In a city that thinks of itself sometimes as the Athens of America, surely we can have a real debate, where two candidates for a particular office can actually talk out issues.
That wasn't what we got tonight. The format of the "debate" between Marty Walsh and Tito Jackson at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury left no room for the candidates to really get into things. Only for one brief moment did they break out of the confines of the forum-style session, when they exchanged a couple of angry barbs over last year's Black Lives Matter at Boston Latin imbroglio.
Still, as they did at an even more disjointed forum in Jamaica Plain last week - where they weren't even on the stage at the same time - the incumbent mayor and the city-councilor challenger did set out their basic goals and differences.
Walsh opened by calling Boston a city of "hopes and dreams." He said that he constantly thinks about kids at the Lenox Street housing development and what he can do to help them. "We need to make sure Boston is for all of us."
Jackson opened by declaring "Marty Walsh has made promises he did not keep," has forgotten the people of Roxbury and is not doing enough to ensure Boston remains open to all. He cited the Olympics as one example, and said that he, not Walsh, has led the debate on everything from immigration - Jackson said he support sanctuary status and an immigrinat legal defense fund long before Walsh - to body cameras.
Keeping Boston neighborhoods safe
Jackson said he would work to ensure that "a life lost on Blue Hill Ave. means the same as a life lost on Commonwealth Ave., said the city needs to stop crime before it can begin by providing more summer and yearround jobs for young people, with special attention to young men at risk of becoming criminals. And he said the police and fire departments would get more respect if they looked more like the neighborhoods they represent, by hiring far more minority officers and firefighters. He said he would have the police department work even harder to solve the 96% of non-fatal shootings he said go unsolved.
Crime "is certainly one of the things that keeps me up at night," Walsh said, adding he starts every day talking to Police Commissioner William Evans. He said BPD this year has solved 21% of the non-fatal shootings, but acknowledged "there are still too many mothers being notified their kids are being killed.<.h3>
Walsh said he and BPD will decide over the next couple of months whether to equip police officers with body cameras, following the recent conclusion of a study involving 100 officers. But he said cameras alone aren't enough - trust is vital. He said that comes through such things as regular meetings with neighborhood leaders and clergy and regular "peace walks." He said the number of excessive-force complaints has dropped dramatically. He said 49% of the cadets at the Police Academy this year are people of color.
Jackson said he didn't think BPD even needed a pilot - "We simply should have adopted body cameras." Boston would be far from the forefront in using them, he said, adding cameras also helps officers tell their side of a story. Like Walsh, he said they're not alone by themselves - he called for a strong civilian review board with subpoena power.
Walsh said "Boston has done some incredible things on bikes, but we're not quite there yet." Too many people still don't think bikes belong on the streets, when they do, he said. He pointed to his championship of Vision Zero, which is a series of traffic calming and other measures aimed at eliminating all vehicle-related crash deaths by 2030.
Jackson said Boston is underfunding bicycle infrastructure - he said Boston spends just $5 per resident on it, compared to $15 in New York and $75 in San Francisco. He suggested using money now collected from parking meters to pay for better bike infrastructure.
Economic development, especially for residents of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan
Jackson said he would start by dismantling the BRA and its urban-renewal powers and replace it with a professional planning organization that puts residents, rather than developers, first. He said he would use the power of Boston's $2-billion annual municipal purse to hire more companies run by local residents, in particular women and people of color.
Walsh said Bostonians should be proud that 60,000 new jobs have come to the city over the past four years, but acknowledged that unemployment remains higher in those three neighborhoods than the rest of the city and that provoding growth without displacement is vital. But change is coming. He pointed to the first skyscraper proposed for Roxbury and said it would help bring wealth to the neighborhood.
Bringing growth to Roxbury while letting longtime residents stay
Walsh pointed to 9,000 new units of low- and moderate-income housing in the city. He pointed to efforts by City Hall to help small businesses in the neighborhood. Voter approval of the Community Preservation Act means $20 million more a year for affordable housing. But he said the city needs to put more pressure on banks to loan money to residents. He said only 10% of private mortgage loans in the city are to people of color. "That's a problem" - as is the loss of federal funds for the city's housing projects, he said.
Jackson said that's not enough, that Boston is becoming too expensive for normal people. He said he would increase the minimum required number of affordable units developers would have to build from 13 to 25%. And he said two-thirds of the units in any projects built on land acquired from the city would have to go to low and moderate-income residents. He called for creation of at least 1,000 new "home ownership" units for low and moderate income residents - saying home ownership remains a key way for people to build wealth and stay in their communities.
How high should we jump to attract Amazon?
Walsh said that the city didn't actually give GE anything - just breaks on future taxes. In fact, he said, GE paid the city tens of millions for education and job training. He did not say what he would offer Amazon specifically, but said it would prove a vital asset to Boston, because it would provide good jobs across the economic spectrum - and that he would work to ensure Bostonians are trained for such jobs and that the jobs go to Bostonians. Even without Amazon, building permits are at record numbers in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, and that's a good sign, he said. "We have a good story to tell in Boston."
Jackson said GE's tax breaks represent real money and noted Walsh wanted the city to help pay for a helipad for the company. "We should allow Amazon to come in here with nothing but a smile and a pat on the back," and said the city should concentrate its money on growing its small businesses. He noted that GE has been cutting jobs since it announced its relocation to Boston.
Boston Public Schools: Moving forward or backwards
Backwards, Jackson said. Walsh's boasts of new money invested in schools is matched by cuts in schools. He vowed to hire a nurse and psychologist for every school, said students deserve lead-free drinking water and a K-12 computer-science curriculum to better prepare them for today's economy. "We need to be building schools instead of closing schools in the city of Boston," he added.
Walsh acknowledged there's still a lot of work to do, but pointed to record investments in BPS, said 46 schools now have the state's highest or second highest ratings. He said BPS is planning a $1-billion investment in new school facilities and has added more K-1 seats and increased special-education funds.
Madison Park High School
Jackson said Worcester proves a city can provide a quality vocational education. "Boston absolutely needs to step up" and to work with local business on the sort of training students need for today's economy.
Walsh said he inherited a school that had gone through four headmasters in four years, but that the school now has stable leadership.
Blacks feeling shut out of the Boston success story
Jackson said this is the single issue that convinced him to run - that 40% of Walsh's votes came from neighborhoods of color in a city with record amounts of construction and yet blacks are consistently overlooked in jobs. He said he held up a new hotel on Melnea Cass Boulevard until he and the developer could work out an agreement in which all workers at the hotel would make at least $18 an hour and that at least 51% of the jobs there would be given to Boston residents and people of color. He said he would create an "anchor institution procurement office" to convince local colleges and other institutions to step up their hiring and procurement in Boston.
Walsh pointed to the including of "innovation space" in the Bolling Building in Dudley Square as an example of his attempts to lift up places such as Roxbury. And he pointed to the construction of the new Dearborn STEM Academy in Roxbury - the first new high school in Boston in 22 years.
But, still, Boston is now majority minority
He said city hiring of people of color and women when he took office was abysmal. He said half his cabinet consists of people of color and that he specifically hired John Barros, formerly of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, to head up his economic development efforts.
Jackson said the city isn't doing enough, that Walsh has stopped sending the city council diversity numbers and that a cop who made a racists video still has a job. "That is absolutely unacceptable."
Decreasing Boston's reputation as the most segregated city in the country.
Jackson again pointed to housing, said the city needs to do more to building housing that more people can actually afford, at a time when half Boston's residents make $35,000 or less and when rich foreign investors are buying up so much of the new units coming online downtown.
Walsh said anybody who wants to see how the city's doing in ensuring a diverse workforce can find the numbers on the city Web site. He said it's time to stop limiting new low-income housing to just Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury; low-income housing should be built in other neighborhoods as well.
Making Boston less unwelcoming for blacks
Walsh said he's been very outspoken on the issue of race, said he has consistently tried to get Bostonians to talk about the issue and said he fully understands athletes who are taking a knee as a protest against police brutality. "Racism does exist," he said. "If you don't deal with the past, you can't move forward in the future."
Walsh said he has instituted diversity offices and discussions across City Hall and recalled a conversation with a black employee after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore - the man told him that when his son was going for a driver's license, he told him that if he's ever pulled over by police he should immediately get his wallet out and put it on the dash where the officer could see it. Walsh said he would never even think of having to do that. "We know there's a problem of race in our city and we have to deal with it," he said.
Jackson said Walsh has failed to lead on the issue. He pointed to the BLS issue last year, said Walsh at first refused to do anything at all "and there was a crisis." He said Walsh vetoed a city commission on black men. And "it's unacceptable build a Martin Luther King statue when you cut funding for the Martin Luther King School in Boston."
Walsh said he wishes he would have gotten involved in the BLS issue sooner, but accused Jackson of refusing to respond to at least two e-mails from the school's headmaster at the time.