate and Fenway Park hot dog vendor, Ryan is also an economic theorist and a libertarian who advocates only minimal government with only local taxation focused on mediating disputes between individuals. Earnest and sometimes combative with the JP Progressives audience—at one point batting aside a friendly question about who won that night’s Red Sox game—Ryan said the profit-motivated free market should govern such areas as affordable housing, mass transit and education, “the same way we allow the market to provide us with the best beer” or cell phones or shoes. He called for eliminating the BRA and rezoning the entire city with simpler codes overseen by an arbitration board to encourage development. He proposed radical decriminalization of drugs, including for Boston to refuse to enforce “unjust” state and federal drug laws, and proposed that police officers carry business cards rather than guns to build community trust, or that citizens carry their own guns to balance the power equation. Describing much of current government as “unconstitutional,” he said that “our system of self-improvement, of self-empowerment, is broken…We have a lot of people who think the government’s job is to help you all the time.” (RyanForBoston.com)

Jean-Claude Sanon: Sanon did not appear at the JP forums and gave only written responses to Gazette questions through the “campaign services” company Sage Systems. He works at the Haitian American Public Health Initiative, holds a real state license, and has worked as a radio engineer and a legal assistant. He called affordable housing a high priority, with his focus on reforming mortgage lending and educating consumers about it, as well as ending “race disparities” in Boston mortgage lending. He said that “the quality of [BPS] education is not up to the standards that our children deserve” and called for a mix of improved BPS schools and charter schools, as well as keeping the current busing system in place. He said the BRA “desperately needs to be reformed,” including with fully public meetings and expenditures listed online, though he appeared to believe incorrectly that the self-funded BRA is supported by tax money. (www.JeanClaudeSanon2009.com)

Bill Trabucco: An emergency medical technician who appeared at a JP Progressives forum in uniform, and the only announced vegetarian in the race, Trabucco offered some innovative proposals: creating “resident councils” with audit powers to oversee various city agencies and leave “elected officials running scared,” and increasing efficiency by having the MBTA run the school busing system. He said affirmative action programs are no longer necessary and should be replaced with color- and age-blind lotteries. He called for dense, mixed-income housing developments with affordability rates as high as 50 percent, adding that Americans have “become a bunch of entitled buffoons” unwilling to compromise or sacrifice to ensure “fairness and equality.” On hot-button social issues, he described himself as undecided on the death penalty, where his “compassion” for people who fall into crime comes up against his disgust for criminals who victimize children, and said he is “pro-life” but does not believe in imposing such philosophical positions on others. Trabucco is the only candidate who is refusing to accept campaign donations of any kind, citing his urges to represent everyone fairly and to not drain money from working-class people. (www.BillTrabucco.com)

Scotland Willis: Willis, a consultant on corporate management and environmental sustainability, ran unsuccessfully a decade ago for the Egleston Square-area District 7 City Council seat won by current incumbent Chuck Turner. In the most dramatic “green” move of the race, Willis traded in his car and motorcycle for a bicycle and T pass, part of his campaign promise to make environmental sustainability a “practice and not just rhetoric.” A single parent whose three children went to BPS schools, Willis called for financial and political literacy courses for kids, and said his budgeting philosophy would be “education first,” with no BPS cuts of any kind; he also called for increased volunteer mentoring in BPS. He said “gentrification” in housing and commercial districts must be halted, calling for mixed-income housing with “at a minimum, 25 percent” affordability and citing JP as a “perfect example” of a community whose business district is “rich because of its diversity.” (www.ScotlandWillis.com)

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