In an hour-long debate this morning on Touch FM, District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner and challenger Carlos Henriquez, differed on how a city councilor could make life better in the Roxbury, the Fenway and the South End.
Turner emphasized his work in legislation and with organizations to deal with issues of violence and crime. He pointed to his work in helping bring together a series of organizations to try to address violence in the area and his efforts to get city and state legislation passed on everything from banning machetes to increasing fines on johns to raise money for drug-treatment programs for prostitutes (whom he said return to the street to pay for their addictions).
Henriquez, president of the board of directors for the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, said the district needs a more grassroots approach, a city councilor willing to walk the streets to find out where the broken streetlights and potholes are: "I think sometimes we get too caught up with fixing things in legislation." He said dealing with the problem of dropouts would take organizing the dropouts themselves and their parents, not just teachers and academics looking for another problem to study.
The issue came up again when a caller praised Turner for being at the front of so many marches for various causes in the district and wondered why he'd never seen Henriquez marching next to Turner. Henriquez said is active in other ways - such as working with young kids in after-school programs and mentoring young men.
Both, however, agreed that in a time of decreasing government funds, the community needs to look inward to solve some of its problems. Turner said when he was growing up, "we didn't have any programs," but instead people watching out for and helping each other. He said churches could open their basements for volunteer programs. Henriquez said one inexpensive idea would be to staff local schools with a janitor in the evenings for after-school programs.
Henriquez charged District 7's parks and streets are often in terrible shape because the district gets less than its fair share of city resources. Turner agreed there are issues, but said these are citywide, due to an overall city budget crunch and that District 7 is not being unfairly targeted by the city's public-works and parks departments.
Henriquez said Turner has failed to do enough to curb drugs, alcohol and prostitution problems along Blue Hill Avenue. Turner said he helped the Dimmock Community Health Center to hire three outreach workers for Dudley Street, where female addicts work as prostitutes to get money for drugs. And he said he has proposed legislation to increase fines on johns and use the money to help combat drug addiction among prostitutes; he acknowledged the bill has not gotten through the state legislature.
Turner said he helped form a coaltion in 2007 to help dropouts and kids with criminal convictions get a second chance through placements with private employers.
Henriquez asked that, if this is true, why hasn't anybody heard of the program? Turner acknowledged it's been done quietly, but Henriquez said that's part of the problem: Programs such as this need publicity to get people involved.
Henriquez said there's a similar situation in Boston's police and fire departments, where he said the lack of minority employees is not the civil service test - which he said he took and passed - but that few young people in minority communities know about or want jobs there. He said both departments need to do a better job at interacting with the public - especially young people - to engage them and show them why they might want to consider careers there.
Turner, however, said there are issues with the exam, but that the real issue is that once minorities get into the department, there are few opportunities for advancement, especially in the police department. "There are very few people of color in the homicide unit," he said.
Both touched only briefly on Turner's issues with federal prosecutors. Henriquez acknowledged referring to the infamous photo of Turner allegedly taking a bribe as being a case of "a picture is worth a thousand words," but said that was his personal feeling and that he was not making an issue of Turner's indictments in the race. "Councilor Turner is innocent until proven guilty," he said.
Turner added, "I'll leave that up to the voters. Do they believe (former US Attorney) Michael Sullivan, who just opened an office with John Ashcroft in Boston, or do they believe Chuck Turner?"
The two agreed the mayor and the BRA have too much power. Turner called for taking the BRA's planning authority away; Henriquez said one way to counter the mayor's power would be to change the city charter to have city councilors serve four-year terms.
But while he was critical of the mayor, Turner also praised him. "The Menino administration has invested a lot in the community," he said, pointing to the Grove Hall Mecca project and the redevelopment of Dudley Square as examples. Henriquez pointed to Parcel 3, across from the Boston Police headquarters, as an example of the public being kept in the dark about redevelopmnent of public land.
Turner said voters should return him to office because "I am experienced" with legislation, dealing with conflict and leading the community. Henriquez said he would bring "new vision and new energy" to the district.