Metro, Politics

In Dorchester Forum, Walsh and Jackson Detail Visions for Boston

Supporters of mayoral candidates Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, and City Councilor Tito Jackson, crowded the streets outside First Parish Church on Friday evening. They were there early, over half an hour before the candidates were scheduled to arrive for the Ward 15 Mayoral Forum in Dorchester. But they held up signs declaring their support for each candidate, lining the sidewalk to ensure that each candidate would get a warm welcome. As Walsh and Jackson arrived, their supporters took the opportunity to shake hands and wish them well before it was time to go into the church for the forum.

During the forum, each candidate got the stage to themselves for around 25 minutes, where they were each asked questions by moderator Chris Lovett, the director of the Boston Neighborhood Network News. Lovett asked the same basic questions of each candidate so that their stances on issues, especially those regarding Dorchester, could be compared. At the beginning of their turn on the stage, each candidate was allotted three minutes to provide an opening statement. In his statement, Walsh emphasized that tonight he would be narrowing his scope to focus specifically on Ward 15, instead of the much broader area of all of Boston. He noted that Dorchester has been a priority since he first assumed office.

“In the last three years, we’ve worked extremely hard in this area of Dorchester … to make sure that we continue the growth that’s happening in this neighborhood,” Walsh said.

He detailed some of the measures that his administration has taken to sustain growth in the neighborhood, including ensuring that the Boston Main Streets program, which works to assure that healthy commercial districts are sustained through revitalization and building, continues to get the funding it deserves. He also mentioned his administration’s work with the police department as well as with housing advocates in the area.

Jackson began his opening statement by making it clear to the audience why he wants to be mayor, emphasizing a desire to serve the Bostonians who have invested in him throughout the years.

“[My campaign as mayor is] to make sure that people who grew up like me, who weren’t supposed to have a chance, have an opportunity to come forward and pay it forward in our city,” Jackson said.

As the forum got rolling, the moderator decided to start with a question that could definitely be seen as contentious, and asked the candidates about their opinions regarding the increased gentrification of Dorchester. Walsh noted that houses in the area are being turned into condos, with prices going through the roof. He argued that the city needs to increase the supply of affordable housing, as the city is not currently building enough housing to keep up with the population growth, causing people to be placed out of their neighborhoods if this trend continues.

“So what we have to do in Boston is continue to create supply, put supply in the market, because what’s happening is prices are going through the roof and we’re running out of space,” Walsh said.

He emphasized that when you look at the streets of Dorchester, the neighbors have changed. Houses are being sold by families and are getting turned into condos, and the city needs to do something to combat that. He brought up his administration’s plan to create 63,000 units of housing by 2030, noting that currently 22,000 of those units are licensed or under construction. Walsh made it clear that his plan to address gentrification is to increase affordable housing supply for Boston residents, since the demand is clearly there.

Jackson also noted the fact that people are being pushed out of the city, losing opportunities to live in the communities that they grew up in. He said that as mayor, he would dissolve the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which works to plan housing and commercial developments, as it is not transparent or accountable, and would replace it with a professional organization. Jackson also suggested that the city should take all the tax dollars made from condos that are $1 million or more, and put the money in a lock box for affordable housing. As he gave his ideas on how to combat the shortage of housing for Boston residents, he used the topic to segue into talking about the issue of homelessness, something that has been a large problem that the city must resolve. He emphasized his plan to create 400 affordable housing vouchers for the homeless that would be funded with $5 million dollars annually.

“We should have a city of Boston where living and housing and dealing with issues of homelessness is a human right,” Jackson said. “[A] shelter doesn’t solve homelessness, a home solves homelessness.”

After each candidate was given the chance to discuss gentrification and housing, the moderator shifted the course of the forum to the issue of crime and policing. Each candidate was asked how they would work to combat crime in the city, as well as how they would diversify the Boston Police Department. Walsh noted that in his first term, he has increased the diversity of the BPD, appointing the first African-American Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross. He also noted that the Cadet Program, an on-the-job training program for Boston’s youth seeking a career in law enforcement, has diversified the BPD, as 75 percent of the youth in that program are people of color. He mentioned his administration’s success with combating crime by detailing a program called Operation Exit. This program was established in 2014 to help at-risk Bostonians or those with criminal backgrounds gain the skills and knowledge required for entry into an apprenticeship program, and he showcased the success of this program by underscoring that 0 percent of the people in the program are repeat offenders.

When the time came for Jackson to give his opinion on the BPD, he criticized what he viewed as its inefficiency, noting that the BPD solves just 4 percent of non-fatal shootings. In order to combat this serious problem, he said that as mayor he would see that the force would implement an extra shift for detectives, as they currently get off at midnight. He also stressed the need to diversify the BPD, saying ranking POC officers, though hired now, would be “forced to retire” in fivr years. He also emphasized the importance of body cameras on all officers to keep everyone accountable.

“We have to take a proactive approach to law enforcement, not a reactive approach,” Jackson said.

As the topic of the forum shifted to jobs, Lovett asked how there could be more prominent, livable wage jobs with benefits for the people of Dorchester. Jackson underscored the need to fully fund Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, as it could be used as a training pipeline. He also said that the city should require colleges, universities and hospitals in the area to hire people from Boston, especially since they don’t pay the same amounts of property tax. Walsh noted that most good jobs go to people coming from outside Boston, and that it is necessary to create opportunities and pathways into different industries. He also stressed the importance of economic development and training in schools that would put youth on pathways to success. Walsh also raised the idea that employment could be a factor in reducing gun violence in Boston.

“You want to stop shootings in Boston, you get somebody a job,” Walsh said. “You get employment out there.”

Related to jobs, the forum came to a close by asking the candidates their position on the residency requirement for city employees. This law requires those who work for the city to live in the city, and in the past it has been accused of being weakly enforced. Walsh noted that anyone in his cabinet must live in Boston, as well as the fact that new officers in the police department command staff are also required to live in the city.

Jackson made it clear that he prefers city employees who live within Boston, saying that he thinks that police officers who live in the city will keep residents safer, and that Boston should invest in its city workers and give them career development. He made it clear that as far as jobs go, people living in Boston should be prioritized.

As the forum came to a close, each candidate urged the people to get out and vote on Nov. 7, noting the low turnout that the city has seen in the past for its mayoral elections.

Walsh admitted that the city has challenges and things it needs to work on, and Jackson took a similarly sensible approach by not running “as a dreamer,” but “as a pragmatic individual.” Jackson underscored his vision of a creating city that takes care of the most vulnerable people—those with opioid addictions, homeless students—a city that is not just great for some people, but great for everyone.

Featured Image by Molly Duggan / Heights Staff

October 12, 2017

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