At-large city-council candidates on the issues

Notes from an at-large candidate forum sponsored by the Brighton Allston Improvement Association. Note: Murphy and Arroyo left early; Gonzalez arrived late.

Opening

Felix Arroyo, Jr. Lifelong Bostonian, went to school here. Four years as city councilor's aide in constituent services, which is really just a long way of saying you help people. SEIU 615 labor organizer, increased pay, benefits for janitors, through organizing. Health-care organizer. My time coaching youth sports one of the things I'm most proud of, young men between 13 and 18.

Andrew Kenneally. I'm love this city and am looking to give back to it. Ten years in public service, starting with Joe Moakley, worked as peace councilor in Northern Ireland. Worked for two city councilors. I understand your concerns in AB: Institutional expansion, safe and clean seats and job creation. A year ago, got a headache wouldn't go away, turned out to be a benign brain tumor. Fortunately, docs got it out, gave me a new lease on life. I love public service. It feels good to do good.

Doug Bennett. Army Reserves, selectman on Nantucket, we built a $220-million wastewater treatment system despite budget crisis. Wind farm in Nantucket Sound. I put forward a compromise to build this wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean. Brought Kennedy, several congressmen and residents together. These are examples of results I'll bring to you. Cleaner streets and sidewalks.

Tito Jackson. Yes, my name is really Tito Jackson. I spent a lot of time at St. E's as a medical salesman, and as you can see, I've eaten at many of the restaurants in the area. I'm adopted. As you can see, parents took on a heavy burden by adopting me. Take to heart what parents told me to do more and give back. I worked in economic development for Patrick administration. We need a clear path, make sure we concentrate on integrity and openness of our process. Need to make sure young people are taken care of, we need clean and safe neighborhoods.

Ayanna Pressley. Reared by single parent, father was a heroin addict, in jail 16 years of my life. I know the struggles of a single parent living check to check, the problems of addiction. I worked for Joe Kennedy, who represented AB, doing casework. I worked with the most vulnerable citizens in our city, learned good government begins with good service. Worked for John Kerry for five years. Six non-profit boards, civic and youth engagement. Running on platform of Three A's: Accountability, accessibility and advocacy.

Stephen Murphy. In my 13th years. First elected as youngest councilor. I ran on: give a young man a chance. Now look. There is no substitute for experience [laughs]. PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) reform, getting additional money from non-profits. CORI reform, very important.

John Connolly. My experience as a teacher. Job 1 for me has been being a voice and constantly pushing for our schools to improve in this city. Environmental Science High School. Reform truancy, catch kids before they drop out. I work for one Boston: I don't work for an old Boston, I don't work for a new Boston, I work for one Boston.

Arroyo: Why did so many elderly Russian Jews in Brighton vote for you?

Arroyo. Because of my work for immigrant rights and immigrant reform. I became close with many of the Russians struggling with this. [Arroyo leaves]

Kenneally: How would you address economy better than your rivals?

Experience ten years working and five in Boston. Jumpstart stalled developments. One only has go down to Filene's and see the big hole in the ground. Training: Green manufacturing and life sciences. Use new technology at City Hall. Need to go after colleges and universities and others that aren't paying their fair share.

Connolly: Two legislative accomplishments you're most proud of.
1. Securing committment from mayor to triple number of hybrids in city fleed. 2. Working with Murphy on financial-disclosure law.

Bennett: What is your relationship with the Tea Party movement?

I believe in less taxes. Govermment wastes a lot of your money. Best way stimulate economy is to cut taxes.

Jackson: What is wrong with IT in City Hall?

You can't type in your license-plate number and pay a ticket. It's antiquated. We live in high-technology state and we should have high technology in our capital. I can get even nerdier and geekier because I am.

Pressley: Biggest mistakes working for Kennedy?

Hmm. I can't think of any right now, I was very young, I'm sure I made some, but what I'd rather focus on is what I did learn: That government can do good for people. Even if councilors just did constituent services, so what, there's honor in that work. That would be my priority.

Murphy: Two proudest accomplishment over the past two years.

1. Financial accountability ordinance with Connolly. 2. Reformed retirement-board system (people out injured five-six years). 3. Grease-duct ordinance after Tai Ho fire. [Murphy leaves].

Who submitted comments on Charlesview project

Connolly. Too dense for the new location. Potential to undermine quality of life in the neighborhood and puts luxury piece in one area and poor people separated and that's not how we should be doing housing in Boston.

Kenneally. I still have a lot to learn about Charlesview. Harvard's really lost the trust of the community. We need to create new housing, but Harvard needs to give us a long-range development plan.

Good or bad for neighborhood group to hire own city planner to propose alternative for Charlesview. Good or bad?

Bennett. Everyone has right to do what they want to do. I think should be nothing wrong with that.

What is the most important piece of infrastructure needs to be developed in North Allston before Harvard moves forward?

Jackson. I don't know the answer to that. But the real issue, if folks are going and getting their own planner, then the process is broken. You should not be paying for your own planner. The BRA is the issue here: We need to break the BRA up, separate planning and economic development.

Lowes proposed box store twice, shut down twice, what should be done with the land?

Pressley. I don't have any ideas, because I'm a huge advocate of community input. Let the residents say what they want. Maintain the character and culture of our neighborhoods.

Who thinks planning should be taken away from BRA?

Bennett, Jackson, Pressley say yes, Connolly, Kenneally don't answer.

Who thinks BRA should be abolished?

[None].

Does the BRA plan while respecting the past. Accurate?

Connolly. The fact a neighborhood group has to hire a planner indicates there's a major problem. We all know there's a lot of frustration with whether communities feel heard in the process. It's not just the BRA, zoning, licensing, inspectional services. It's really unfair try to do gotcha challenges to new candidates. Ask these guys questions that will allow them to say why they want to serve.

Should anyone in city government be held accountable for giant holes in the ground?

Bennett. Yeah, Mayor Menino should be held accountable. I think the BRA should be elected. Filene's looks like a bomb went off in the center of Boston.

What new steps should be taken to prevent more holes like these?

Jackson. We need to have a clear path to opening doors. No favoritism. Developers shouldn't get approvals faster than it takes you to get a permit for a new porch. Reasons why companies don't come here is because of this burdensome permitting project, it's also why a lot of these projects don't get finished. Inefficient, antiquated processes that lets people micromanage everything as a variance. We also need a master plan, in each neighborhood. And then we should zone for that.

What kinds of immediate reform are needed at the BRA?

Pressley. Transparency. I don't support abolishing BRA. People would lose jobs and we need to look at how to increase efficiency first. Separate planning and development.

Housing more college students on campus. How should competing interests between dorms and residential areas be balanced.

Tomas Gonzalez. I'm a BC grad. There's always going to be discord and contention, but: 80% students live on campus. Students off campus inflate housing prices. We should house all students on campus.

Would you support increased PILOT and how to do this legally when they're tax exempt?

Kenneally. Yes, support increased PILOT. BU contributes $3 million. Northeastern only $20,000. That's absurd. They have to go through zoning to get permits for new buildings. City can use that leverage to get more in payments. They depend on their reputations, so we have to make them live up to that. Would earmark 50% of new PILOT to public schools.

What do we do going forward to improve the process if Menino opposes BRA reform?

Kenneally. Problem is we don't have a long-range plan for land in the city. If you don't have a long-range plan, then the highest bidder, those with the most money, makes the decisions.

Gonzalez. For starters, all universities have instituational master plans, Make the citizens advisory councils for colleges real groups with a voice.

Jackson. We have to have open and honest conversation between colleges and neighborhoods. More students need to be living on campus.

Connolly. PILOT: Reason why PILOT works is it's a private contract between college and city. They don't have to opt in. If you try to mandate it, it goes to court and it gets thrown out.

Bennett. Boston, we have all these universities and they're going to continue to be here, we have to come together understand we all live together and work together. I think we need change from the top down.

Hypothetical: Developer walks into your office asking support to build a few townhouses on his land. What do you do?

Bennett. If it's his land, he should be allowed to do what he wants to, if it follows the zoning.

Developer says he's already talked to people at the zoning board unofficially. What do you do?

Jackson. When I'm in office, I won't take hypotheticals. If somebody's getting pre-approval, that's a problem: Should be no pre-approvals. Talk to the neighborhood first.

How to get developers to talk to civic groups before getting city approval?

Pressley. It's critically important community part of that process, so you have to force their hand, and be unccoperative, unless they're willing to work with you.

How do you balance liquor licenses with neighborhood desire for a cap?

Gonzalez: There's already a cap, specifically here in Allston/Brighton.

Should the city enforce the four-and-no-more students law?

Kenneally. I support it, especially in Allston/Brighton. Puts a dangerous burden on the neighborhood. But enforcement is difficult.

How can the city better enforce inspections of rental units in AB?

Connolly. It is a matter of just making sure code enforcement prioritizes it. I would put both rental inspection and no-more-than-4 on top of the ISD pile.

How better to deal with all these things?

Jackson. Fact these things have to be touched over and over again makes this burdensome.

Gonzalez. Everybody should be going to ISD first to apply for a permit, and when they do, everybody treated the same and told which neighborhood groups to talk to.

Pressley. General answer you need leadership that will demand compliance and enforcement. Begins with right leadership around the table.

Kenneally. Current process - go to City Hall, then down to 1010 Mass. Ave. then back to City Hall - too cumbersome. ISD still has computer issues. And we need more inspectors.

Connolly. Technology's really the only hope we have here: Real-time ticketing and processing on the Web site. I'd love to tell you we'll get more enforcement officers, but in these tough times, we can't, because we'd have to lay off teachers and police and I will not support that.

School rezoning proposal: What critieria will you use to decide whether to support it?

Bennett. We need to solve busing issue. It's costing us $80 million, give that money to underperforming schools.

Is $10 million reasonable cost for achieving better social justice in our schools? - Savings from changing school zones

Jackson. Currently, less than 60% of our students graduate, we're not achieving that goal. Roxbury/Dorchester/Mattapan would have the most underperforming schools.

Would you support an Allston/Brighton even if it meant school closings?

Pressley. I support community schools. Lack of parental engagement is key factor in underperforming schools. I stand here because of parent power. Critically important bolster quality of schools in our own backyard and if we don't have them, build them. Five-zone plan, was opposed.

Is collective bargaining at charter schools a good thing?

Gonzalez. I don't know. Most charter schools don't have unions, but unions would give teachers more flexibility. Might be good.

Should the charter school cap be lifted for Boston even if it leads to public school closures?<?strong>

Kenneally. I'm against charter schools for a number of reasons. One: I believe i nunions. Steal money away from Boston public schools. They pick and choose - they don't take special needs students. Success based on false data.

Menino's in-district charter schools, good or bad?

Connolly. In principle, I like the idea of autonomous schools, but mayor's proposal is too vague to judge as is.

Connolly. Five-zone plan far from perfect. But $8-10million is over two years. Let's not frame it as "If you support it you don't support social justice." Far more losers in school lottery than winners. But give parents choices: charters and pilots.

Bennett. Pres. Obama's just set aside billions of dollars to create charter schools. I think we should be tapping into that money.

Kenneally. I was principal for a day at the Haley School in Roslindale. Dedicated teachers and involved parents. And collective bargaining rights. If we're laying off teachers, we're going the wrong way. Give parents right send kids to schools closer to home.

Jackson. I was born in 1975, middle of busing. We're failing our young people now. I agree with Councilor Connolly: Need to find best answers, need to step our game up.

Pressley. We need to teach the whole child and every child deserved a quality education. Schools are not separate from community, we need to consider what happens outside the school.

Gonzalez. Parents need choice. Charter schools fill a need.

Casino or slots at Suffolk Downs?

Pressley. Tough times, we need to be considering all options. Personally, I'm not sure the social costs are worth that or that the revenue is sustainable. Growing up with an addicted father, I have serious concerns about supporting a casino. I wouldn't vote for it, but wouldn't campaign against it?

Gonzalez. I'm not opposed to gaming in the city of Boston. I think it will bring in revenue for the city. Not sold on destination casino in East Boston. East Boston has suffered a lot of injustice already, Massport. But slot machines maybe.

Kenneally. I support having slot machines at Suffolk Downs. I live in East Boston. We're losing millions of dollars every year to Connecticut and Rhode Island. Suffolk Downs is struggling right now, economically, but only after transportation issues are solved.

Connolly. I'm open to it so I don't rule it out off the bat. I'm open to casino gambling. But concessions: I need to know there is a flow of community benefits to the neighborhood most affected - East Boston - and that they support it.

Bennett. I support casino gambling. They should have slot machines in Suffolk Downs. You have a lot of senior citizens going down to Foxwoods every week.

Jackson. I worked in Governor's Office of Housing and Economic Development. We lose a lot of money out of state. Gambling is already legal in the state: Lottery and Keno. Casino would have created lots of jobs.

What committment will you make to Allston/Brighton to represent the neighborhood?

Gonzalez. Same committment I will make to every other neighborhood. Personal committment to issue of institutional expansion.

Main issues in Allston/Brighton?

Pressley. Institutional expansion, working to improve student/community relations. Also, rodents.

What is the right balance between community needs and institutional expansion?

Jackson. Starts with bringing folks to the table. Most important thing is folks who live here be made a priority when we're putting together development.

As city councilor, how would you better integrate immigrants?

Bennett. I think the biggest thing to get people to integrate is reach out and meet each other.

What would you do about Harvard's holdings?

Connnolly. I have a vested stake in the quality of life here. I have a business here. Harvard: Will hold their feet to the fire.

How would you support programs as ESL, childcare and afterschool given state budget shortfall?

Kenneally. I don't think we're going to get out of it by taxing small business owners and restaurants. Jumpstart stalled development bring in more tax revenue. Increasing use of technology help us do more with less, and get non-profits to pay more in lieu of taxes.

Closing

Gonzalez. Lifelong resident, product of BPS, 16 years working on youth and elder issues and in city government. Worked in mayor's office of neighborhood development. I understand how the city works, sense of what's right and wrong. I come to you as a parent, cares very deeply about schools and youth. No longer lose our children to senseless violent, make sure schools are top notch. We don't do enough in our schools with sports, employment opportunities. Already so much committment here from residents in Allston/Brighton.

Pressley. I care about the chance and the opportunity to represent you. But want to serve you. I've never aspired to be a politician. Good government begins with good service. Given my own trials in life, I know what it is to live on the margins, to be marginalized. Give voice to the powerless. I want to continue to help people. This is not a career-driven candidacy, this is mission driven. I will continue to talk to you to do what you want.

Jackson. My mom used to shop at Caldor's, and I was poorly dressed, as I still am. Economic development. People are hurting so bad. I helped bring Microsoft here, I helped to bring Google here. We're missing out on great opportunities here. You guys have helped me to become who I am here today. I just want to have opportunity serve the city and community who have made me who and what I am.

Bennett. I have served as selectman and county commissioner prior. Had to balance and manage an $8-million budget. Lot of corruption in City Hall, time for fresh blood and I believe I can do a better job.

Connolly. Visit www.connollyforboston.com, in particular the part about improving our schools. I want to continue working for one Boston. I think the community here knows me well [names people in the audience]. We may disagree on issues, but you know I'm a strong independent voice, not beholden to special interests. Institutions must create flowback of benefits to preserve the quality of life in the community. Environmental-science academy to prepare kids for the green economy. Shared-bicycle program, greener City Hall.

Kenneally. You have to ask: Who understands my problems and who's going to be able to help me and work with me? As East Boston resident, I'm only candidate up here with first-hand experience with institutional expansion - Massport. Whatever the issue is, I'm ready to work. I offer a new generation of leadership, but with experience. I won't be a voice for Harvard or BC, because you're the ones who pay my salary.

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    Comments

    No, not exactly

    People complain about a lot of things having to do with development and the BRA, but I think the trend of the complaints is more that the Menino administration doesn't hold developers they like accountable enough when granting things like permits and zoning variances, while using the permitting and zoning processes to unnecessarily hold up development that they either don't like or don't care much about one way or the other.

    I think what Kenneally is saying is that, since more than 50% of Boston's land is tax-exempt, and some large non-profit institutions are taking more and more land off the tax roles, while still relying on all sorts of city services and infrastructure, we ought to use whatever leverage we can to make sure that those institutions can be maintained without drawing from your residential property taxes. And I agree.