The four people running for City Council in District 5 (Hyde Park, Roslindale and Mattapan) met in an online forum last night and agreed on basic issues more than they disagreed: All are in favor of trees, making streets safer and supporting some form of rent stabilization.
And all four - incumbent Ricardo Arroyo and challengers Enrique Pepén, Jose Ruiz and Jean-Claude Sanon - agreed that they would push to have the city buy the 14-acre Crane Ledge site next to the Stop & Shop strip mall on American Legion Highway, where a Texas developer is battling with the BPDA over its plans to carve out flat spaces for a sprawling apartment complex.
They did differ on diverting some Boston Police funding to violence-prevention programs and allowing civilian flaggers at road construction projects, in the forum sponsored by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale, Racial Justice & Equity Forum of Hyde Park, Rozzie Bikes, Walk-Up Roslindale, Ward 18 Democratic Committee and the Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association.
None of the challengers - or members of local civic groups who posed questions - brought up Arroyo's recent state ethics fine; Ruiz came closest in his opening statement: "I don't think our district is currently getting the representation it deserves."
Ruiz said he was running to provide "real leadership" for the district and vowed to work to "end all infighting" at the City Council. He is a member of a family long active in community organizing.
Pepén said he grew up in BHA housing in Roslindale and is running to give back to the community. He said he has a personal example of Bostonians helping each other - a BHA worker who, in 2009, managed to help his family stay in Boston when it seemed they would lose their apartment. He served as the Jamaica Plain neighborhood liaison under Mayor Walsh and as executive director of Mayor Wu's Office of Neighborhood Services. He vowed to be "a reliable counselor" the district can depend on.
Sanon, making his third run for the District 5 seat, said "it's time for a change" and an end to the "entitlement machine" he says now runs City Hall. He said he would continue his tradition of helping people get what they deserve.
Arroyo, making a bid for his second term, said he has focused on creating a more equitable city with opportunity for all. He cited his work in helping to start a police-oversight office, against racism and for public health, rent stabilization and climate justice. He said that over the past two years, almost 50% of all legislation passed by the council came through his office.
Making Hyde Park a place where people elsewhere would want to visit
Arroyo said he has helped lead the fight - so far unsuccessful - to get the legislature to give Boston more liquor licenses, some specifically for Hyde Park, which would help ease Cleary Square's problem of restaurants constantly going out of business. Hyde Park Avenue needs to be turned into a modern thoroughfare that could better serve visitors in cars and on bikes and on foot. Hyde Park needs more housing - especially affordable housing - and business space, and River Street would be ideal for that.
Sanon said he remembers the busing-crisis days, when he faced severe discrimination and even attacks in Hyde Park. He called for elevating all the voices of Hyde Park, which is now a diverse community.
Pepén said Hyde Park residents already have immense pride in their neighborhood and that its several commuter-rail stops given it the chance to build things that would entrance visitors and benefit residents. But he said he'd first work with the community to decide what goes where. He called for city aid, including financial grants, aimed at small businesses.
Ruiz said Hyde Park has a rich history and resources, from the history of the 54th Massachusetts to the Neponset River, but said "hard discussion" is needed to figure out why businesses would rather locate on Rte. 1 than River Street. He said he bets a lack of parking and accessibility is a key reason.
All four candidates said they are in favor of trees. Arroyo pointed to his work to protect not just trees along city sidewalks and in city parks, but on private property. All also said the city needs to do a better job educating residents not just how they can help reduce carbon emissions but why they city is doing things such as installing more chargers for electric vehicles. "I want snow back in December," Ruiz said.
Doing a better job fighting litter
All agreed. Arroyo pointed to an effort by Keep Hyde Park Beautiful to clean up tiny liquor bottles that scooped up 10,000 in just three months and said he is working to ban the bottles. He said the city also needs to do more to encourage restaurants, supermarkets, colleges and other enterprises to donate their food at the end of the day instead of throwing it out.
Pepén said that Boston is already far cleaner than other US cities he's visited, that our Public Works crews and hokies and "Love Your Block" efforts are wonderful, but that there's always more that could be done.
Clean, no sir, Sanon said, not like Europe, where "if your food falls on the floor you might be tempted to pick it up and eat it." He said Mattapan in particular could stand a decent clean up, which he said it would get if the city stopped ignoring it so much.
Ruiz said residents themselves should do more - and follow his example of always picking up trash he spots while out on a jog or working out. He called for community clean-up drives. "I live by example," he said. "I hope I could lead."
Ranked-choice municipal elections
Arroyo, Pepén and Sanon supported the idea of elections, similar to those in Cambridge, where voters would get to rank their choices. Ruiz opposed.
Letting legal, non-citizen residents vote in municipal elections
Arroyo, Pepén and Sanon supported the idea. Ruiz said he's undecided.
How much they would support Wu's agenda
Pepén, until recently Wu's director of neighborhood services, said he supports the mayor's general agenda and said the problem is that there's too much fighting and lack of collaboration on the City Council. But he said he would "hold the mayor accountable" and "stand against her" if she proposed something he didn't think would serve District 5 well.
Ruiz said "the City Council has to be a check" on the mayor. "I have no problem pushing the mayor to be the best mayor she can be." He cited several potential issues, including Mass and Cass and how the BPDA and the un-elected School Committee work.
Arroyo said he obviously agrees with a lot of Wu's positions but said he's willing to challenge her, and said he has on such issues as increasing public participation in drafting the city budget and diverting some of the Boston Police budget towards social workers and community-based programs to help reduce the number of people who might otherwise cause the crime police have to fight. He also said that, unlike Wu, he favors a return to an elected School Committee. At the same time, he said what's happening in the City Council doesn't have to lead to dysfunction, that there are legitimate conservative/progressive differences on the council that do not have to lead to mudslinging. "You can have disagreements without making it personal," he said, adding he is able to still work on issues with members of the current conservative minority.
Sanon said he would only do what he thinks is best for his constituents, not for the mayor, because they're the ones sending him downtown as an advocate.
Diverting part of the BPD budget to violence-prevention and other social programs
Sanon, Arroyo and Pepén support it, Ruiz opposed.
Allowing civilian flaggers on road projects.
Sanon, Arroyo and Pepén support it, Ruiz opposed.
Key issues in each neighborhoods
Pepén said that Roslindale Square is a great success story, but that the neighborhood is at risk of becoming completely unaffordable to most people. He said he's having trouble paying rent now himself. Hyde Park would benefit from better promotion of its restaurants, he said. Mattapan needs help to keep it affordable as the neighborhood with the highest percentage of minority home owners.
Arroyo did not break out neighborhood issues, except to say that Mattapan needs help overcoming what he called "historic disenfranchisement" when it comes to city services. He said he sees food insecurity, affordable housing and an insufficient number of liquor licenses that would help support a thriving restaurant scene as district-wide issues.
Ruiz agreed that Mattapan needs and deserves more city services. He said Hyde Park residents sometimes feel forgotten as well, and said he's gotten a lot of people telling him he's the first candidate to knock on their doors in years. Traffic and rent are key issues in Roslindale, he said.
Sanon said Mattapan is shifting from "Murderpan" to an area where gentrification is pushing long time residents out, especially renters. It needs to stop, and Mattapan needs to remain home to a vibrant migrant community. He said the number-one issue in Hyde Park is the closed River Street Bridge to and from Cleary Square. He did not mention Roslindale, except to say he now lives there.
Transportation, in particular along Hyde Park Avenue
Sanon said something needs to be done about the River Street Bridge, is in favor of more buses.
Arroyo said he is looking forward to an upcoming city study of Hyde Park from its narrow end in Readville to the four-lane road past Metropolitan Avenue to the narrowed road up in Forest Hills. He pointed to the new elongated rush-hour bus lanes along Washington Street from Forest Hills past Roslindale Square - and a planned central bus lane along Blue Hill Avenue as examples of what might be done. He said River Street could probably be improved as well.
Ruiz said the city has long wasted money on its roads, with little to show with it since traffic remains awful, and said he would work to "try conditioning our folks" to look at alternatives such as bicycling.
Pepén said he would work to expand free bus service to the 32 and 34 routes. He said evidence from the current pilot on three routes in Roxbury and Dorchester show that if you free the buses, people will take them. He called for a road diet along Hyde Park Avenue that would include bike lanes as a way to make the street safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and even motorists. There's just too much speeding going on there and on Blue Hill Avenue, he said.
Pepén called for an expansion of BHA housing for low-income residents. He said the BHA is currently authorized to run up to 12,000 apartments, but only currently has about 9,600 and said he would work with the Wu administration to give "working-class families with low income" clean, safe places to live, in a city they could not otherwise aford.
Ruiz said he also grew up in public housing and pointed to Washington Street between Forest Hills and Roslindale Square as an area where he would fight to preserve housing for the less than wealthy, in part by promoting additional housing.
Arroyo said that "housing is absolutely a right, not a privilege," called for rent stabilization and said he would like to see new housing proposals be required to show at least 20% affordable units, rather than the current 13% or the 17% recently approved by the BPDA.
Sanon said that Mattapan especially is threatened by displacement and called for rent-controlled apartments to be built on city-owned lots.
In addition to Arroyo, the other three candidates said they also supported rent stabilization.
All four candidates said the city's non-profit landowners simply have to pay more under the "payments in lieu of taxes" program - it's only fair given they take advantage of city services, including police and fire.
Arroyo said the money from this voluntary program should go directly to BPS. He said the city also needs a "vacancy tax," to encourage building owners not to keep their buildings vacant.
Sanon said "the little people always get to be penalized and the big guys get away with murder."
Ruiz said the current system is unfair to homeowners, who he said pay too much. "I love our universities here but they don't give their fare share."
Reducing gun violence
Pepén said we're lucky to live in a state with strong gun laws, but that more education is needed to keep kids away from guns in the first place. He added he is "a big fan" of community service officers at BPD district stations.
Arroyo called for more spending on youth jobs and summer programs and on mental-health counseling, to reduce the desire to pick up and use guns. he also called for a dedicated "non-fatal shootings" unit in BPD, saying that solving non-fatal shootings will lead to a reduction of fatal shootings.
Ruiz said that the impact of our strong gun laws is lessened because "a lot of times it's not enforced at the court level." And the state should do more to block guns from entering the state from places where they're easy to get. He called for detailed education on "the devastating effects of violence."
Sanon also called for more education and better integration of the police department into the community. "When our babies are dying, guess what, we are all responsible," he said.
Watch the entire forum: