July 18th Boston mayoral forum transcript

This is a transcript of a July 18 Boston mayoral forum with Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, John Barros, and City Councilors Rob Consalvo and Mike Ross. The forum was hosted by CommonWealth magazine, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, A Better City, and the Chiofaro Cos. Questioners were Sam Tyler of the BMRB, Rick Dimino of ABC, and Paul McMorrow of CommonWealth. CommonWealth editor Bruce Mohl moderated.

To read a transcript of the other two forums in this series, click here: June 25th transcript | July 11th transcript

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

Ross: Thank you, thanks for having us and I think all of us have called half the room already in this campaign so it’s a very impressive crowd you have here.  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 Zappos, an online retailer, is literally building a city.  And we all know about Silicon Valley. Then there are the Charlotte, North Carolinas, and Chattanooga, Tennessee is trying harder.  Everyone is trying harder.  So our challenge, here in Boston, will be to not rest on our laurels and to continue doing what we have been doing so great here for 400 years.  Our city government needs to be as innovative as our people are.  And so that means, for me, for example, when we are looking for new business we don’t just cross the river to look for new business, right to 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.  To me it means direct flights, right we’re the closest city to Europe, and we need to have direct flights to other major European cities.  That brings business to our city.  Thank you.

Conley : Good morning and happy to be here today for today’s forum.  Thank you very much for having us all.  For me, the most important issue facing the next Mayor of Boston is turning our education system into the best urban school system in America. I think that’s where it begins to turn the communities living in poverty to turn those neighborhoods around.  There’s great prosperity here in Boston, we’re in the midst of it.  If you go to the neighborhoods that I serve most frequently in the city, you don’t see the same level of prosperity.  So for me, the most important issue is education.  It needs the urgency of now when it comes to education.  For me, this is probably the great social justice issue of our time.  Boston is a manageable city with 127 schools, I believe.  If I become Mayor, my goal will be to transform this education system here in Boston to make it the best in urban America.  And I believe the next Mayor has the opportunity to be a transformative Mayor in that regard, to be a true and real reformer.  And 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 that 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. It means following children from preschool to the STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering, math, all the way to university so those young people in our inner cities can compete for the jobs in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.  Thank you.

Barros: Good morning.  It’s good to be here with you, thank you for coming out to learn more about the candidates.  The most pressing issue, for me, is having a strategy that is pro-growth and deliberately creates pathways between all of Boston’s residents to that growth.  Growth that reduces poverty and connects a new generation of Bostonians, generation x generation y, to opportunities for financial mobility.  And 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 0-5s.  For every dollar we invest in a child age 0-5, we’re seeing a savings of $17 according to reports by the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis.  Every time we provide access to quality seats 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.  Now with the allotted time left I will talk about the public infrastructure and investment in public transit, I look forward to doing that later on in this panel.

Consalvo: Thank you very much and I’m glad to be here as well.  I want to thank everyone for coming.  I think the biggest challenge that I’ll face as Mayor is that I continue to build on the success of our great city.  We have a great city, we have strong downtown, a strong economy, and strong neighborhoods so 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 and being the CEO of city means understanding that we have to manage a 2.6 billion dollar budget and 17,000 city employees and that as we have a strong budget and 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 and that then there is a real connectivity to our neighborhoods because there are jobs.  Blue collar jobs for the working men and women of our neighborhoods, as the construction jobs come, and the white collar jobs that the new industry brings to our city.  So we have to have a CEO that is prepared to make the tough decisions to have a balanced budget, and a strong bond rating by the way, that allows us to invest back out into our neighborhoods, the capital dollars we need to build our park, playgrounds, roads, streets, and sidewalks.  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, and when I serve, I’ll have three children in the Boston Public Schools system.  So I’ll have the laser-like focus on public education, making sure that I’m paying attention, but also really providing the help to the people who need it in our schools.  I agree with a lot that was said here on education.  We also can’t forget about important kids in our system, like our kids with special needs.  We need to make sure we’re funding and focusing on providing the resources necessary to help our kids with special needs and we need to be investing in our capitol buildings, we need to erase our outstanding capitol liability in our existing buildings in the city and we need to make sure we’re giving kids state of the art facilities to go to.  And then public safety, 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, if you don’t feel safe in our city nothing else matters.  I’m going to work to make sure every neighborhood of this city is safe. Thank you.

The US Government Accountability Office recently released a report warning on the widening gap between revenues and expenditures for state and local governments for years to come.  Since 2002, the city’s payroll has been cut by 6%.  What approach to financial management will you follow to manage personnel spending, growing unfunded benefit liabilities, and service costs to sustain the city’s current fiscal stability and provide basic services?

Conley: Well certainly among the many great accomplishments of Mayor Tom Menino is the way he has managed the fiscal health of the city and by every standard of measure the city’s finances are in fantastic shape and that needs to continue.  That affects our bond rating and it affects our ability to borrow at relatively low rates so we can build capital improvements within our city.  So if I’m elected Mayor what I intend to do is follow many of the same practices that Mayor Menino has followed, especially with respect to future pension liability and healthcare costs.  It’s easy for a politician to say, let me take some of this money and spend it on things that will win me votes.  It takes a tough politician, or a tough elected official I should say, who has made decisions and has the courage and the backbone to make tough calls, to put that money where it is, where it belongs, in those accounts, to continue to make sure that our city’s fiscal health stays the way it is.  That is going to inspire the business community to bring jobs here and develop properties here and the likes.  So that’s what you can expect from me if I’m fortunate enough to be elected Mayor. 

Barros: Sam, thank you for the question.  I would propose creating the kind of culture that moves to efficiencies in city government.  And you can do that by doing things like, an innovation loan fund.  A loan fund that asks city departments to come up with creative ideas for efficiencies in their budget and that we would create seed money if those ideas create processes for the city to generate revenues that are self-sustaining those services in five years.  Chicago does this.  It’s a great way to drive for efficiency in city government.  And when departments are working with each other you make more money available.  How does this work?  Departments present budgets at the annual budget cycle and in their budget you would incentivize efficiencies and only provide money when they can show that the work that they are doing or proposing can be sustainable and can efficiently be run by the city.  Drives cost cutting measures and it also drives more effective services to residents.

Consalvo : Well I said in my opening statement that the fiscal health of this city is one of the great challenges we’re going to have to face as we move forward.  And being the CEO of the city, as I stated in my opening remarks, is something that the next Mayor is really going to have to focus on to help grow our economy and help grow jobs and be able to move our city forward and not slide back.  So first off, I’m going to surround myself with the best and brightest folks who are going to help me lead this city, experts in the field of finance, city government, municipal finance and experts in budget and an economy.  A mayor is as good as the people he surrounds himself with so I look to have the best and the brightest who are going to help me lead this city and help me make those very tough decisions that we’re going to face.  I’m also going to listen to people, people who are in this room, people from the business community, people like Sam Tyler and FinCom and other folks who have real suggestions on how we need to move forward and manage our fiscal health.  There are a lot of good ideas out there that, people in this room and people in the business community and academic experts as well as financial experts who are out there, who should have a seat at the table helping us drive our policy to make our city financially stable.

Ross : I agree with a lot that has been said.  I think the heart of this question is about leadership.  And leadership to me is about standing up for what you believe in, especially when it’s tough.  In 2010 when the Boston Firefighters Union came into the City Council demanding a six year, retroactive pay increase that would have paid each of our 1,400 firefighters an extra $100,000, I was the only City Counselor, President of the City Council at the time, to stand up and say we couldn’t afford it.  We couldn’t afford that while at the same time we’re planning to close libraries and lay off other city workers.   And so I reached out across the river, to someone who knows much more about this than I do, a professor at MIT, who is a labor professor, and I asked him for help.  We brought the firefighters back to the table, we renegotiated the contract.  We saved you, the taxpayers, 50 million dollars and we were able to do that by coming together.

Transportation is one of those areas that can really help shape great cities. And San Francisco and Chicago have recently launched and recruited and put together wonderful transportation master plans.  As mayor, would you be interested in moving forward with a transportation master plan to refresh our transportation, profile our vision, and what your priorities be in conducting that master plan?

Barros : Thank you for the question.  Transportation master plan is critical.  And one that is long term in nature and one that has some low hanging fruits that we can get to immediately.  And my priorities would be making this city a more walkable, friendly city.  I like the five minute rule.  We should transportation modes that are five minutes away from any residential neighborhood.  And it should be accessible by biking, by walking, and we should have streets that are not congested.  We need to make sure we have some efficiency in our movement of cars, trucks, transit, and freight vehicles throughout the city but in a way that we are incentivizing a zero emissions transit system.  And so cars and trucks and transit, as we see, are becoming a thing of the past.  And we need to design a city where I feel better about taking the public transit than I do my car.  And the only way we get there is by a real comprehensive plan that is bold and that is looking to make this a first class system.

Consalvo : I absolutely agree that we need a long term plan.  It should be one of the top priorities as we come in and address transportation for any transportation commissioner.  We are going to be able to have new folks that are going to be working with us in transportation and we want to charge them with that vision of a real forward thinking plan around the city about transportation.  And that means talking about all of, what I call the alternative methods of transportation.  It means being a leader as a Mayor who will advocate at the State House for improved service at the MBTA.  Not just around the Fairmount line, which is great and serves my district, but along all the lines of the city. The T needs to begin a real discussion about reduced fares, more reliability, more weekend access on other commuter rail lines, and more opportunity to have folks have quality public transportation near their house that is safe and reliable.  I would also say though that we need to get serious about moving the alternative public transportation sources out into the neighborhoods where people can take advantage of them.  Let’s move Hubway out into the neighborhoods of Rosendale, Hyde Park, Mattapan, West Roxbury, the furthest places from downtown.  Let’s get electric car charging stations in every neighborhood of the city so people can have real alternative to keeping our city green and using different renewable energies and things of that nature. 

Ross: Yes we do need a master plan.  We also need to really invest in public transit.  The next Mayor of Boston has to make the MBTA his problem, and I will. When I was first elected, one of the first issues I took on was extending late night transit.  And for five years, five short years in this city, we ran the MBTA until 3 in the morning.  We need to bring that back and I will.  We also need to have a smart grid system for traffic.  Even on the way over here, in 2013, I watched as every light along the surface artery was completely ill timed.  That’s stuff we can do today but that’s certainly stuff we need to do into the future.  We need to make bikes a priority, pedestrians a priority and we need to move our taxi division outside of the Boston Police Department, where it really doesn’t belong after 100 years, and move it into our transportation department where it can be planned and incorporated into transportation planning.

Conley : Rick, the next mayor needs to take a much more active role in what happens with the MBTA in and around Boston, and as mayor I will absolutely do that.  We look to the innovation district which is very close to where we are right now and we see how underserved it is by the MBTA.  The Silver Line simply does not have the capacity to serve that area that’s growing with leaps and bounds.  I live out in West Roxbury so I drive through the Longwood Medical area virtually every day, what a headache by the way, and that’s such a vitally important economic area to our city, terribly underserved by the MBTA with respect to getting workers in and out of that area.  As Mayor of Boston I will be a vocal, vocal advocate for improvements to the infrastructure of the MBTA.  You asked about master planning, of course that’s a wonderful idea, you can count on it, I will be pushing it very very hard, I love the idea.  I think we missed an opportunity, Governor Patrick made it a priority, I’m not criticizing heavily members of the legislature, they should have been able though to work out their differences and come up with a transportation plan that served the needs of our city moving forward.

How would you address the city’s shortage of affordable and workforce housing?

Consalvo : As mayor we need to make housing a priority.  I Chair the Housing Committee on the City Council and I’ve worked for the last 11 years on housing issues.  We need to continue to make sure that through the agencies that run housing, like the Department of Neighborhood Development and the BRA, we continue to make funding a priority for programs like Leading the Way.  We need to continue make sure there are funding and resources available for that.  We need to invest in housing and workforce housing as it relates to transit oriented development, we see the success of the Fairmount Line now with new stations along the line and real opportunity for us to grow workforce housing along those transit stops and along that line.  I see a great economic opportunity along that line all the way into Reedville to be able to do that. And we need to think outside the box about our workforce housing and where we do that.  It doesn’t all have to be downtown and the innovation district or in our downtown area.  We need to start thinking about linking workforce housing for those individuals out on a different ring into our neighborhoods like Allston/Brighton, like Rosendale, or like Reedville and Hyde Park that has quick and easy access via new transportation systems to downtown. 

Ross : To create more affordable housing we have to build more housing.  We’re not building fast enough for the college kids who are graduating from college or the empty nesters who are moving into our city, for the lifelong residents who want to make Boston their home, and for the citizens of the world who want to move here.  We need to build more, not just in the downtown core but in all of our neighborhoods.  When I first started, the Fenway was a gas station, parking lot and fast food strip along Boylston Street.  Look at it today, after 10, 11, 12 short years, we planned, we got together and we built the Fenway community.  I believe we can do that while building affordable housing on site.  If inclusionary zoning and affordable housing is a principle of our city, it shouldn’t be the first thing we negotiate away, we should hold tight to it.  We should make sure that we build, on site.  I believe that micro units shouldn’t be a scary word and only reserved downtown in the innovation district.  If micro units work in some places they should be allowed to be built in those places. 

Conley : More housing development is critical to the economic success of our city.  Talk to any of these young, start-up, entrepreneur professionals and half of them don’t live in the city, and they want to, they work here.  They can’t afford an apartment even forget about a condominium.  So we need to expand workforce housing that’s a critical step.  For me, I’m going to embrace Mayor Menino’s 30,000 units by 2020; we need to even do better than that.  We need to rethink density.  Density also doesn’t need to be a bad working when talking about housing policy.  Look at Paris, Paris is about the size of Boston geographically, has three times as many residents and is thought to be one of the greatest cities in the world.  So we have to look at that.  Like Mike, I think micro units also need to be looked at.  It’s not for everyone but it’s a good opportunity for young professionals to get a foothold in the housing market and I would support an expansion of micro units, not only in the innovation district but to some other areas here in our city. 

Barros:   Affordable housing is key.  I’ve been working in Boston for the last 13 years as Executive Director of Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and a big part of our plan has been in creating access to our neighborhood and affordable housing was a big part of that push.  We sponsored 800 units of housing both market rate and affordable in my time.  We can create different incentives for different developers to build next to transit nodes; it’s still not easy enough to develop in Boston, the development process is obscure, it’s not clear.  We need to streamline it when developers are trying to do the right thing.  It’s really important.  Transit nodes, we can drop the parking ratio, we can increase density, we shouldn’t be afraid of going high.  These are all critical things that we can do to increase affordability in Boston.

Should the casino agreement that will be negotiated between Suffolk Downs and the Menino administration be final this year or should it include a provision that the next mayor will have an opportunity to suggest modifications?

Ross : Our greatest leverage right now is before a single permit is issued, before a single license is granted.  The second those permits and licenses are granted, we lose leverage.  So that’s the question.  If there are more permits and licenses to grant, then yea we should wait because we will have leverage.  We need to guarantee that this casino is in East Boston, that we have the appropriate mitigation, and infrastructure to allow people to get there and back.  We also need to make sure that we have the appropriate mitigation for our people as some of our most vulnerable population will undoubtedly go to the casino and so we have to make sure we’re putting in safeguards for that as well. 

Conley: I would urge the negotiators on behalf of the city to insert another clause in that agreement, if it isn’t there already, and that’s to give the next mayor of Boston the power to reopen those negotiations and examine that mitigation package.  You know, Tom Menino undoubtedly is pushing hard, and we know he is a tough negotiator, but Tom Menino is not going to have to live with that casino or deal with it, the next mayor of Boston is.  So for me, I would ask and urge city negotiators to put a clause in there to allow the next mayor to examine that mitigation package and sign off on it.

Barros : The committee host agreement that is being negotiated right now needs to make sure that the casinos aren’t just an economic bubble where the money just stays there but that all of Boston is being able to get from any kind of economic benefit and that means that we’re looking at how the dollars are moving around Boston from the casino to other parts of the city.  Small businesses, good jobs for residents of Boston, making sure that the revenues that come out of the casino is able to pay for the mitigation that we need going into the casino.  I’m not a big fan of the casino as an economic generator because I think there are other innovative ways we can do like the innovation district in that area but if the casino is what we’ve chosen to do then let’s make sure the dollars don’t just stay in within the small casino bubble and it really does circle around the city and it benefits all of the residents of Boston.

Consalvo : I agree with Councilman Ross.  I think the leverage is now, he’s absolutely right.  The process as determined by the legislation talks about the fact that the negotiation has to happen now and it happens to be happening during the Menino administration.  So he is absolutely right that we need to strike while the iron is hot and use our leverage now of the permitting process.  Once the permits are issued or once the casino moves forward he is absolutely right, like in many developments and permitting, when we try to negotiate mitigation in our neighborhoods, once the permits are issued, the developers in many cases don’t want to negotiate with you.  So we have to trust that the administration and the team of great people around them are going to negotiate the best deal for our city and they’re going to use the leverage of the permitting process to do that.  The bigger question comes up when a negotiated deal is reached and then when the sum is reached, the next Mayor’s focus should be on assuring that that mitigation is fairly and transparently and equitably reaching every single neighborhood of our city.  This is a money maker; we’re going to get a mitigation agreement that brings in millions of dollars to the city.  We need to make sure that every neighborhood, every resident all across the city benefits and that the people of East Boston, who are most impacted, benefit the most.

We all know about economic cycles and we happen to be picking up into a good headwind.  My question is really about the gatekeeping role of the BRA and the reaction to cycles and as Mayor would you change that dynamic and lead economic growth? We have economic development areas that are outside of the innovation district like Allston and Allston Landing, East Boston, Dudley, Lower Roxbury.  What steps would you take catalyze growth and shape that growth to serve those areas and to serve the city? 

Conley : Well one of the first things I would do, and I know Mayor Menino has tried to do this but I would really take it up earnestly and that’s to make Boston a real hotspot.  The whole city is now a patchwork of fiber optics and not all neighborhoods have equal access or easy access to the internet and that in and of itself if we could accomplish that, would push economic development out to all parts of our city.  I mean I think about the startup young entrepreneurs that have visited in Downtown Crossing, that have visited in the leather district, that have visited  in the innovation district, well you know a lot of what they’re up against they don’t have much money to start, much capital costs.  If they were able to, say for example, have easy access to the internet in Dorchester or Roxbury or Mattapan or Hyde Park or any other neighborhood of our city, right off the bat they could rent an underutilized building in some of our outlying areas to begin their startup.  So that would be the very first thing I would do.  Secondly I think you’re absolutely right, the Mayor needs to set broad policy on economic development and be the city’s biggest cheerleader on that regard and I would do that.

Barros: Building in Boston is too difficult.  We pushed development in our neighborhood; as a member of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee for the last eight years it is way too difficult to get things done.  There’s nothing you can do in Boston that doesn’t need to be done with some kind of variance on some zoning.  Developers go into places and they don’t know really what people want. They put up a lot of soft money up front to guess and go back and forth with the public.  We need to make sure that we have a comprehensive plan that’s clear about what should go in what neighborhood, what the appetite of the public is that allows for some kind of sure sense that if a developer proposes something that it has been zoned properly, and it will be supported.  We need to do planning.  We need to do better planning in our neighborhoods and different parts of the city.  And we need to rezone according to that planning.  That’s what we did in the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, we created a master plan and rezoned the whole part of the neighborhood so the developers could come in and know what we were going to support as a community and there wasn’t this back and forth between residents and those who wanted to invest in our community.  That’s what we need to do all over the city.

Consalvo : Well I think the first thing to accomplish what you’re talking about, Rick, is the next mayor is going to get to appoint the next BRA Director.  It’s a major decision in planning in our city.  And so what I’m going to do is appoint a BRA director that shares the same goals that you just mentioned, someone who is an innovative, forward thinker to grow our economy and to help grow development in our city.  Someone who will maybe think outside the box, not a traditional development person but someone who can bring new vision and real ideas.  I’ve called for the new BRA director to have green experience, someone who understands the new and growing economy of our green industry and who will help plan and zone our city for climate change as part of a forward thinking plan to really deal with the issues of climate change in our green economy, and I think that’s critical to the success of what you’re talking about.  I would also say that we would open up the BRA to a lot of Boston’s newer residents.  There’s a lot of new residents and new people who live in this city and have a lot of great ideas about how this city should be planned and moved forward.  Let’s get that new energy, new blood, new ideas into the BRA and into the planning of our city as well.  And on the zoning, he’s absolutely right, let’s continue to update our zoning codes to reflect the changes in building and the changes in climate change as well.

Ross : I think this one is simple.  I think we have to plan first and build second.  In the Fenway we had great success around this.  I mean did you see how fast that community built.  It was the community came together, we planned, we talked about what we wanted and in a very short period of time it was built.  No variances, not spending a lot of time on each building, it was built pretty fast.   I actually think that’s a good model.  I think that’s a model we can carry into other neighborhoods.  And I would never force a neighborhood into being planned, I would want them to raise their hand and basically say yea we’d like to go next.  And so we’ll offer three planning processes for the first six months of my term and make it available to the first three communities that want it and we’ll send real meaningful planning processes out into the communities with architects and planners and allow the community to really collaborate on what they’d like to see in their neighborhood.  And then we’ll build it. 

Dan Conley touched briefly on Mayor Menino’s goal of having 30,000 new housing units by the year 2020. Do you think that goal is achievable and, more importantly, where do they all go? And what happens to the city’s current zoning to accommodate all of those units?

Barros:    Thanks for the question. I might have answered part of it in my last answer. We have the space. We have the opportunity. Actually, I think that goal is doable and reasonable and we should push through that goal and set up a new goal. It really does mean that our planning process and our zoning process need to be more realistic to incentivize development. There are other things we can do around tax abatements, and TIFFS, and density bonuses that allow developers to really get in there and develop parts of Boston that are not developed yet. We’ve got land. We’ve got too much of it. We’ve got to take it off city rolls and put it in production. We know that 66 percent of the city’s budget relies on property taxes. Let’s grow it. Let’s get more involvement all through the city. There are parts of the city that aren’t seeing that development and we need to go in there and build infrastructure. In order to do that, we need to invest in public infrastructure like transit that allows for developers to build and increase density. That means that things like the Fairmont Line that opened three stations yesterday, that probably most people don’t even know about, are ready to go places for development, and we need to incentivize people to invest in those neighborhoods.

Consalvo: I think it’s definitely achievable and we should think about meeting that goal and even exceeding it if we can. That starts with real planning and it also starts with the leadership at the top of our planning agency, so that’s why I’m glad I answered that one of the most important jobs that relates  to all of this discussion about planning and development is the next director of the BRA, an important appointment that we’re going to make as the next mayor. That’s why I want an innovator and a leader, someone who thinks outside the box to make it happen, who will implement real planning ideas for how to achieve that for our entire city. As I said earlier, not just jamming it all downtown or in areas that are hot, but moving it out to the neighborhoods of the city where there are real  opportunities to grow more housing out in our community. That’s critically important. And the zoning code is absolutely important. I’ve amended the zoning code seven times as a city councilor. It’s not a sexy issue but an important one, because the zoning code is the guide that allows developers to come into our city to build. The code should be regularly fluctuating, regularly being updated. It shouldn’t take a community group or a problem or a crisis for us to come in to change the zoning code to help spur development in our city. We need a comprehensive plan to regularly update our zoning code so we can build for the future.

Ross : I think it’s doable, but I think it’s essential that we do this. I think we need to do it, and build in our community and our neighborhoods. What we need in our neighborhoods are great, amazing educational opportunities to draw people and draw residents. We also see need amenities and places to gather and go that draw people throughout the year and throughout the day. The reality is there are some neighborhoods in our city that don’t have the very amenities that you and I crave in our communities. I moved to Mission Hill and we worked together to bring a supermarket, to bring banks that invest in people and businesses and our communities. A restaurant that not only attracts people from our neighborhood, but people from outside our neighborhood. All of this is only possible if we plan and build in our neighborhoods. Not one offs. Not one building at a time, but really throughout our entire community. And when we do it, we have to build inclusionary zoning, affordable housing, on site.

Conley:   Expansion of middle class and workforce housing is vital to the economic success of our city. It’s axiomatic , I believe, at this point. So not only do I embrace Mayor Menino’s call for 30,000 units by 2020.  I would seek to exceed that. I would seek to exceed that in many ways, but  one real way I always thought would be a good way is if you drive through virtually any area of the city you’ll see white picket fences and vacant land all over the city. That’s city-owned property generally. I would make that available to private developers to build workforce and middle class housing. I think that’s a very, very important issue. We also have to consider density, and coordinating development  around transportation, so-called transit-oriented development.  All really, really important. And, finally, Gov. Patrick has talked about this, too. This isn’t just a Boston problem. It’s a regional problem and housing needs to be expanded not only here in our city but in our region. I work with mayors from north of Boston and I think I can do that as mayor as well, to coordinate a regional approach to housing.

Lightening round of questions:

Who is your favorite all-time Boston mayor?

Consalvo : That’s pretty easy, Tom Menino.

Ross: Kevin White for his vision. Tom Menino for his heart.

Conley : Tom Menino

Barros : Tom Menino

Would you seek to amend the state’s prevailing wage law to exempt municipalities from paying higher union rates for public construction projects?

Ross :  Not immediately, no.

Conley : No.

Barros :  No.

Consalvo : No.

The Greenway is still looking for a comprehensive financing solution, so it can be maintained and operated long term. (No speech on the questions.) As most of you know I can’t help myself. Would you contribute city money to help the Greenway  be successful?

Conley : I’ll consider it.

Barros: Push the state.

Consalvo : I’ll consider it. We need public-private partnerships to make it happen.

Ross: We’re already doing it with our Boston Police Department patrolling it.

Would you split city planning apart from the BRA?

Barros: Day one.

Consalvo :  I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater for a problem that the BRA must fix.

Ross : Plan first, build second.

Conley : I would not split them.

Mayor Menino is often called the urban mechanic. If you’re elected mayor, what would you be called?

Barros: The innovation opportunity mayor.

Consalvo: The problem solver.

Ross : An entrepreneur who happens to be in government.

Conley: The man that took us from good to great.

Should the CommonWealth charter school cap for Boston be eliminated, raised, or remain the same?

Consalvo : It should remain the same.

Ross: Longer answer, but remain the same for me.

Conley: Eliminated.

Barros : Raise and eliminate.

The Globe has been running articles about parking restrictions in terms of zoning. Are you in favor of further parking restrictions?

Ross: Yes, not for all neighborhoods, but yes.

Conley : Neighborhood by neighborhood approach.

Barros : Smart growth, keep next to transit.

Consalvo : Cautious approach, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Who would your favorite mayoral also-ran be, someone who was on the ballot but didn’t quite make it?

Conley: Larry DiCara

Barros : My friend Larry.

Consalvo : Might as well make it unanimous, Larry DiCara.

Ross: Larry.

Since January 1992, the Boston School Committee members have been appointed by the mayor. If you are elected mayor, will you continue to support the appointed school committee or would you prefer returning to an elected structure or a hybrid mixture of elected and appointed members.

Ross : Appointed, but I will not appoint a rubber stamp. (This is a one-minute question.) You’ve got me conditioned. There’s been a lot of talk by a lot of the candidates about going hybrid, going elected. I read polls also. I’m not trying to be cute here. I think the appointed school committee has served our city well. It has. Statistically, it has served our city well. Our schools have a long way to go, but are better than they’ve been these last 20 years under this appointed school committee. When I mentioned about the rubber stamp is also important. We need bold visionary leaders who are on the school committee and that means, sometimes, pushing back. I think the next mark of this mayor will be how much he or she is willing to hire the best and brightest and then allow them to do their job. That’s what we need if we’re going to bring this city to the next level.

Conley: I am in favor of retaining an appointed school committee. I think that anyone who is serious about ed reform cannot seriously consider going back to an elected school committee. At age 54, I was a young boy I knew where we were when we had an elected school committee. If you want true education reform in this city, we need to have an appointed school committee and the mayor needs to be held accountable. Mike referred to polls. If we believe the Suffolk and Herald poll, I just made a very dumb statement, right, if I’m all about putting my finger in the wind. That’s not what I’m about as a candidate. That’s not what I’m about as a public servant or a professional. This is very important. The next mayor has the opportunity to be a transformative mayor with regard to urban education. And this school committee needs to remain an appointed school committee so the mayor is held accountable and responsible. When I was a member of the School Committee, Mayor Menino enlisted me and a few others to be his ambassadors, at least in District  5 where I was the city councilor, to work very, very hard to retain an appointed school committee. We’re not going to give back on that one.

Barros: More than anybody else’s base up here, I should be saying elected. But I believe it should be appointed. It needs to be an appointed school committee. However Mr. Ross,  there are members of the School Committee who are not rubber stamp members and are actually bold leaders with bold ideas. The process is flawed. We cannot have a School Committee that’s a closed source conversation.  Look what happened when we opened the conversation around school assignment, put out data, put out information, engaged more people in the community, brought families and parents in and had them help solve solutions with us. We got a really innovative idea for school assignment, and that’s what we need to do on the School committee. We need to make it more participatory. People are calling for an elected or a hybrid school committee because it’s not working for them.  As public officials, as the leader of the city, I would listen to that, create subcommittees, ways to engage, put out information so people can help us problem solve together. Parents can’t feel like they’re looking inside to the system that is teaching their children. They have to feel like they have a voice. We need to make it a more participatory, open process.

Consalvo : Look, this is a personal issue for me. I’m the only one on this stage that has kids in the Boston public schools. I’m proud that we chose the BPS. And I’m proud that I’m investing my three children’s future in public education in the Boston Public School preparing my kids for a future in high school and college. So I think we should keep the appointed school committee. My dad was executive secretary of the school committee during the Flynn administration. He told me the stories of how it operated then. We need to keep the politics out of the school system. We need to make sure we’re appointing the best and the brightest to the school committee. That means we need to think outside the box with folks who may want to have a role in public education in our city, people who may be nontraditional, people who may not be in the education field. We need to also engage the citizens in the neighborhoods and the parents of children in the Boston public school to have a real voice on the next school committee. We need to keep it appointed because that’s how I think we’re going to keep the politics out and have real people who care not about getting elected and not about a career path or a stepping stone to another office to help lead out schools.

As part of Boston’s climate action plan, there will be many new regulations that will have a significant impact on Boston’s business community. They will include building disclosure requirements, building code revisions, and many other measures. How can all these measures be implemented in a manner that makes sure the city remains economically competitive and what steps would you take to prepare the city for climate change?

Conley : I think that is also a monumental issue facing the next mayor and a short-sighted mayor would say, look if climate change makes the sea level rise I’ll be dead and buried by the time the water starts lapping into the city and therefore I won’t address this. Well, that’s not going to be me. One of the very first things I’m going to do is appoint a panel of business leaders but also scientists and climatologists. That’s one of the very first things we need to do. What is the plan going to be? We know that sea level is rising and we need to address this in a very comprehensive way. That’s one of the first things I would do. O f course, I don’t want to make things difficult for business. I will be a pro-growth mayor and I will  work closely with the business community to minimize the costs associated with that, but this is about the future of this city. Long after, if I’m fortunate to be elected mayor of this city, I’m gone but for posterity it is very important that we plan for climate change.

Barros : This is an opportunity to grow the economy, to grow a clean, green economy that allows us to address two important parts of our economy that needs to be green, which is transportation and buildings. As mayor what I would do is use the (burder?) ordinance to drive a space for innovation. Look at all the public municipal buildings and provide the opportunity for people to create solutions, innovations for improving our buildings’ energy efficiency. Once again, this requires an open-source conversation, putting out data, allowing people to network together to try to figure things out. And maybe an innovation fund that provides some incentives for people to create new technology to help address the problem. But Boston needs to look at this as an opportunity for job creation, for business creation, and not a limited factor for what it means to developers today. This is an opportunity and we have an opportunity framed, and that frame needs to be incentivized by the city of Boston, and I think we can start with our municipal buildings.

Consalvo: I’m glad that I addressed this and kind of answered it already. We need the BRA, our planning agency, as I said, we need to make climate change and our green economy and renewable energy and forms of alternative energy like solar and wind turbines our number one priority of public policy. Not just reacting to it, but actually making it a policy that’s part of our planning. So that’s why the next BRA director must have green experience in dealing with planning on these issues. I talked about the zoning code. We absolutely have to reform our zoning code and regularly update our zoning code to include green permitting and green building and green planning. The developers in our city use the zoning code as a guide for building in our neighborhoods and downtown. There has to be a dual approach between experience at the BRA, leadership that starts at the top, and an administration and a mayor who are making climate change and the green economy the No. 1 priority of their administration. And then surrounding the planning agencies and the permitting agencies with people who have real experience in making that happen. That’s how we do it.

Ross : I had a microtest run of this when I was first elected. I learned that a majority of my district was actually built on landfill that was losing its water table through the tunnels, the MBTA, and the Turnpike. Many of you had personal experience with this. So a group of people came to me and said the pilings are rotting and the water tables are dropping and we need to fix this. A massive infrastructure challenge that we actually pulled stake parties together and all forms of people together…and fixed. It’s on a very much smaller scale to what climate change is, but it is analogous. So we need to do that on a much larger scale. We need resilient design, mechanics on rooftops, like what we saw at Spaulding Rehab  in Charlestown and codify that into our zoning code and make it how we build moving forward.

Cambridge. Is it just a place we go to poach companies when we have an office building that needs to be filled or is there something more to that relationship and, if so, what is it and how would you foster it?

Barros : Are you recommending we acquire Cambridge? Regional statewide planning is really important. Smart growth. Understanding how we relate to these artificial boundaries and understand what we’re doing to create the kinds of relationships that help us as Boston but helps our neighborhoods to succeed because there’s really an intrinsic link. We need to do a better job of that. I would propose a conference of mayors of our neighboring cities, where we have ongoing dialogue not only with the mayors but also with the business leaders  in a way that there is more regional, smart-growth planning. Cambridge, of course, is a very important partner.  We do want to poach a little bit but that’s OK because they probably want to too. But we can have a conversation about the things that are mutually beneficial for both Boston and Cambridge.

Consalvo : Talking with cities like Cambridge and other cities around Massachusetts and quite frankly other cities around the country is critical on how we get best practices and new ideas to implement in our city to have our city do things better, more innovative, faster, more efficient. I pride myself on the council as being a guy who has been a leader in new ideas and innovation, but I’m not going to lie. I didn’t think of them all. I’ve taken them out of Governing magazine, which shows best practices from other cities around the country and what they’re doing. I’ve met with other councilors and talked on the phone with the mayor and other leaders from around the city. One of the things I’ve called for when I kicked off my campaign was a new office in City Hall, maybe a cabinet level position to create ideas and new innovation, surround themselves with smart people who will travel the country to get the best practices of other cities and towns like Cambridge and New York or Rome or Athens. We shouldn’t be afraid of the ideas of other cities that will make our city grow, be more innovative. We shouldn’t be afraid to take an idea from New York City just because we hate the Yankees.

Ross : I don’t think it is Ok that we poach business from Cambridge, Mr. Barros. I actually think it’s a race to the bottom. When we go there and offer tax breaks to them and they come here and do the same, it’s the race to the bottom.  I think we should partner with Cambridge. We should go to China or Silicon Valley and pitch them to come back here. Imagine the mayor of Boston and the president of MIT going together to bring business back to the city. That’s what we’ll need to do. As far as looking at other models from other cities, I’m proud of the column in the Boston Globe the other day that Renee Loth wrote about how the Boston Common came back.  We actually went to New York and brought back the best thing you can ever have in this business, an idea you’re not afraid to implement. We put it into place and the Boston Common is a different place today as a result of what we learned.

Conley : I would seek to foster a better relationship with Cambridge and many of the other contiguous cities. As District Attorney, of course, I served Boston but also Revere, Winthrop, and Chelsea. So I have experience in this area. The interests of Cambridge and Boston and some of the other contiguous urban areas – Somerville and Newton come to mind – they’re very compatible and we should be working together and not trying to poach and pilfer each other’s pro-growth policies. So I would look forward to doing that with all of the leaders in our contiguous communities. A lot of brainpower over there in Cambridge. There’s two really great universities and we should be sharing economic ideas and economic development principles together, so I would look forward to working with our contiguous cities to advance those ideas.

Lightening round:

As you run for mayor you’re always out there trying to get endorsements. Which endorsement would you  want most, the Boston Globe or the Boston Herald?

Consalvo : I want all the endorsements.

Ross : I would take the Globe.

Conley : I want them both.

Barros: Both

Do you support the existing PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program or would you change it?

Ross : I would make it better and stronger. I would it more equitable.

Conley: I like it, but I’d like to improve it as well.

Barros : Improve it in accord with the PILOT task force recommendations.

Consalvo: Improve it and make it fairer, more equitable.

Is it time to modify linkage payments for transportation and open space improvements?

Conley : I would consider that.

Barros : Yes.

Consalvo : Yes.

Ross: Yes.

Which of these two is the worst public space, Boston City Hall or City Hall plaza?

Barros : Tough one. Boston City Hall.

 Consalvo: They’re both bad.

Ross: They’re both bad but such opportunities for both.

Conley : City Hall Plaza.

Do you support pay as you throw recycling?

Consalvo : I do not.

Ross: Not yet

Conley : No

Barros : Pilot it

If you’re elected mayor, what is the one issue that would keep you up at night?

Ross: What you’re [the Boston Municipal Research Bureau] going to write in the next newsletter you put out.

Conley : The urgency of education reform.

Barros: The growing disparity of poverty. 22% of Boston lives below the poverty line.,

Consalvo : The schools and my kids’ future.

Would you be in favor of expediting the removal of the South Boston Postal annex?

Conley : Yes

Barros : Yes

Consalvo : Yes

Ross : Yes

Name for me one Massachusetts mayor who you would hold up as a model.

Barros : Bloomberg

Consalvo : Bloomberg

Ross : In Massachusetts, Joe Curtatone.

Conley : Although he’s relatively new to the office, Setti Warren. I think he’s got some great ideas.

What is your favorite Boston restaurant?

Consalvo : Did you start with me because I look like I like to eat the most on this stage? My favorite Boston restaurant would have to be Sophia’s Grotto in Roslindale.

Ross: The Palm

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Conley : Delfino, Roslindale Village.

Barros : The Palm.