Boston mayor candidates similar on environment

Large field makes debate difficult

THE CROWDED FIELD in the race for mayor of Boston is transforming some candidate forums and debates into little more than get-acquainted sessions for voters.

At a forum on Tuesday at the Suffolk University Law School hosted by a number of environmental groups and activists, there was little disagreement among the nine candidates who showed up. All said they were pro-environment and all said they would mobilize the city to prepare for the impact of climate change.  Some of the candidates offered novel proposals, but the only policy area where there was any significant debate was on how to boost the city’s low recycling rate.

According to the city’s website, Boston was recycling 17 percent of its trash as of March, slightly below the target rate of 19 percent. The Boston recycling rate is one of the lowest in the state and also well below the rates of similar-size cities nationwide.

Boston mayoral candidate John Barros, a former school committee member, said in response to a question that the city needs to consider a pay-as-you-throw program, which charges residents for the pickup of trash but not for recyclables. More than a third of Massachusetts communities have adopted pay-as-you-throw programs to give their residents a financial incentive to recycle. Boston officials have been reluctant to embrace pay-as-you-throw for fear it would lead to trash dumping. They also worry about charging residents for a service that has always been paid for out of the city’s tax revenues.

Unlike Barros, City Councilor John Connolly said the city needs to do more than consider pay as you throw. If elected, he said he would launch a pilot pay-as-you-throw program in one part of the city and then expand it citywide. By contrast, candidate Bill Walczak, the former head of Carney Hospital and currently a vice president at Shawmut Design and Construction, said he is not a fan of pay-as-you-throw, since it can lead to trash dumping and would also hit low-income people the hardest.

City Councilors Felix Arroyo and Michael Ross and former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie didn’t take a position on pay-as-you-throw, instead stressing that they have demonstrated  the type of leadership in the past on environmental issues that shows they can bring up the city’s recycling rate. “It’s about education and it’s about ease,” Richie said.

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.

All of the mayoral candidates said they were strong supporters of solar power. All said they would promote public transit and bicycling to reduce carbon emissions, air pollution, and the city’s high asthma rate. Walczak held up his bike helmet to show he meant what he said about the benefits of bicycling.

In the novel idea category, Ross said he would deputize the city’s traffic division employees to enforce the city’s law prohibiting drivers from idling their vehicles, which he said contributes to carbon emissions. Arroyo said he wants to see the city divest any funds invested in fossil fuel companies.