At-Large Hopefuls Face off at Council Candidates’ Forum

Thirteen Boston City Councilor at-Large hopefuls were on hand for a candidates’ forum on June 18 at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in the South End.

         Incumbent City Councilors at-Large Michael Flaherty, Annissa Essaibi-George and Michelle Wu were joined by challengers Michel Denis, Priscilla Flint-Banks, David Halbert, William King, Marty Keogh, Herb Lozano, Julia Mejia, Erin Murphy, Jeffrey Ross and Alejandra St. Guillen at the forum, which was moderated by Michael Jonas, executive editor of Commonwealth Magazine.

         Murphy, who was born and raised in Dorchester and was a Boston Public Schools teacher for more than 20 years, said she “wants to be a voice for those who feel their voice doesn’t matter.”

If elected, Murphy would advocate for single mothers and working families, as well as recovery services, including reopening the Long Island Bridge.

Wu, who is now serving in her third term, said, “We need to advocate for funding on demand at the state level [for treatment services].”

Similarly, Flaherty, who has served multiple terms as a councilor at-large beginning in 1999, said, “I’m a staunch supporter of treatment on-demand, and I think the Long Island Bridge will accommodate that.”

Ross, an attorney by trade and a Southender, also said he would advocate for expanded recovery services: “We need to treat this as a disease, rather than a crime,” he said.

Also, Ross, having endured financial hardship during childhood, said he is also running in an effort “to interrupt the cycle of poverty.”

Likewise, Denis, a Haitian immigrant, said as city councilor at-large, he would commit himself to creating more affordable housing for Boston residents.

While traffic and development are commonly cited as the two biggest issues now facing the city, Essaibi-George, now in her second term, emphasized the importance of connecting the city as a whole.

“It’s not just about connecting neighborhoods,” Essaibi-George said. “It’s about connecting neighborhoods to each other.”

St. Guillen, a Mission Hill native who most recently served as director of the City of Boston’s office for Immigrant Advancement, described the amendments to the “Trust Act” – which was filed by Mayor Martin Walsh and City Councilor Josh Zakim last week and aims to reassure immigrants they won’t be deported by Boston Police – as a “great first step.”

Said St. Guillen, “Recent events have shown we need to expand [the ‘Trust Act’] to limit information sharing with ICE.”

Wu echoed this sentiment by saying: “We know that in Boston, immigrants represent such a huge part of the population, so we know that when we lift up more immigrant neighbors, we’re lifting up the whole community.”

Also, Wu pointed to the crossroads where Boston now finds itself and how it bodes for the city’s future: “This moment more than any other moment in our city will decide the future of our children,” she said.

In contrast, Keogh, a Hyde Park native and an attorney who has reportedly spent the last 14 years representing low-income clients pro bono, said, “’The Act’ strips police of the power to keep the [city] safe.”

Regarding the future of law enforcement in Boston, Halbert, who has served as a community liaison to former Boston City Councilors John Tobin and Sam Yoon, as well as erstwhile Gov. Deval Patrick, said he would like to see the City hire 200 police officers each year for the next five years.

Lozano, who previously served as a legislative aide to State Rep. Carlos Henriquez, applauded Boston Police for bringing back its Cadet Program – a two-year commitment that provides training to would-be officers – and said he hopes that a diverse demographic takes advantage of it.

Flint-Banks, a lifelong Boston resident, wife, mother, grandmother and a licensed Christian minister, said she liked to see forums staged three or four times each year to help open the lines of communication between police and young people in the community.

St. Guillen called for more diversity in the police force and said she would also support Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ “no-prosecute” list for misdemeanor crimes.

Flaherty challenged this characterization of Boston Police’s current ranks, calling it “the most diverse staff the city has ever seen…largely due to the efforts of Mayor Walsh.”

Regarding the future of Madison Park Technical Vocation High School, Halbert said, “[It] should be a leader in green development, green jobs and how we make resilient communities.”

As for the seeming disparity in power between the Mayor and the City Council, Mejia, who immigrated to Boston from the Dominican Republic at age 5 and went on to become the first member of her family to graduate high school and college, said, “We need to redistribute the power. I think [as city councilors] we have more opportunities to make more decisions.”

The number of candidates will be narrowed to eight after the Sept. 24 primary election, and the top four vote-getters will be elected to seats in the Nov. 5 election.

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