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In one council race, voters will get to decide whether to go more progressive or stick with the status quo

Arroyo, Farrell, Powell, Turchinetz

Arroyo, Farrell, Powell, Turchinetz.

At a candidate forum last night, two candidates for the District 5 (Roslindale, Mattapan, Hyde Park) city-council seat - Ricardo Arroyo and Mimi Turchinetz - repeatedly proclaimed themselves progressives who would go far beyond constituent services and help other progressives on the council tackle issues from systemic racism to the climate crisis.

Maria Esdale Farrell, who works as an education aide to current Councilor Tim McCarthy, said idealism is all well and good but that she would largely stick to McCarthy's current focus on bread-and-butter local issues, such as potholes and crime. Alkia Powell, who currently works in the Mayor's Office of Economic Development, agreed with Arroyo and Turchinetz - and Farrell - on many issues, but did not call herself a progressive.

The four spoke at a forum run by Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale at St. John Chrysostom Church. Several other people have announced their candidacies for the seat, but the group limited participation in the forum to people who have already turned in enough signatures to qualify for the Sept. 24 preliminary, have filed campaign financial data with the state and have answered a questionnaire from the group. One candidate who met those criteria, Justin Murad, did not attend.

On several issues, all four candidates agreed: Commuter-rail fares at Readville and Roslindale should come down, more bike lanes would be good, the council should take a close look at how people get on the School Committee and the council should get the ability to add items to the budgets of city departments, rather than just the power to veto those budgets.

It was on broader, citywide issues - and on McCarthy's legacy - that they differed.

Arroyo - the only candidate to announce before McCarthy announced his retirement - said two of McCarthy's actions helped convince him to run: The councilor's decision to vote against a proposal to help renters stay in their apartments and his public backing of Gov. Baker in last fall's elections.

"We're very close to having a progressive majority" on the city council, and Arroyo - whose father and brother both served as at-large councilors - said he wants to be part of that.

"My whole life has been about effecting social change," Turchinetz said, declaring herself "a bold progressive" who would work on not just immediate constituent issues but on broader issues as well. Turchinetz said McCarthy, against whom she ran in 2013, is a nice guy, but that she would refocus the job on such issues as "structural racism," affordable housing and the climate crisis. "Those are not his priorities," she said of McCarthy.

Turchinetz cited her work in the past with such officials as Ralph Martin and Dianne Wilkerson and her long-time role with the Southwest Community Development Corp., which recently opened a 27-unit affordable apartment building next to the Fairmount train station.

Farrell said ideology and vision are well and good, but that "basic city services" would remain her lodestar as McCarthy's replacement.

At the same time, she said, she's a different person from him: She's a mother who has struggled with issues from finding a place to live to mental illness in her family - and she's put all six of her children through Boston Public Schools. "Councilor McCarthy can afford to put his kids in Catholic school; I can't," she said. She said she and McCarthy have worked very well as a team, but that they have sometimes differed on issues. She did not detail those differences.

"I'm not running so I can be a puppet to anybody," Farrell said.

"I'm not going to judge Tim McCarthy," Powell said. "I think he's a great guy." But she did say McCarthy seemed to show "a little bit of favoritism" towards Hyde Park over Roslindale and Mattapan.

Farrell said she did not see any favoritism, that in her work with McCarthy, "I help everybody who comes to me; we work hard to represent everybody." She did say, however, she considers the district to have four neighborhoods: Mattapan, Roslindale, Hyde Park and Readville.

Arroyo and Turchinetz - who, like the other two candidates, also live in Hyde Park - agreed with Powell.

"People in Mattapan feel marginalized," Turchinetz said, adding that, politically, "Roslindale has been marginalized" by a long string of Hyde Park-focused councilors.

Arroyo noted the district is now at least 70% minority and that its next councilor needs to look at larger issues because the district does not exist in a vaccuum, such as the fact that whites in Boston have an average net worth of $250,000, while blacks have an average net worth of just $8. He also pointed to a recent report that just 0.55% of roughly $600 million in city contracts go to companies owned by minorities, women and Boston residents. He vowed to work on "institutional systemic issues" and to "name them, shame them and change them." At the same time, he continued, there are specific issues in the district to address - such as the fact that Mattapan does not have a single restaurant with a liquor license.

Building housing

Farrell said she supports affordable housing but said that it has to be balanced with market-rate housing.

"Boston is really leading in affordable housing, believe it or not," Powell said. But she said she is worried about people - in particular senior citizens, being displaced by rising housing costs. She added that she's especially sensitive to the issue of affordable housing because as a kid, she was displaced from her home and then, as a single mom, she was displaced again.

Both Turchinetz and Arroyo said they would push to increase the amount of units developers would have to set aside as affordable with new projects from the current 13% to at least 20%.

Turchinetz said she'd love to set that number even higher and pointed to the example of South End's Tent City - originally built with one third units for low-income residents, one third as affordable for working people and one third for people who could afford market rates. At the same time, she said, neighborhoods need more of a say in the development process, especially with large projects. She pointed to a proposed complex on Sprague Street in Readville as an example of where supposed "community benefits" have been less than clear.

Arroyo called for community benefit agreements that would detail specifically what developers of projects over 10,000 square feet in size would provide the neighborhood.

Transportation

All four agreed with a proposal by current councilors Michelle Wu (at large) and Kim Janey (Roxbury) for free service on at least some MBTA bus lines, and possibly across the entire T system, and said they would continue work by Wu and McCarthy to get the T to cut commuter-rail fares for riders who board at Readville and Roslindale.

Arroyo called for a dedicated bus lane on Hyde Park Avenue and said the district really needs far more good bike lanes. He added that he would also want to look at developing bus service that can get residents to local shopping areas rather than the current system that just focuses on getting people to Forest Hills or downtown.

Farrell said Roslindale, with its dedicated bus lane on Washington Street and active pedestrian-safety group, is an example for the rest of the district. She said she would focus on roadway issues, such as pedestrian issues and congestion caused by drivers using services such as Waze to dart onto local streets.

Powell said that more work needs to be done to separate bicyclists and motorists.

Turchinetz said she would work with state legislators on more funding for the Fairmount Line, to increase its service to every 15 minutes and to develop a system to let its riders use CharlieCards.

Proudest civic moment

Arroyo, a public defender, said his was probably when one of his clients, with whom he put in a lot of work outside the courtroom on his substance-abuse issues, was able to walk across a high-school stage and graduate - in a suit he borrowed from Arroyo.

Farrell said hers was when, as a parent, she helped form a citywide parent council for BPS. She said she and others started out as a group of strangers, all very angry about their individual school's budgets, and she realized and then convinced the others that there were citywide issues and they should all work together.

Powell said hers was when a friend lost her home in Mattapan in a fire and she helped organize a fundraising effort that culminated in getting her home rebuilt.

Turchinetz said hers was helping to found the Southwest Boston CDC in 2001 and sticking with it - sometimes despite considerable local opposition - and watching it open its first building, at the Fairmount train station last January. She added that some 2,700 people applied for the 27 apartments.

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Turchnietz said she'd love to set that number even higher and pointed to the example of South End's Tent City - originally built with one third units for low-income residents, one third as affordable for working people and one third for people who could afford market rates. At the same time, she said, neighborhoods need more of a say in the development process, especially with large projects. She pointed to a proposed complex on Sprague Street in Readville as an example of where supposed "community benefits" have been less than clear.

Where does one even start with this? Tent City was funded and built with heavy public subsidies. It was not a market rate project that included some affordable units; it was a subsidized mixed-income development built on an empty lot owned by the BRA after their malfeasance there. That is an apples and oranges comparison. And, if you set the affordable housing requirement for market rate housing to 30% or even higher, you will shut down almost any new market rate housing in this city period - there is no way a developer can make those numbers work considering how high the cost to build here is. And that will mean almost no new subsidized affordable housing gets built. That is completely unrealistic and borderline disqualifying for a candidate to suggest. Then to say residents need MORE say in development? Are you kidding me? The process for any new housing of scale takes years of community meetings and endless concessions right now, and she wants more of that? It's a huge reason housing is so expensive. That entire answer is a dumpster fire.

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Ricardo Arroyo seems on track to win this from what I’ve seen and am hearing. Based on this recap, that seems justified. His answers are a good blend of strong progressive values blended with pragmatism for the most part.

Just wondering if any of the candidates even suggested the city needs more housing, though? Doesn’t seem like any of them gave good answers on that topic as recapped here, mostly just parochial NIMBY concerns about development or skirting around the issue.

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Sorry for being vague on that. Farrell was the only one who specifically cautioned against building too much affordable housing in the district, at least not without "balancing" it with market-rate housing, though. For what it's worth, there was not a specific question about building more housing in D-5; Turchinetz did bring up the one affordable-housing building near the Fairmount train station that she helped get built.

None of the candidates discussed the large Readville proposals specifically (Turchinetz only mentioned the Sprague Street one in terms of vagueness related to community benefits), but then, this was more of a Roslindale forum than a Hyde Park one, and it did not come up as a question posed to the candidates. I suspect that would not be the case should somebody hold a forum at, oh, the bocce club.

Farrell’s answer is a little baffling, not sure what that means. Disappointing that no one asked them directly if they support building more housing or not as a general matter, whether that be market rate or “affordable.” There’s a real divide now between people who want more housing in their neighborhoods since we don’t have enough and those who have housing and focus on their own needs like parking. I’d like to know where the candidates stand there beyond generalities. Maybe next forum. Thanks for this recap.

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"Turchinetz did bring up the one affordable-housing building near the Fairmount train station that she helped get built."

Interesting, since she also said she wants more neighborhood input about what gets built. The neighborhood where the Fairmount project was built, less than 10% white just for your info, was almost universally against building that project.

Yeah, that answer is contradictory. That project took forever to build and faced fierce opposition. It’s great to push for more affordable housing through CDCs but that is not a model by itself to solve this housing crisis. It took years to finance, permit, and construct only two dozen units there. A candidate has to have answers beyond saying we need more of that.

... at those meetings were against it, mostly people who seemed to think that people who live in affordable housing are deadbeats.
That does not translate into "almost universally against."
The developers addressed legitimate concerns about safety (train tracks nearby) and traffic on a tiny street.
The project was well supported in the community.

That is quite simply untrue. The 27 unit Nott St building was being presented as a mixed income residence. Having attended the meetings, which you obviously didn't, I can say there was never any mention of deadbeats or any other crap like that because it was presented as having market rate apartments in it. The concerns were proximity to RR tracks, to a brownfield, added traffic and parking. swbcdc countered the RR track problem by presenting a small blurb about their searching over 400 archives and finding only 3 (yes, that's what it says) incidents of pedestrians being killed on RR tracks since 1965... "in the entire country." The true figure is actually over 7,200 pedestrian deaths on RR tracks just between the years of 1996 and 2013. Guess they searched over 400 archives of ancient Egypt or something...lol. That building wasn't even close to being well supported by the neighborhood. The neighborhood was almost 100% against. I know. I was the one that canvassed it over two days, speaking to around 200 people in the neighborhood.

Congrats on opposing affordable housing for people who desperately need it. Pedestrian deaths on railroad tracks? Something tells me that was not actually your primary concern here unless you also demanded the MBTA and Amtrak cease all operations too.

We didn't oppose affordable housing. We opposed housing being built on that spot. And yeah, having young kids literally 30 feet away from RR tracks is a concern.

And this has accomplished?

On a percentage basis the city's spending priorities haven't changed in decades (although they have taxed everything they can get their hands on so we can pay more for the same stuff - including their services - A LOT more for their services).

So I guess progressive means the councilors progress - but the rest of us are lucky to tread water?

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i understood what he said to mean that there *has not yet been* a progressive majority.

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Across the whole system?
It sounds good even if they have little say in how the MBTA is operated.
Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear a candidate say we need to cut spending and taxes? I know it's fantasy, but still.

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Where, specifically, would you cut city spending?

It won't happen with the current "use it or lose it" budget mentality but a 10% cut across the board wouldn't be noticed. Any department head who can't find 10% waste in their budget should be shown the door. One example, the $123 million BPS transportation budget which has steadily increased despite 50+ fewer buses and fewer kids taking the bus.

OTOH, a 10% cut on an $8000 property tax bill would definitely be noticed in the pockets of homeowners. Rest assured as we enter June, Walsh's department heads will be vigorously spending what's left in their budgets in the last month of the fiscal year rather than commit the cardinal sin of returning any significant unspent money to the treasury. That justifies asking for more money in the next fiscal year. A vicious cycle of perpetual increases.

Boston property taxes are already quite low compared to surrounding communities if you live in the home and get the residential exemption. Only the uber wealthy are seeing a net property tax bill approaching $8,000.

The BPS transportation budget is a red herring, most of that money goes to the costs of busing special needs students and charter school students. You could force students to attend the BPS school closest to home tomorrow and most of that transportation budget would still remain, never mind there are not enough seats in certain neighborhoods to make that even possible.

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...about the same. Newton and Brookline rates are almost identical - all around $10.50 per thousand. Wellesley and Winchester are about 11.50. Puts us in pretty good company. also - keep in mind that 60% of the property taxes or a bit more are paid by the businesses. Without our commercial base we'd be MUCH higher. Our spending per capita is off the charts compared with most of the larger communities in the state.

Comparing tax rates can't be done without accounting for the residential exemption.

A house I used to own in Newton is now assessed at about $900,000 and has taxes of about $9000 (estimated). As far as I know, from when I owned it, there was no exemption - tax = assessed value x rate.

My current house in Boston is assessed at just about half as much ($461,000). Using just the similar tax rate, you would expect my taxes to be about half that of the Newton house, or $4500. However, after applying the residential exemption in Boston, my actual taxes are about $2100.

So it's folly to claim that taxes in Boston are similar to Newton (or other wealthy towns) based on tax rate alone. Actual taxes collected from property owners who reside on their property are much, much lower than those other towns.

Sure, you get a break. But those taxes don't go away. They just get passed on to other residents. There is no net benefit to Boston residents and while maybe 20% of residents pay less in taxes, 80% pay more to subsidize your break.

One guess where most of these people live, what they do for a living and what type of homes they own...

You can't say aloud how to cut spending or else the candidate won't get elected to this high paying position. Most of the constituents they're pandering too, it's all about free stuff, spend, spend spend, they don't want to hear about saving money.

1) You have to look at the big ticket items and the biggest ticket is schools. You can probably cut $100 million out of the $1.1 billion budget (or more accurately just not raise the budget for 4 years) and still make ends meet - and in fact probably maintain or grow expenditures per student based on demographic trends.

2) After that you have to look at pensions - it's approaching 10% of the budget and is the fastest growing segment of the budget. The rest of us have to deal with defined contribution plans, time to move public employees off this gravy train too.

3) Next health care. I think the city spends about $20k per employee on health care (some of this obviously family coverage). Very few of us get that kind of coverage any more - but even cutting it 10% - again over time - generates tens of millions in savings.

4) Cutting the school budget also trims the payments for charters - so you might pick up another $10-$20 million in savings by freezing the school budget because they are about 97% correlated.

5) Finally, I'd cut the city council to 2 at large councilors and 5 district councilors. There is no need for 13 people doing this job - plus a couple dozen staff.

And even then - you might just divert these funds. Our parks are perennially underfunded and while you might not want to pay down debt with interest rates where they are - some of this would be well directed to a sinking fund to pay down debt when rates eventually rise. With a growing city some of our public safety likely needs more heads also. Active fires are declining so not sure about the FD, but the ambulances are short-staffed according to the Globe and the police could probably use some extra staffing as well.

I was asked to run by several people but I said no for two reasons. One reason was personal. But the main reason was that if you ever actually tried to do this around here (not likely as a lone wolf on a 13 member board anyway) you'd probably come home to a house that was turned into a neighborhood barbecue some random evening.

Although if I told everyone these were "progressive" ideas...

How about anywhere? Is there a government mandate somewhere which says budgets shall increase or stay the same but never be reduced?
I'm posting on a internet site not running for office but I am positive I could find something to reduce.

Our first chance to hear from four of the candidates facing questions from potential voters. Thanks.

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