In a genial, low-key forum tonight, District 2 (South Boston, South End Chinatown) Councilor Bill Linehan and second-time challenger Suzanne Lee seemed to agree on many issues. Both said South Boston needs help to avoid choking on traffic and having longtime families driven out because of neighborhood yuppification, both said they're not endorsing either candidate for mayor but could work with whoever's elected, both said they would seek to repeal a requirement that small landlords pay fees to have their apartments inspected.
But in their last public forum before the election, at the Lithuanian Social Club, the two differed on a number of issues as well:
BU Biolab: Linehan said he supports it, said its work "could save lives for generations to come." He added that city, state and federal regulators have so far given their nod to the facility, which will work on the most dangerous pathogens known, and "who am I to question" regulators, he asked.
Lee, however, said all the regulations in the world won't mean a think if somebody goofs and a dangerous pathogen is released in one of the most densely populated and trafficked parts of the city, which she said would be impossible to evacuate. "Accidents do happen, and it's usually human error," she said, adding "just think of the gridlock" that already grips the area just on a normal day.
Cars: Both agreed South Boston is beginning to suffer too much from the success of the Innovation District and the waterfront. Linehan said he had been fighting for months for the sort of traffic study announced earlier this month. Lee agreed the study is needed, but said it should have been done years ago.
However, the two differed more substantively on the issue of cars. Lee said South Boston in particular and the city as a whole needs more developments that encourage fewer cars and a bigger push for public transportation - and not just buses. "We cannot afford to have everybody have a car, because there's just enough space on the streets," she said. Linehan, however, said that while people want to live near the T and use the T, "they are not going to give up their automobiles" and that the city needs to do more to help South Boston residents find places to park.
Ships: Linehan is all in favor of a Massport plan to dredge Boston Harbor to allow larger ships to dock at the Conley Terminal. He said that would mean more jobs for local workers and help the regional economy. But he added that along with that, he wants a haul road to keep trucks off First Street. And he said he worked to get parkland along First as a buffer between the residential side of the street and the terminal.
Lee said she doesn't want Massport to do anything until environmental concerns are addressed: Larger ships mean more diesel fumes, which can be "smelled from miles away," she said.
Education: Lee, former principal of the Quincy Elementary School, said she opposes lifting the cap on charter schools. The money that would go to them could be used just as well to bolster traditional public schools, she said. She added that in addition to money, she would work, as she did at the Quincy, to get more people from the community involved in schools.
Linehan did not say how he felt about the charter cap, but said BPS needs to give more attention to individual schools, rather than attempting only "systemic" changes. He pointed to the Clapp School in Dorchester, which BPS wanted to close, but whose parents he said he helped organize to fight the move - and turn it into an "innovation" school. He said he wants to see more K-8 schools in the district.
Boston residents' job policy: Linehan said the overall policy is working, even if some development projects fail to meet the guidelines of 50% of jobs for Bostonians. Lee said it isn't really working - too many projects come nowhere near the guidelines, and said it was time for the city to stop awarding projects to developers who keep missing the mark. She added she would look to extend the quotas beyond construction jobs.
Artists' co-ops in Fort Point: Lee said these can help artists stay in the neighborhood as it becomes more expensive and doesn't see a need for a city ordinance banning discrimination by co-op board members because, by their nature, artist co-ops are self selecting. Linehan, co-sponsor of a measure to ban discrimination in co-op housing, however, said he co-ops should be subject to the same anti-discrimination measures as all other forms of housing. He said co-op boards would be free to draw up criteria on which to judge applicants.
General approach: Lee said that in 35 years as an educator, she learned to fight for what her students needed and that she would do the same as a city councilor. Linehan said that as somebody who has spent more than 25 years in city government, he knows that the way to get things done is not fighting, but in sitting down and talking with people.