Several Local Democratic Committees Host At-large City Council Candidate Forum

A forum for At-Large City Council candidates was hosted by the Ward 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 19, and 20 Democratic Committees on October 19, where seven of the eight candidates attended (Althea Garrison was not in attendance).

Incumbent councilors Michael Flaherty and Julia Mejia, along with David Halbert, Ruthzee Louijeune, Carla Monteiro, Erin Murphy, and Bridget Nee-Walsh all tackled questions ranging from education to mental health and substance abuse to racial equity and justice.

Candidates were asked whether or not they support an elected school committee, which is also one of the ballot questions in the upcoming November 2 election.

Flaherty. Nee-Walsh, Mejia, and Murphy all said they support an elected committee, while Halbert said he supports a hybrid model of both elected and appointed members, and Monteiro and Louijeune said they support an elected model that includes students.

When asked about addressing the “childcare crisis” in the city, many candidates called for Universal Pre-K. Halbert called for “adequate funding” for childcare programs like Universal Pre-K and ensuring that there is understanding of different cultural backgrounds.

Louijeune said that aside from the expansion of Universal Pre-K, she would like to see more after school programming and to make childcare “more affordable for working families.”

Monteiro said that “changing the requirements for childcare vouchers” is something she is interested in. Flaherty said that he believes “retrofitting existing spaces” to provide more opportunities for childcare is a good idea, as well as use COVID-29 relief funds to “grow” the city’s Childcare Entrepreneur Fund.

Murphy agreed that the expansion of after school programming is necessary, and also called for “fully funding community centers.”

Mejia said that childcare needs to be expanded to accommodate parents who work late nights and that the city should partner more with nonprofit organizations and create more “quality childcare” such as Montessori schools.

Nee-Walsh said that as a construction worker, she has had trouble finding childcare early in the morning, so she also supports expanding hours.

Candidates were also asked about preventing displacement of Bostonians, to which Louijeune said that federal funds should be used to “make housing more affordable” and to build more of it.

Nee-Walsh said that there should be more “rent to own” scenarios, as well as “more housing all around.”

Mejia said that the council needs to be “more aggressive with holding the administration accountable to this work,” Murphy said that there should be a “moratorium o private development,” and Flaherty also said that using “funds to keep people in their homes” is a top priority for him, as he grew up I public housing.

Monteiro said that she was “fortunate to use the homebuyers programs and purchase a house at the age of 27,” but she also called for an increase in the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) so more units per new housing development are affordable units.

Halbert said that eviction protections should be strengthened to keep people from being forced out of their homes.

In a similar vein, candidates were asked how they will “address the lack of affordable and appropriately sized housing for families.”

Mejia said that “our office is leading in this,” and she said that she wants to “hold the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and the City accountable.” She said that a “pause” should be put on “building luxury housing and condos and focus more of our energy on housing that families can live in here in the City of Boston.”

Nee-Walsh said that “I think we need to build more affordable housing. We just don’t have enough of it.” She also said that there is a “surplus of studios and one bedrooms,” and more family and senior housing is needed.

Murphy said that she is a “strong supporter of the linkage program,” and that she has spoken to many people who work more than one job, so they need affordable places to live.

Halbert has supported a “breakup of the BPDA,” he said. He said that having a planning process that is separate from the development process will allow more affordable housing to be built. He also said that the city has to “have more investment in [the Boston Housing Authority] (BHA).”

Flaherty talked about furthering the fair housing laws in Boston, and also the creation of bigger units.

Monteiro said it “starts with the BPDA,” and said that “more transparency and open meetings” are needed, and the process “needs to be more community centered, mot developer centered,” she said.

Louijeune also said that in Boston, there needs to be “planning that informs development” as well as “appropriately sized housing” for those who need it. 

When it comes to mental health and substance use, candidates were asked about the issues at Mass and Cass.

Monteiro called for the reactivation of the Long Island Bridge so people can once again receive recovery services there, and “making sure people have safety and security to focus on their sobriety.” She said that the “opiate pandemic” is worsening in the Mass/Cass area, and HIV and Hepatitis C are spreading.

“A lot of people come for healing but it’s a place of harm,” Louijeune said of the Mass/Cass area. She said it is “unfair for a lot of folks,” and a “housing first model” is what is needed to get folks the help they need. She also called for other cities across the state to “invest in their own social infrastructure,” and the construction of “supportive housing with wraparound services.”

Flaherty called for an increase in the city’s operating budget for public health, as it currently stands at three percent. He said that funding for public health needs to be increased to tackle the issues at Mass/Cass and elsewhere in the city.

“We have to take a regional approach,” Halbert said. “It’s unfair that Roxbury and the South End are shouldering o much of this burden.” He also said that the problems experienced at Mass and Cass are “not limited to Mass/Cass,” adding that although this conversation may be “uncomfortable,” it needs to be had and things like safe consumption sites need to be discussed.

Murphy said that she has had a “loved on on Long Island in detox,” and said that a goal of her is to “fight the stigma associated with mental health and recovery. I know firsthand how mental health is so closely related to substance use disorder.”

Mejia said that there is “tension between ‘us versus them,’” and that all city councilors should be invested in this issue. “We need all hands on deck,” she said, and “create a table for everyone.”

Nee-Walsh said of Mass and Cass that “it’s been made way too comfortable for people residing there,” and she suggested that the services offered to people in that area should be spread out throughout the city so they are not concentrated in one place.

When asked about “advancing the struggle for racial equity and justice” as well as “addressing the wealth ad health gap in the City of Boston,” Murphy said that “every child; every family” should have “access to a high quality school in their neighborhood.” She also called for more funding for school health centers, and “ensure that when our children graduate, they are ready for the workforce.”

Halbert said that things like funding community health centers with “culturally responsive interventions” and “expanding access to home ownership opportunities” would help advance racial equity in the city.

Flaherty also said that investing in home ownership and small businesses is a step in the right direction, as well as ensuring that Boston Public Schools offers a curriculum “that matches Boston’s economy. CEOs are moving their companies to Boston on a regular basis to tap into that strength.”

Louijeune said that “Black and Latinx residents have been ignored,” and “equity is about corrective actions.” She said that “we obviously have a lot of work to do to close the gaps.” She talked about providing “resources for down payment and closing costs for first generation homebuyers,” as home ownership is a way to help with “correcting for past wrongs.”

Monteiro also said that “home ownership is a critical way to close the racial gap.” She also talked about the “climate crisis” and “involving communities of color in the climate movement.” She also spoke about investing in the urban canopy to keep residents healthy.

Mejia spoke about some of the work her office has done during her time as a City Councilor, including cresting an ordinance that allows residents to use residential kitchens to sell certain food items, as well as creating a “line item in the budget” for youth ages 19-24 to have access to employment coming out of Madison Park High School, the Department of Youth Services, and foster care. Mejia also said she held a “hearing to ensure Black and Brown businesses are able to thrive” in neighborhoods across the city. Additionally, a Commission on Black Men & Boys has been created, and Mejia said that barber shops and hair salons are also being trained to address mental health with clients.

Nee-Walsh spoke about unions, as well as “bringing vocations back into schools
and “linking them up with the appropriate unions,” so that once students graduate from high school, they can enter right into the workforce into a career that will allow them to “make a sustainable living” in the city, she said.

Coucillors were asked other questions relating to equity and “democracy” as it relates to the city charter.

The full recording of this forum can be found on the Ward 19 Democratic Committee’s Facebook page.

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