Jamaica Plain Progressives (JPP), along with Mijente, Boston Asamblea, NAACP Boston Branch, and Right to the City Vote! (RTCV) held a virtual candidate forum for those running for the 15th Suffolk State Rep. seat on May 24.
Candidates include Richard Fierro, Roxanne Longoria, Sam Montaño, and Mary Ann Nelson. The primary election is set for September 6, and the general election will be on November 8. The seat is currently held by Rep. Nika Elugardo, who is running for the 2nd Suffolk Senate seat.
The forum was moderated by Vanessa Snow of Mijente and RTCV, as well as Cindy Lu and Melissa Beltran from JPP.
Because of redistricting, the boundaries of the 15th Suffolk have shifted, and will go into effect with this upcoming election.
Cindy Lu said that the district will now include Roxbury Crossing as well as “south to Egleston and along Columbus Ave. to Dimock Health Center.” The district also includes Hyde Square, portions of Mission Hill, the Forbes building, portions of the arboretum and Forest Hills, as well as “meets up against the Franklin Park border on Norton St.”
The district will no longer include Brookline or the Moss Hill neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, she said. It is now a “majority BIPOC,” with 47 percent of residents identifying as white, 23 percent Hispanic, 18.8 percent Black, 13.1 percent Asian, 1.6 percent Native, and 0.3 percent Pacific Islander.
The four candidates were asked a range of long form questions ranging from leadership to affordable housing to racial equity. They were also asked a series of “lightning round” questions that required a simple yes or no response.
Candidates were asked to describe in three words their “leadership or governing philosophy or style,” as well as an example of how they have made an impact during their career so far.
Montaño said that they describe themselves as “collaborative, humorous, and empowering.” They currently work as the Director of Organizing at GreenRoots and oversee seven other organizers. “It’s a lot of work to communicate with several types of people,” but they said they pride themselves on “responding quickly” and adapting to people’s different styles as well as being able to “act quickly.”
Longoria said she believes she is “equitable, inclusive, and impactful.” She said she has done a great deal of work with youth and those experiencing homelessness, and said that working during the pandemic to get those folks a “cash transfer to support their basic needs” was something she was proud of. She said efforts like this help them “make their own decisions of what’s going to help them in the moment. A lot of my platform is based on youth and young adults.”
Fierro said his three words are “transparency, humility, and humanity.” He said what’s important to him is to “make sure that we can have discussions, whether it’s in the legislature or in the community.” He said that “we all live our lives and we have feelings,” which is “something to be mindful of.”
Nelson said her words are “collaborative, empower, and problem solving.” She said “I like to work together with others to solve problems,” but she also hopes to “empower people” to be able to solve their own problems. She said that in Mission Hill, she “empowered other participants in the process” of opening the community garden he has been working with. “We can definitely work together to solve problems in the district,” she said.
Affordable housing is a top issue in Jamaica Plain, as well as in Boston and across the state. Candidates were asked about their priorities for the housing crisis “to prevent further displacement of residents” in the district.
“For me, housing is really a supply issue,” said Fierro. He said that there is a “lack of supply” along with a “disproportionately high demand for housing here in Boston.” He said he believes a solution is to “build more multi-story, multi-family housing” that is “at least five or six stories high.”
Fierro also called for the elimination of minimum parking restrictions, as many residents do not need or have a car, as well as the elimination of broker fees.
He mentioned projects on Washington St. and Columbus Ave. in Roxbury in response to a portion of the question that asked for candidates to “address specific and urgent housing matters in our district.”
Nelson said that “first, we need to support the people who are already providing affordable housing,” such as seniors and other “long-term property owners” who have rented at affordable rates for a length of time. “We need to think about a state law for a tax break for these people,” she said.
She said that more affordable and middle income home ownership opportunities need to come to light, and she also believes in bringing back rent stabilization in the city.
“I think that would probably be one of my first priorities so that people can have a stable place to live,” Nelson said. For specific housing matters, she said that she is “still learning most of the district,” but “almost every owner-occupied building in Mission Hill is at risk of urgent displacement.”
Montaño agreed that rent stabilization is “first and foremost. People need to be able to invest in their community,” they said. They also spoke about “building houses that allow for electrification” and then place deed restrictions on them so folks do not get displaced.
Montaño also mentioned creating “home ownership opportunities through state funded public housing” and the creation of a state mortgage, among other ideas.
They worked on the community process for the proposed senior affordable building at 3371 Washington St., and they also cited the Forbes building as an urgent matter as many people are at risk of losing their affordable units there. They also said that “more affordability” should be advocated for in the Poor Clare Monastery project, and another urgent matter is “folks who are getting displaced when their landlord sells their triple decker.”
Longoria said “this isn’t political to me, it’s personal. I understand the fear and the shame of housing instability.” She also called for rent control, and as a renter herself, “I understand the difficulties of buying here in the district.”
She spoke about just cause eviction protection, and said that “we should be extending our anti-discrimination protections.” She said that she has moved several times in the past couple of years–she had lived over a bodega in Jackson Square, then her rent was increased by $1000, so she was forced to move over by the MSPCA, then COVID came, and she had to move again to Pond St.
“There’s so many different parts of the district,” she said, and there is a “different feel” in each of these parts, but people are being displaced in “all areas of the district.”
Candidates were also asked about their “top policy proposal to address climate change and environmental justice.”
Montaño said that theirs is “allowing municipalities to enforce electrification of buildings,” and ensuring that older buildings like schools are upgraded as well. “I think that we also need to put in deed restrictions for these things,” they said, and electrification will also lead to lower utility bills for residents.
“We cannot allow the rest of Boston to become the Seaport,” Longoria said. “We need allies in the State House.” She also called for the expansion of the community choice energy program, and for free transit to get cars off of the roads. She, like Montaño, called for retrofitting of existing buildings and ensuring that they are powered completely by renewable energy.
Fierro said that natural gas needs to be replaced “with other forms of energy,” such as wind and solar, and the state also needs to “explore the potential to bring back a nuclear power plant. We need to secure a better mix in our energy portfolio to wean off the natural gas,” he said, just as coal and petroleum have been largely replaced.
Nelson said that she believes the state needs to “make it easier for people to reduce their own energy consumption in their homes,” and subsidize the conversion to renewable energy. She called for assistance programs for low income people and people of color who “don’t have the background and access to resources.” She said “that’s a state program we could do and have almost immediate effect.” She also called for free public transit, but said “I don’t know if deed restrictions are the way to go.”
When asked what policies would be used to address racial inequity, Longoria said that this is also a “personal” issue for her, as her father was “incarcerated on racist cannabis charges” during the war on drugs.
“I believe marijuana convictions should not be barriers to upward mobility,” she said. “I would advocate for the expungement of low-level marijuana offenses from criminal records to mitigate the impact of the racist and classist war on drugs on Black and Brown people.”
She said she would also advocate to eliminate qualified immunity “for state, local, and correctional officers,” as well as raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to also include 18-and 19-year olds.
Montaño said that “investing deeply” in Boston Public Schools (BPS) is high on her list, as is creating a Massachusetts public bank. “A racial equity lens needs to be on…every single thing that we do,” they said. “For me, it’s not just one policy. That is the lived reality of our political system and that is the lived reality of everyone in this district.”
Nelson said “I have to agree with Sam—we need to look at everything through a racial equity lens. As a Black person, I think about it all the time, every day, every event.”
She said that “BPS should not be threatened with receivership,” and “we should use our budget process to promote racial justice and also to promote minority and women owned businesses and contractors and providers of services to government.”
Fierro said that “racial equity and racial justice touches every facet of our lives,” and said something that’s important to him is the Student Opportunity Act funding, as well as tax reform policies and increased access to public transportation. He also spoke about creating a “public fund for tuition-free community college and other vocational and tech programs” to “increase the opportunity for post secondary education, as well as create more youth summer work programs.
Some highlights from the lightning round included questions about housing, health care, schools, voting rights, and public transportation.
Longoria, Montaño, and Nelson said they would support providing municipalities with the authority to implement rent control, while Fierro said he would not.
Longoria, Montaño, and Fierro said they would support the legalization of safe consumption sites, while Nelson said she would not.
All candidates said they would support requiring health insurance plans to cover all pregnancy care costs including abortion care without cost sharing, and all also support an elected school committee in Boston.
All candidates support ending state receivership for schools, and all support granting in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students.
When asked if they think 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote, all but Nelson said yes, and all except Fierro think that free public transportation should be expanded in the state.
The full video recording of this forum can be found on the Jamaica Plain Progressives YouTube channel.