Why are you running?

This is the first of several articles showcasing the answers of 10 of the 12 Boston mayoral candidates to questions posed at forums in June and July hosted by CommonWealth, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, A Better City, and the Chiofaro Cos. The article was prepared by Eric Tenczar of CommonWealth.

To read the full transcripts of the three forums in this series, click here: June 25th transcript | July 11th transcript | July 18th transcript

What is the most pressing issue facing the next Mayor of Boston and what will you do about it?

Here was an opportunity for the candidates to explain why they are running. City Councilor John Connolly and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley focused in their answers exclusively on education and the city’s schools, but most of the candidates lumped the schools in with other issues. Only one, City Councilor Michael Ross, didn’t mention the schools at all.

The education-only candidates

Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley: “This is probably the great social justice issue of our time.  Boston is a manageable city with 127 schools.  If I become mayor, my goal will be to transform this education system here in Boston to make it the best in urban America.  In order to get that accomplished, we are going to need to elect a real decision maker, someone who has managed a large, public organization, and makes important decisions that affect people’s lives each and every day.  I believe I am that candidate.  This school system can be the greatest one in America because it is manageable.  It begins first and foremost with hiring a dynamic, new school superintendent and that [hiring decision] should be left to the next mayor.  The next mayor should choose someone who’s going to flip the system on its head and push the autonomy and decision making down to the school level where real innovation and change can take place.  For me, that’s also about empowering parents.  Parents need to have more choices not less.  That’s why I favor either lifting the cap on charter schools all together or raising it so we can have more choice for parents.”

City Councilor John Connolly:  “Our future starts with our schools. We want safer neighborhoods? We need better schools. If we want to have a strong economic future, we need to produce young people ready to take jobs in Boston’s economy. So it begins by cutting the bureaucracy at Court Street, our central department that spends over a billion dollars a year but can’t get every child art, music, science, physical education, and humanities on a regular basis. That also extends to the Boston teachers contract. I’m a former teacher who has taught children from every neighborhood in this city. I believe teaching is sacred, but I have a lot of problems with a teacher contact that gives our children the shortest school day in urban America and has archaic hiring rules that are almost 100 percent seniority based. I’m the only city councilor who voted against that contract. If I’m mayor, I’ll win that battle.”

Multiple issue candidates

John Barros: “A strategy that is pro-growth and deliberately creates pathways between all of Boston’s residents to that growth.  It starts with two things: developing a strong educational system that supports Boston’s residents from birth to career and investing in public infrastructure. And I would start with a comprehensive plan for transit.  Investing in education systems from birth to career means starting investing in a place where we have the highest return, which is zero to five. For every dollar we invest in a child age zero to five, we’re seeing a savings of $17, according to reports by the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis.  Every time we provide access to quality seats [in schools and child care] to our families and children, we are interrupting generational cycles of poverty.  That’s why access to all schools is important, which is why I propose a single application to all schools, both charter and district.  And pushing autonomy to our schools and allowing them to make the kinds of decisions that make them highly effective units for education is critical.  So a superintendent who believes in that would be a priority for me in the first hundred days.  And creating the kind of pathway from secondary schools, to two-year colleges, to four-year educational institutions, to career, would be paramount in trying to create the virtuous cycles that allow our economy to grow. “

City Councilor Rob Consalvo: “The challenge for the next mayor is to not slide back.  It’s to continue to move forward and grow and build our city and strengthen and empower our neighborhoods so we can continue to grow in the 21st century.  I believe we do that by, first off, continuing to maintain the strong economy that grows jobs. We have a balanced budget and strong bond rating. We know that’s what creates jobs in our community.  And it’s what makes companies want to move here and want to invest here and grow here.  I agree with the education issue being a number one issue and for me it’s a personal issue on education.  I have two kids in the Boston Public Schools and when I’m mayor next year, I’ll have three children in the Boston Public Schools system.  We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to improve public safety in our city.  If you don’t feel safe in our neighborhoods, nothing else matters.”

Charlotte Richie: Richie arrived a few minutes late to the forum because she a radio show on which she was appearing ran long. “When I was planning to arrive on time, I probably would have said the most important issue was education for the city. But now I might be thinking it might be about mending divisions because there are divisions that still exist in the city that prevent us from realizing our full potential as a city when it comes to education, when it comes to job creation, when it comes to addressing public safety in our community.”  She said 300 people are coming out of jails and prisons every month and coming back to Boston and other communities. “We need to have a plan around reentry and to prevent recidivism. That’s something that we don’t want to put at the top of the list, but it will affect the fabric of our community if we do not address that issue. So I would say that I would endeavor with all of my heart and my might, with all of the talents I bring to bear, with all of the skills that I have, having been a leader as a public official and an elected official, to knit our city together, to unite our city around the issues that continue to ail us here in Boston.”

Rep. Martin Walsh: In no particular order, Walsh said the three main issues facing the next mayor are economic development, education, and housing. He said a “strong business community” is the key to economic development, which is necessary for reforming the school system and creating additional housing.  He said he is the only candidate for mayor who voted for state education reform, which is giving Boston officials the tools they need to address problem-plagued Level 4 schools. He also vowed to win concessions from the Boston Teachers Union through negotiations and, if that doesn’t work, through filing legislation on Beacon Hill. He also said the city needs to build workforce and low-income housing so people who go to school here can stay here. “The two most important decisions I have to make on my first day as mayor is who is going to be my superintendent of schools and who’s going to be my director of the BRA. Those two are going to drive my administration for the next four years.”

City Councilor Charles Yancey: “Of course our schools top the list. We need to make sure that we’re producing high quality students from high quality schools, including investing in building new schools as well as improving the quality of education. I also believe that the city of Boston can play a critical role in building our economic infrastructure so that those today who are not participating in our economy can join. In the economic realm, that can be done by the city taking a more active role, not just the BRA but the Department of Neighborhood Development and other departments of city government, to make sure that we invest in developing new businesses so that those communities in various neighborhoods can have a greater stake in the future of the city of Boston. I believe that would also contribute to providing a safer environment because if you have a job you’re not going to participate in crime. If you have a decent education, you’re going to continue to contribute to the growth and development of this city. Finally, as part of social infrastructure we need to invest more in our arts, not just to develop more well-rounded citizens and students but to develop a greater sense of community. “

A focus on growth and innovation

City Councilor Felix Arroyo: “Economic development is the most important issue facing us right now. We’re very lucky. Boston is a very prosperous city. We need to ensure that that prosperity continues, but also that that prosperity reaches every neighborhood in this city. We must make sure that the prosperity that we see in Boston reaches every neighborhood, that people know they have the opportunity to send their children to a good school, live in a safe neighborhood, and have a good job where they can raise their family. We have a program that I call Invest in Boston that helps do that. The city has almost a billion dollars in deposits. We deposit in various banks, but we have no sense if those banks are doing any work in our city. We have no sense if those banks are lending to development projects, lending to small business owners, lending to homeowners, are part of the  foreclosure solution and not the crisis. So the plan that I put forward says if you want these deposits, let us know what you’re doing in our city. Let us know if you are lending to small businesses, the homeowners, development projects. Why wouldn’t we do business with the bank that’s doing the most work in our neighborhoods, in our city?

Councilor Mike Ross:  “The most pressing issue is that other cities are trying to become us.  As we sit here, New York City Mayor Bloomberg recently entered into collaboration with the Technion university of Israel and is opening a Technion, an MIT, on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan.  So the one thing they didn’t have, MIT, they’re building.  In Las Vegas, the head of Zapos, an online retailer, is literally building a city.  And we all know about Silicon Valley. Then there are the Charlotte, North Carolinas and Chattanooga – Chattanooga, Tennessee is trying harder.  Everyone is trying harder.”  Ross later explained how he planned to address these issues. “Our city government needs to be as innovative as our people are.  And so that means, for example, when we are looking for new business we don’t just cross the river to look for new business, go to Cambridge and offer a tax break, although in some cases I think some of the movement across river has been the right kind.  But we should instead partner with Cambridge and go together to Silicon Valley, go to China, and bring business back here.”

Meet the Author
Bill Walczak: “Tom Menino has brought us to a certain point. I would call it Boston 1.0. We need to be able to learn what 2.0 looks like and how we’re able to transform the city. To me, the city of Boston has almost limitless potential. With all of the institutions that we have — universities, colleges, hospitals, business, financial services – we have a tremendous opportunity to not only build the great city of Boston here, the great world-class city that is emerging, but to connect that city to the neighborhoods and to the people that are coming out of our neighborhood and to make sure that our school system is able to deal with the achievement gap. We should be the first city in America that is able to solve the achievement gap. We should be the greenest city in America. We should be able to be the healthiest city in America. Could we be the most innovative city? Absolutely.  All this is within our power. All this we can do. What we need to do is make sure we have the right leadership and bring the right people into government and look at how our government operates so that we can propose all of those ideas and achieve success.”