Twelve days ahead of the Special Election to fill the District 8 City Council seat vacated by Kenzie Bok, the two candidates – Montez Haywood and Sharon Durkan – were both on hand for the West End Civic Association’s monthly meeting on Thursday, July 13, at the Amy Lowell Apartments.
Each candidate was allotted just over a half hour to introduce themselves and outline their campaign priorities, as well as to respond to questions from around 40 meeting-goers.
Haywood, an assistant district attorney with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office since 2006 who launched an unsuccessful bid against newcomer Bok for the District 8 City Council seat in the fall of 2019, made his pitch first.
“I want to put us in the position where we can accomplish tasks and accomplish things,” said Haywood, who added that he’s “running to be a retail politician.”
If elected, Haywood said his work as a city councilor would include tending to matters, such as fixing potholes on Nashua Street and addressing the “crumbling” condition of Thoreau Path.
On the matter of building usage in and around the West End, Haywood, who lives in the Avalon building, said he would adamantly oppose providing services for the homeless, as well as for drug treatment, out of a building owned now by Mass General Hospital at 75 Blossom Court, which was formerly home to J. Pace & Son, a small grocery store.
“That would be a non-starter for me,” he said. (Despite Haywood’s admonishment, no formal proposal has been made to site such services at this location, as was pointed out by those in attendance at the meeting.)
Instead, Haywood proposes providing 500 beds with wraparound services (but no kitchens) from a retrofitted cruise ship at an existing dock at North Jetty Pier previously used for aircraft carriers; this, he said, could be delivered at a cost of between $30-40 million, according to a MIT white paper on cruise ship conversion into affordable housing drafted in February.
“We’re already spending the money when we put them in jail. We’re already spending the money when we put them in the hospital. I propose we spend the money better,” he said.
Haywood suggested that the city employ the cruise-ship model while the bridge to the 800-bed Long Island Shelter Clinic is being reconstructed.
But he was skeptical when it came to a suggestion that the city ship people off to receive treatment on Thompson Island in the Boston Harbor, however.
“You can’t force people to get on a boat,” said Haywood. “If you take them to Thompson Island, they don’t have any say. As a city, we’re now violating their rights.”
Regarding the Alcott Apartments in Bulfinch Triangle, Haywood said it’s twice the size of what was promised to the community.
Haywood also expressed concern regarding two proposals for skyscrapers on Causeway Street, adding that while he’s “all for housing, but there comes a point where [the city is] overdeveloped.”
Likewise, Haywood pointed to the need for a “corridor of green space” in the West End, which, he said, could come as part of mitigation for Mass General’s new building on Cambridge Street.
Haywood also said that development projects in the neighborhood, including Mass General’s expansion, along with the proposed redevelopments of the West End Branch Library and the Hurley Building, need to be considered holistically.
While he emphasized that he’s not “anti-bike” and acknowledged that opting for bicycles over cars can help combat climate change, Haywood said he would oppose any bike lane proposed for Charles Street, as well as for Berkeley and Boylston streets. He cited public safety concerns among his reasons for taking this position, saying that bike lanes could potentially hinder firefighters from easily accessing some addresses.
Meanwhile, Haywood said he would support a fully elected school board for Boston Public Schools, adding that there “needs to be someone who can be held directly accountable to neighbors and us.”
Durkan, a longtime political organizer in the city who moved to Boston in 2015 to work for then-City Councilor Michelle Wu and has chaired the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee since 2019, followed Haywood.
She outlined her four biggest priorities if elected as creating “affordable, attainable housing”; promoting “quality transit and safe streets’; advocating for “mental health care for all”; and forwarding “climate resilient neighborhoods.”
“I really care about being someone who is compassionate,” said Durkan, who said she hopes to follow in Bok’s footsteps by striking a balance between compassion and public safety.
If elected, Durkan committed on her first day in office to taking a close look at just how exactly mitigation funds are being spent and bringing the community to the table for this process.
“It shouldn’t be this hard to get what the community wants and take countless hours to get whet the community needs,” she said.
On the matter of development, Durkan invoked a statement made by Elliott Laffer, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay board of directors, who said that project should be judged only on its own merits, instead of on the merits of its proposed mitigation.
Regarding public safety, Durkan said she would work with Boston Police to devise a “safety plan” and committed to forging a strong relationship with the department.
She also underscored the need to provide housing for those struggling with homelessness.
“If we don’t provide housing for people, they will continue to be outside,” said Durkan, who acknowledged that this would take collaboration at both the city and state levels.
Asked about proposed bike lanes on Charles Street, Durkan said while “public safety is of the utmost concern, especially on Charles Street,” she couldn’t really assess the plan without seeing a formal proposal first.
“I think opposing something not written on paper yet is not the type of leadership I want to lend to this district,” she said.
Durkan added that she would support “some bike infrastructure” but asserted that building bike lanes on “a very special street” like Charles Street would require “a very special process, which I’d be happy to convene.”
Unlike Haywood, Durkan was less enthusiastic about the notion of providing accommodations for those in recovery on retrofitted cruise ships.
“If I can’t line up any friends in government who support this, then I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Durkan, adding that she has secured a number of endorsements from elected officials, including Mayor Wu, Sens. Ed Markey and Lydia Edwards, and Reps. Jay Livingstone and Aaron Michlewitz, as well as from Bok.
While Durkan lives on Anderson Street on Beacon Hill, she said she hopes to become an “honorary WECA member.” (Durkan said decided to run for office out of frustration after it took three seasons to get a rusty, abandoned bike removed from Anderson Street by the city under previous administrations.)
“I see myself as part of the West End,” said Durkan, adding that the neighborhood finally would be united in time for the city’s November general election as a result of redistricting.
“People don’t give the West End credit for being such a tight-knit community,” she said. “I want the West End to show up for this election. I want for the West End to have a real political voice.”
Regardless of the outcome of the Special Election on July 25, Haywood and Durkan will again vie for the District 8 City Council seat in the Nov. 7 municipal general election.