By Michael Coughlin Jr.
As we inch closer to election season, the Democratic Committees of Wards 4, 5, and 10 hosted a candidate forum for those in the City Councilor At-Large race to discuss several topics on Thursday, July 13.
The forum, which touched on topics such as housing, council collegiality, public transit, and more, was moderated by Abdallah Fayyad, an Opinion Writer at the Boston Globe who is a member of the media outlet’s Editorial Board and was notably a Pulitzer-Prize finalist last year.
As part of the rules for the forum, each candidate was given one minute to answer any questions and was muted following the timer’s elapse.
Those participating in the forum included incumbent City Councilors At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune, Julia Mejia, and Erin Murphy. Thursday’s event also featured new candidates throwing their hats in the ring — Clifton Braithwaite of Mattapan, Henry Santana of Dorchester, and Bridget Nee-Walsh of South Boston.
Following opening statements from all of the candidates, Fayyad led off the event with one of the most important questions by asking all candidates to give one or two priorities they would like to get done if elected.
The priorities Mejia mentioned if she were re-elected were building infrastructure for community engagement and being more responsive to the needs of vulnerable populations.
“What I’m really looking forward to doing in my third term on the council is really building some infrastructure for real community engagement. I think we’re working toward that, but I still hear out in these streets that things are being done to them without them,” said Mejia.
“So really working alongside a number of different departments to really look at building infrastructure when it comes to development when it comes to education, I think that we can do a better job in that space,” she added.
Regarding being responsive to the vulnerable, Mejia said, “I’m really interested in looking at ways that we can also strengthen our ability to be more responsive to the needs of vulnerable populations — I like to say resilient populations.”
“I think that we have a lot of people who are coming here, and I’m not seeing the type of infrastructure in place to ensure that we’re able to get people to apply for schools, to get into good jobs. I think that there’s a lot of barriers that are still facing a lot of recent arrivals.”
As for Santana, his priorities focused on housing and public safety. “As someone who grew up here in the City of Boston and grew up a product of public housing. That really gave my family and me the opportunity to really not only stay here in the City of Boston but thrive here in the City of Boston,” said Santana.
“I want to make sure that more families, more youth, and everyone across the city is able to live here in the City of Boston if they wish to,” he added. Santana also made a point of saying he would like to create more homeownership opportunities.
Concerning public safety Santana said, “Again, as a product of public housing and as a black man here in the City of Boston and growing up here, I truly understand the dynamics that comes with public safety and really want to make sure that we’re investing in our youth providing affordable summer programs and after-school programs and other programs to really keep our youth engaged.”
Next up to answer the question was Murphy, who mentioned quite a few priorities, such as equitable before and after-school programming, constituent services, the connection between public health and safety, and more.
“I want to continue the work I’ve been focusing on, on children making sure we have opportunities — equitable before and after-school programming at all schools across the city, which also will support our working families,” said Murphy.
Regarding constituent services, Murphy said, “Making sure that, you know, everyone feels that they have a voice at City Hall. One of the number one things our office does well and definitely makes sure we answer the call to a constituent service call.”
“It can be a tree in front of their house, or it could be, you know, a senior being displaced. So making sure that we are connecting the residents to the City of Boston, I feel like that is our number one job to make the quality of life for all of the residents of the City of Boston equitable,” she added.
As for Braithwaite, he said his top priority was family stabilization. “The reason why I say that — you have mothers, fathers, veterans, and children. I believe from seeing in my experience, the nucleus of the family should be taken care of first,” said Braithwaite.
His second priority involved strengthening programs like STEM. “There was a time that our ORC at Madison was one of the greatest technical schools. I would like to see that come back,” said Braithwaite.
Braithwaite also mentioned violence as a focus saying, “We should be able to feel safe to go to the corner store to take a walk in the park or just generally hang on the corner in front of your home. You should feel safe; we shouldn’t have to worry about violence, so we would have to dig deep in and dive into that.”
One of Louijeune’s priorities was housing, specifically anti-displacement, and she spoke about the Acquisition Opportunity program.
“The city has a great program called the Acquisition Opportunity program that works alongside Community Land Trust and non-profit developers to prevent displacement. Properties that are lived in by tenants that otherwise would be sold on the open market to someone with a profit incentive,” said Louijeune.
“Instead of doing that — selling it to a non-profit developer or Community Land Trust that’s subsidized by city dollars to ensure that tenants are able to stay on the property and not have to move out of the city or not face rising rents with a new corporate entity so making sure we are earmarking money for Community Land Trust,” she added.
She also spoke about needing more loving adults in schools and hiring more positions, such as guidance counselors.
“Our students are walking into our school buildings every day with trauma with rising mental health issues with phones that are telling them X and Y Z things to do,” said Louijeune.
A huge priority for Nee-Walsh is public safety, and she spoke specifically about bringing police back into the neighborhoods.
“Starting like, well, with teaching the youth that they can trust the police and that the police are, you know, safe, that the police are safe and trustworthy, and that, you know, they’re there to keep the harmony and keep the streets safe,” said Nee-Walsh.
She also mentioned infrastructure and senior and constituent services as priorities, along with bringing vocation back to the city.
“We still only have that one vocational school people have talked about it for, you know, 20 years plus now, and I think kids really need another outlet and to know that there are other
options than going to college where they can still make a sustainable living to afford to stay in the City of Boston,” said Nee-Walsh.
As previously mentioned, the forum touched on countless subjects in which candidate after candidate provided longer-form answers. However, there were times in which Fayyad asked yes or no questions.
One question concerned whether candidates would approve spending more money on fare-free bus programs when they expire. All candidates, except Nee-Walsh and Murphy, were emphatic with their yes answers.
Nee-Walsh said no, while Murphy indicated she wanted to say yes but wants to discuss where the money would come from — citing fiscal responsibility — and did not want to make any campaign promises that could not be followed through on.
Another yes or no question was if candidates would support the state either partially or fully taking over Boston Public Schools. Every candidate opposed a state takeover of BPS except Murphy, but she said to look at her website for more of an explanation of why she would support it.
Overall, the forum seemed to be a great way for constituents to learn more about the candidates in the City Councilor At-Large race.
“It was just a wonderful event, so thank you so much to the six of you,” said Bob Binney, Chair of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee.
If you would like to see the forum in its entirety, you can visit https://youtu.be/lbVJBgYyWlg or https://www.facebook.com/Ward4Dems/videos/283830237639189.
Moreover, information on each candidate can be found at the links below.
Clifton Braithwaite: https://www.facebook.com/C1CLIFTONBRAITHWAITE/
Ruthzee Louijeune: https://www.ruthzeeforboston.com/
Julia Mejia: https://www.juliaforboston.com/
Erin Murphy: https://erinforboston.com/
Bridget Nee-Walsh: https://bridgetneewalsh.com/
Henry Santana: https://www.henrysantana.com/