At a forum tonight, Mayor Marty Walsh said he would spend the next four years building on what he said were the successes of his first term, while challenger and City Councilor Tito Jackson said he would take more aggressive steps to make Boston a better place.
Under the rules agreed to by the two for he forum- sponsored by the Ward 11 and Ward 19 Democratic committees at English High School - Walsh spoke for about a half hour then left before Jackson took the stage.
Walsh said BPS has more good-scoring schools than ever before, has the highest graduation rate in decades, and has an $1-billion plan to overhaul school buildings. But he said more is needed: The system currently has 22 different types of school days, making it difficult to efficiently manage transportation and causing issues for students who might have to move around too many schools in their time in BPS. He would shrink that and consolidate schools where possible. The 72% graduation rate still isn't good enough, and more parents need to be encouraged to get involved with their kids' schools. And there are probably principals out there who aren't doing a good job and need to be replaced more quickly.
Jackson says he would bring back an elected school committee and would "fully fund" schools he said BPS is now shortchanging; he said he would ensure every elementary school had a library and librarian, a school nurse, music and art programs and computer education starting in kindergarten.
He added he would fight efforts to increase the number of charter-school seats in Boston.
Getting non-profit land owners to do more
Walsh said the city is bringing in more money from "payments in lieu of taxes" than five years ago. Said increasing what universities and other non-profits do is not necessarily making them pay more in cash, but in increasing "in kind" contributions, such as scholarships, building more on-campus housing and partnerships with local schools.
Jackson would tie city approval of institutional development plans to their PILOT payments and would conduct annual audits of the in-kind payments to see if the organizations are doing what they said they would. He pointed to Northeatern University as an institution he'd pay close attention to, both because it is rapidly gentrifying lower Roxbury and because it pays little more than a tenth of what BU does despite having a similar amount of land. He would also call on the institutions to commit to buying a certain percentage of their needs from local businesses.
Increasing affordable housing units
Walsh said his original goal of at least 8,000 new affordable units is going to be met, but agreed the city has to do more to keep families from being priced out of the city, as he said is happening in growing parts of the city. He said that payments from downtown developers and the new Community Preservation Act surcharge on homeowners could mean $50 million to $60 million a year for the next five years to help build affordable housing.
Jackson would dismantle the BPDA and replace it with a professional planning agency. He said he would increase the minimum number of affordable units in new developments from the current 13% to 25%. And any developers given city land for their projects would have to set aside at least two-thirds of the units for low- and moderate-income residents.
Economic development, especially not leaving some people behind
Walsh said that as valuable as large new employers as GE are, small busineeses are the "bread and butter" of Boston. He tied the fight against Washington's loathing of immigrants to this, saying so many Boston businesses are set up by immigrants. He said he would work to bring 21st-century manunfacturing back to Boston. "Things are made today," he said. "Everything we touch is made."
Jackson said he'd stop large tax breaks to large companies. If they want to move to Boston, that's great, but the city should be using its money to help local small businesses grow. "What [GE and Amazon] don't need is our tax money - and they don't need a helipad, either," he said. He said the city, which spends $2 billion a year, should make a bigger point of buying from locally owned businesses, especially those run by minorities and women. He would seek to increase the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.
He added that Boston needs to have an honest discussion about race.
Both rejected the hatred coming out of Washington and said immigrants are valuable members of the community. Walsh repeated his pledge to let immigrants facing deportation stay in his office if necessary; Jackson says he would put his body on the line to protect them. Jackson came up with the idea of a legal defense fund for immigrants; Walsh helped put the fund together.