For Jackson, tight squeeze to Walsh’s left
Marty Walsh is out of touch with issues affecting working-class people and those in the city’s less affluent neighborhoods. He’s more attuned to downtown development than down-on-their-luck constituents, and he hasn’t been willing to confront the city’s long-festering race issues.
If that sounds like a tough case to make against Boston’s workaday mayor, a recovering alcoholic who grew up in a Dorchester triple-decker and was once grazed by a bullet while out too late on a neighborhood corner, you’ll appreciate the challenge facing Tito Jackson.
The Roxbury district city councilor is Walsh’s main opponent in his first reelection race this fall. Jackson held forth for an hour yesterday in an interview with WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti and Globe reporter Meghan Irons at the University of Massachusetts Boston. (Walsh will sit down for a similar interview today.)
Reprising some of the same themes from his kick-off announcement and early interviews after entering the race in January, Jackson railed against gentrification and the fact that there is a 30-year average life expectancy difference between residents in the wealthy Back Bay corner of his district and those in Roxbury. He slammed Walsh for giving tax breaks to lure General Electric, and reminded everyone of the key role he played in subpoenaing city documents related to the ill-fated Olympics bid.
Walsh certainly doesn’t fit the profile of a tree-hugging Cambridge lefty, but his record on everything from gay marriage to immigrant rights puts him well left-of-center. At the same time, he still connects by Irish Catholic background and temperament with more conservative white voters who will likely look past some of his specific stands. What it all means is that Walsh, like Tom Menino before him, and Ray Flynn before him, makes it hard to mount a strong campaign in today’s Boston going hard to his left, while there aren’t nearly enough hard-line conservatives left in the city to go his right.
Walsh has vowed to put the city on track to see 53,000 new units of housing built by 2030. Jackson decried the amount of luxury housing sprouting in Boston, and said even some of the affordable units are not affordable to families in Roxbury earning less than $50,000 a year. The building boom nonetheless spun off $55 million in payments from developers last year to the city’s affordable housing fund, almost twice the amount collected the year before.
On race, Jackson said in yesterday’s interview, “We need to acknowledge that racism does exist in the city of Boston, and that we have to hit it head-on.”
But Walsh has spoken frankly about the continued problem of racism in the city and has appointed the city’s first “chief resilience officer,” a position charged with addressing everything from economic inequality to racism. Jackson said yesterday that the office does not have funding to carry out its work.
Whether on housing or race, these are difference of degree, not of kind. It doesn’t mean there aren’t real differences between Walsh and Jackson. It just means it’s harder to draw the kind of stark distinction that voters often need to see to be motivated to make a change. That makes the challenge for Jackson — already poised to be vastly outspent by Walsh — particularly tough.
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