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Meet the at-large candidates for Boston City Council

Posted by Roy Greene  October 19, 2011 12:48 PM
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By Boston.com

Seven candidates are vying for the four at-large seats on the Boston City Council in the general election Nov. 8. Meet the candidates:
Felix G. Arroyo (incumbent)ernestoarroyo2.jpg

Age: 32

Grew up: Born in the South End, raised in Hyde Park

Current residence: Wachusett Street, Jamaica Plain

Occupation: Full-time at-large city councilor

Education: Undergraduate studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston; master’s in community economic development, Southern New Hampshire University.
Personal: Wife, Jasmine, a Boston public school teacher; two rescue dogs, Xena and Jessy, and one rescue cat, Mr. Isis.

Hobbies: Playing and watching sports.

Website: www.felixarroyo.com

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the city?

A. Ensuring that all of our youths have access to opportunities to succeed. That means quality schools, safe neighborhoods, after school programs and summer and year-round jobs. It also means that their parents can afford to raise their children in our city in neighborhoods that they’re proud to call home.

Q. If re-elected, how do plan to unite the district’s many diverse neighborhoods and groups?

A. I ran for the Boston City Council at large because I believe that by working together we can and we will build a better Boston. As an experienced community organizer, I believe in “collaborative politics” – bringing people together so that everyone’s voice is heard.

By regularly attending neighborhood meetings and events throughout the city, I hear common themes in all our neighborhoods—we are linked in our common goal of living in a truly great city with opportunities for all, where all children have access to a quality education and where we all feel safe and live in a neighborhood we can be proud of.

Q. How can the city work to curb youth violence?

A. As a youth sports coach for more than eight years, I have a true appreciation for the benefits of investing in young people. I have made them my number one priority as a member of the council. Our office created a Youth Task Force made up of more than 30 youth organizations to address issues such as youth violence. Together, we were able to move various youth-focused issues including:

-- Organizing a youth conference where over 200 teenagers participated in creating a Boston Youth Agenda.

-- Leading the effort with the administration and my colleagues to restore more than 2,000 youth summer jobs in the past two city budgets.

-- Developing the Arroyo Youth Training Institute, where more than 50 young people attended four sessions in the month of August and learned how government works and how to do community organizing.

Q. Cuts are being made across the board in the city’s budget. What programs would you support cutting and which ones would you save?

A. I am proud of the leadership role our office took in the effort to save our branch libraries from closure, and I will continue to work to make sure that we do not lose a single library in our city.

More than half of Boston’s land is untaxed. It is either own by a university, college, hospital, or the state. This means that the tax burden is shifted onto small-business owners and homeowners. We must continue to pressure large non-profits to pay their fair share so that the city has more revenue and we can ease the burden on homeowners and small-business owners.

Q. Foreclosures are rampant in the city. How can you help people avoid losing their homes? And if they do, how as city councilor can you help them get back on their feet?

A. I have introduced the “Invest in Boston” ordinance. The ordinance will ensure that the City of Boston’s money is invested in banks that invest in Boston. When banks invest in Boston, we will see more jobs, a stronger housing market and revitalized small business districts. The city puts about $1 billion in banks, and the city should make sure those banks are part of the foreclosure solution, not part of the foreclosure crisis. As a result of the foreclosure crisis, there is an increased urgency for ensuring that affordable housing options are plentiful throughout the city.

John R. Connolly (incumbent) johnconnolly2.jpg

Age: 38

Grew up: Roslindale

Current Residence: Shaw Street, West Roxbury

Education: Roxbury Latin H.S., Harvard University, Boston College Law School

Occupation: City councilor

Personal: Married to Meg Kassakian Connolly; two children, Clare (3) and Teddy (2)

Link to website: www.connollyforboston.com

Q
. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the city?

A. The most immediate challenge facing Boston is youth violence, which is tied to our most important long-term challenge of building a world-class public school system. As a father, a former teacher, and chair of the council’s Education Committee, I understand that our city is stronger and safer when every child, from every community, has the opportunity to go to a great school in a safe neighborhood.

We also need to keep children in school and off the streets, which is why I have introduced legislation with Councilor Tito Jackson to raise the dropout age from age 16 to 18, and have proposed an innovative truancy program based on early intervention and family engagement. I have also worked to make our schools more transparent, to give parents, children, and teachers a greater voice, and to ensure that our children receive high-quality, healthy food in school.

Q. If re-elected, how do plan to unite the district’s many diverse neighborhoods and groups?

A. It is our shared interests and our shared values that unite us as a city. I work every day for One Boston, a city where every person, from every community, has the opportunity to live and work in a safe and healthy neighborhood with great schools. I have a long history of bringing people together from across the city to work on the issues that are important to all of us.

When I was growing up in Roslindale, people identified more strongly with their neighborhoods than with the city as a whole. I want to raise my children in a city where we all work together for One Boston. If re-elected, I will continue to bring people and communities together to work for safer streets, better schools, and healthy and livable neighborhoods across the city.

Q. Youth violence has been brought up as a major theme during this election. How can the city curb youth violence?

A. Early intervention is vital to curbing youth violence, which affects every community in the city. It is imperative that we identify and reach out to at-risk or potentially at-risk children from the earliest ages and to engage them along with their families, which is why I have proposed an innovative truancy program focused on early intervention, parental accountability, and family involvement.

Truancy is a gateway to dropping out, which all too frequently leads to crime and addiction. I have also introduced legislation with Councilor Tito Jackson to raise the dropout age to keep more kids in school and off the streets. We also need a strategic commitment to real community policing, which means having beat officers who walk and bike the streets.

It also means fostering strong relationships between our police and our neighborhood watch groups, civic organizations, community-based organizations, houses of worship, and youth workers in order to prevent crime and strengthen the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

Q. Cuts are being made across the board. What programs would you cut and which ones would you save?

A. I believe that the City of Boston is too dependent on property taxes and we need to diversify our revenue sources. Municipalities like Boston need more flexibility from the State in developing local revenues and I will continue to work to identify new revenue sources. Any potential cuts must be identified as part of a collaborative effort that involves discussions with all stakeholders and is part of a transparent budget process.

Q. Foreclosures are rampant in the city. How would you help people avoid losing their homes? And if they do, how as city councilor would you help them get back on their feet?

A. The mortgage crisis has been devastating for many families and communities and foreclosures and short sales only undermine our neighborhoods. I believe that banks and lenders should work with owners to modify mortgages and limit the penalties and fees which make it impossible for homeowners to get back on track after a job loss or other economic hardship. Such an approach is better for owners, lenders and the city because it maintains home values while stabilizing our communities and our economy.

Will DorcenaWillDorcena2.jpg

Age: 38

Where grew up: Howard Avenue, Uphams Corner, Dorchester

Current Residence: Hyde Park

Education: St. Kevin's School, Boston College High School, Boston College, MBA at Babson College

Occupation: Small-business owner – CenaMaven, marketing and consulting

Personal: Husband and father to 2-year-old daughter

Hobbies: Running, playing chess, spending time with my daughter

Link to website: www.WillDorcena.com

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the city?

A. Improving our Boston Public Schools system in a manner that does not betray the important roles that they play in our individual neighborhood communities. We need to invest in our neighborhood schools and stop closing them to make room for charter schools. Parents want to be proud of the schools near them. If we fix the public schools, we will fix many related problems like crime and violence.

Q. If elected, how do plan to unite the district’s many diverse neighborhoods and groups?

A. I would eliminate the code words used by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, such as “North Dorchester”, “South Dorchester”, and “Lower Roxbury.” That’s a practical action step that the city can do right now. Growing up in Dorchester, the kids in my neighborhood and I always understood the code words that are designed to divide.

I would also block all measures that are carried out in a manner that divides the city. A recent example is the move by the Boston Public Schools department to locate Boston Arts Academy to the site of Boston Latin Academy, which played out in a tense school committee meeting on September 7.

Q. Youth violence has been brought up as a major theme during this election. How can the city curb youth violence?

A. There is no question that good parenting is the first step in curbing youth violence. Boston can help to coordinate efforts that intervene in the homes of our most troubled youth. The second step is education. Boston Public Schools spends over $1 billion each year on education, yet still consistently produces less-than-stellar results. As councilor, I would call hearings to find out exactly where our money is going (general funds, and outside general funds). The third step that the city can take is to work with the business community to provide summer jobs for our youth.

I grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Dorchester, and I am not afraid to speak directly to the youths and their families, challenge the entrenched views of the education community, and push large businesses to be more proactive citizens. Boston must break the vicious cycle of poor education, crime, and violence.

Q. Cuts are being made across the board. What programs would you cut and which ones would you save?

A. I will work hardest to preserve programs that invest in our communities, such as education, youth jobs and community centers. I would cut back on external consulting contracts and shift that work to the public employees who are trained and hired to work for our city.

Q. Foreclosures are rampant in the city. How would you help people avoid losing their homes? And if they do, how as city councilor would you help them get back on their feet?

A. I would work closely with the banks to identify homeowners on the edge, and then develop a plan to mediate an acceptable solution to both parties. Although homeowners are responsible for the outcome of their financial decisions, the city loses when thousands of taxpaying residents fall into financial hardship. As city councilor, it is my job to ensure our most vulnerable get assistance.

michaelflaherty2.jpgMichael Flaherty (Served on City Council from 2000-2009 and council president from 2002-2006.

Age: 42

Where grew up: South Boston

Current residence: Columbia Road, South Boston

Education: Boston College High School, Boston College, Boston University School of Law

Occupation: Attorney

Personal: My wife Laurene and four kids -- Patrick and Michael, and my twins Ella and Jack.

Hobbies: Hockey, fishing, and scuba diving.

Website: www.michaelflaherty.com

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the city?

A. I see our city's greatest challenge as meeting our budgetary requirements within the constraints of limited revenue sources and a diminishing revenue base. This challenge is inextricably linked to fixing our public school system and attracting and retaining middle-class families.

Q. If returned to the council, how do plan to unite the district’s many diverse neighborhoods and groups?

A. The question assumes a lack of basic "unity" among Boston's neighborhoods and "groups," which might be racial or ethnic groups, demographic or social groups, or some combination of all of these. Boston is a heterogeneous and culturally diverse city, and the differences among us are what help give Boston its unique character and vitality.

I believe our city IS united, in the sense that all of our people, in all of our neighborhoods, share many of the same hopes, dreams, and goals, trials, travails and tribulations. We have our differences and disagreements, to be sure, and there are in fact significant divisions along racial, ethnic or class lines, but not near to the extent there was even during my own adulthood.

I have always sought to be a “uniter.” I have worked every bit as hard for the voters of South Boston as I have for the South End, for the families living in West Roxbury, and for the voters in Chinatown. My campaigns, my dedicated volunteers, and my City Hall staff have always looked like our city as a whole: African-American and white, Asian and Hispanic, gay and straight, people with disabilities, men and women from every district and corner of our city.

I try to lead on this issue--of inclusiveness and opportunity for all--by example, and I honestly believe I have done a good job. I plan to continue to draw upon all and everyone our city has to offer and will always strive to bring people and constituencies together.

Q. Youth violence has been brought up as a major theme during this election. How can the city curb youth violence?

A. We must formulate a comprehensive strategy involving police and communities in order to combat the regular spikes in gun violence and youth violent crime, particularly in the summer months. Overall statistics swing back and forth, but certain neighborhoods of our city have recently come to resemble shooting galleries.

Residents of neighborhoods where violent crime is an almost daily occurrence deserve better than to live in fear. We must do more. As a city councilor, I worked to close a loophole in gun laws which imposed more lenient sentencing standards for keeping an illegal firearm in the home. A mandatory minimum sentence was in place for carrying an illegal firearm on our streets, but no similar standard was in place for illegal guns in the home until the City Council passed my legislation.

As a councilor, I also introduced legislation in 2008 to ban all armor-piercing ammunition, and advocated strongly for officials to expand on a citywide basis the successful Chinatown Crime Watch program, embracing a community approach to public safety.

Such community-based programs, which use neighborhood adults familiar with area families and the children and young adults who are heading in the wrong direction, are a key to helping turn around the alarming situation where many of our neighborhoods have become particularly at risk to youth-orientated criminal activity. An important initiative should be the development of a data and information sharing process to analyze and identify specific problems and problem areas in our city, particularly youth violence hot spots.The formation of multi-departmental teams focusing on such hot spots, or on problem individuals, should be a priority.

We must also continue to strive to improve relationships between residents—and particularly young people—police, and city agencies, particularly in cultures or neighborhoods where suspicion of government authorities is a fact of life. Since many “quality of life” infractions often serve to foster a disrespect for the law and lead to further breakdowns in the social contract and criminal activity, particularly among young people, we must do a better job to focus on code enforcement and building inspections in problem areas to improve the aesthetic and structural quality of life for our city’s residents.

We also cannot continue to cut summer jobs programs, close libraries and end after-school programs, all of which have a proven track record of diverting young people from criminal enterprises.

Perhaps most importantly, I continue to call for better drug treatment options for those caught in the cycle of dependence and despair which fuels most of Boston’s violent crime problem, particularly among young people. Alcohol and illegal drug use are decimating children and whole families. From East Boston to Hyde Park, from South Boston to Brighton, no neighborhood has been spared. Yet, I see little in the way of a prioritized, comprehensive strategy to rid our city of this scourge. I believe we cannot continue to ask the police to arrest our way out of this problem, and that the City of Boston must do more to make expanding treatment options an issue of the highest priority.

Q. Cuts are being made across the board. What programs would you cut and which ones would you save?

A. I believe we need to make a top-to-bottom audit of how the City of Boston spends money, track where the money goes, and eliminate duplicative, wasteful and/or ineffective services and outlays of taxpayer monies. I believe there are many areas of the city budget that could be targeted for elimination or otherwise made more efficient before cutting funding for services such as libraries and community centers. I have argued for years that the city should implement a CitiStat program to track, monitor, and increase the efficiency of the provision of basic city services and save money.

I would propose cutting money the city currently spends on non-employee contract services, such as the large outlays paid by the Law Department. I would also cut the huge amount of money spent on transportation by the School Department.

CitiStat would reduce our budget by delivering more efficient city services, and detecting overly costly or inefficient practices. Such a program would help drive the quality of city services up while driving costs down. The city of Baltimore saved $350 million in the first seven years of implementation. In the first year alone, $6 million was saved in overtime costs, directly addressing the chronic absenteeism within Baltimore's public works department.

Q. Foreclosures are rampant in the city. How would you help people avoid losing their homes? And if they do, how as city councilor would you help them get back on their feet?

A. I would support the sort of ordinance implemented in, or being considered by, many other cities in the United States and Massachusetts, which would impose a requirement that foreclosing banks post a certain minimum cash bond to assist the city in securing and maintaining vacant properties. I would also seek to explore an ordinance imposing a requirement that foreclosing banks enter into good-faith mediation with homeowners before foreclosing.

I have always believed that city government can and must do a better job at improving financial literacy among our residents. Outreach and education could help individuals from falling victim to scam mortgage programs and other ill-advised credit decisions.

In terms of helping families find housing they actually can afford, which would reduce the number of families facing foreclosure because of the inability to meet unrealistically large mortgage payments, it is essential that we do more to help create quality affordable housing in Boston for working families, and not merely multi-million dollar condos for the ultra-rich. Affordable housing creation has always been an issue of major importance for me.

During my time as a city councilor, I proposed broad and creative strategies to increase our supply of affordable quality housing. Some of these initiatives included having the city assess any unused properties in the city--especially city, state or BRA owned--to determine if they could be developed for affordable housing. I have made repeated public calls for Boston's Catholic Archdiocese to award the City of Boston a first right of refusal to purchase decommissioned Church properties for the development of affordable housing.

Also, as long ago as 1999, I called on the city to adopt an inclusionary zoning policy, which required developers to set aside a certain percentage of units for affordable housing. When the Mayor issued an executive order the following year which required certain projects to set aside 10% of units as affordable--our current executive order on Inclusionary Development--I endorsed codifying the policy to give it permanency, predictability and transparency, and advocated raising the affordable contribution percentage to 15 percent.

I additionally advocated that the city provide tax incentives to developers to build affordable units on site as a way to create true mixed income housing. I also have advocated that affordable housing exactions be adjusted to account for inflation and the rising costs of constructing affordable units.

I have also consistently supported the adoption in Boston of the Community Preservation Act, and was the first At-Large City Councilor to support the CPA in 200Q. In 2001, I supported a call to determine the feasibility of waiving the cost of any permit or approval fee for applicants seeking to establish affordable housing units in the city. In 2002, I requested that the city look into acquiring surplus state land in the city to build homes and fast-track the municipal approval process for developments, including affordable units.

Additionally, I co-sponsored a resolution urging the Department of Neighborhood Development to give priority to city residents seeking affordable housing opportunities over people living outside of Boston seeking the same opportunities. Two years after that resolution, DND established its policy giving preference to documented Boston residents either applying for homebuyer assistance programs or seeking other affordable housing opportunities.

stephenmurphy2.jpgStephen J. Murphy (incumbent, current council president)

Age 53

Born: Dorchester, raised in Hyde Park

Education: Graduated from Boston Latin ’75, graduated from Stonehill College ’79 with a degree in Business Administration

Website: www.stephenjmurphy.com


Q. Biggest challenge facing the city?

A. The overarching issue for this upcoming year is a singular one: the national economic crisis. There will be even less revenue available from Washington, D.C., and from our partners on Beacon Hill. As we face this shortfall in resources from outside sources, the non-programmatic portion of our budget continues to expand rapidly. This includes health care, pensions and debt services, which have grown at five times the rate of the city’s operating budget. If this trend continues and we don’t find any additional revenue sources we will not be able to adequately fund schools, fire and other essential services to the level that our residents expect and deserve.

That is why I led the effort, along with the Mayor, to reform the P.I.L.O.T. (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) formula. Our new formula will increase the amount that colleges and hospitals contribute to the City from $14 million a year to over $42 million a year in 201Q. This will generate a new revenue stream the city can use to fund essential services.

Q. How do you propose to unite the city’s many diverse neighborhoods and groups?

A. It has been my job for the past 15 years to enhance the quality of life in every neighborhood. Every taxpayer and resident deserves good schools, safe streets and a healthy environment that they call home. We have seen massive budget cuts at both the federal and state levels in recent years; however the Mayor and the City Council have collectively managed the city’s finances in a responsible manner so that Boston continues to work for its residents. Each resident, no matter where they live needs to feel that their city government is both responsible with tax dollars and responsive to their needs.

Q How can the city help curb youth violence?

A. The city has been more effective than most major urban areas with regard to youth violence. In spite of a down economy, we continue to fully fund youth summer jobs. We offer a wide variety of youth programming at BCYF sites across the city. We will expand educational opportunities for careers in the trades at our high school. We continue to focus collaborative efforts between police, clergy, schools and court resources in an effort to reach our kids before they make poor choices. I will be introducing a mentoring program later this fall.

Q. Cuts are being made across the board in the city budget. What programs would you cut and which ones would you save?

A. Nearly every department in the city has faced repeated cuts over the last five years. We saved libraries and community centers from closure during the last budget cycles. Areas where additional savings could be achieved are: forcing police and fire department to live within their overtime allotments and reducing the bloated school transportation budget. Nothing upsets me more than to see mostly empty school busses crisscrossing around the city. The routing system for school buses is a colossal example of inefficiency.

Q. How would you help people avoid losing their homes? If they lose their homes, how would you help them get back on their feet?

A. The city has been in the forefront of efforts to reclaim foreclosed properties and put them back to productive use. Mayor Menino rolled out a foreclosure prevention initiative, the first of its kind in the nation, to prevent tenants from being displace out of foreclosed homes.

We will continue our work with the mayor to provide consumer outreach, information, and counseling to help Boston homeowners avoid predatory lending and foreclosure. The City’s foreclosure program allows residents to receive free advice from specialists on how to prevent foreclosures, avoid predatory lending schemes, get out of debt, and it offers important financing options for Boston residents. You can access this information by emailing HomeCenter.DND@cityofboston.gov .


Ayanna Pressley (incumbent)

Pressley did not return boston.com questionnaire. Click here for her website.

Sean Ryanseanryan2.jpg

Age: 31

Grew up: Jamaica Plain,

Current residence: Lamartine Street, JP

Occupation: Musician and teacher

Education: Trotter School in Roxbury; Hennigan School in JP; ML King School in Dorchester; Boston Latin School. Undergrad: Harvard University, BA in Music
Graduate: Cleveland Institute of Music, MM in Orchestral Conducting

Hobbies: Bike-riding, vegetable gardening, economics

Website: www.seanryanforcitycouncil.com/

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the city?

A. The public schools -- like many government programs -- are failing to achieve their stated ends, while costing more money than taxpayers can comfortably afford. We need to allow parents to opt out of lotteries and attend neighborhoods schools, with charter schools and other options available for all parents who prefer them.

Q. If elected, how do plan to unite the city’s diverse neighborhoods and groups?

A. I grew up in JP, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, went to public schools in Roxbury and Dorchester, and was taught to treat people as individuals, rather than as members of ethnic or social groups. By telling the truth about the problems facing our city, I believe I can unite people of all stripes to work together toward our common goals.

Q. How can the city curb youth violence?

A. Youth violence is a symptom of poverty, joblessness, and the lure of high profits in the underground drug trade. We need to better the business climate, and consider lowering the minimum wage, so that businesses can afford to hire unskilled kids to their first job. We should make unused public land available and allow Bostonians to volunteer their time in the summer, teaching jobless kids how to farm. We should reform our drug-prevention policies, so that drugs are taken off of the streets and put into a regulated and safe environment, and police have more time and energy for preventative measures such as regularly walking the beat.

Q. Cuts are being made across the board in the city’s budget. What programs would you cut and which ones would you save?

A. I would phase out the BPS transportation program (busing), for all but those with special needs, and spend less money on a downtown bureaucracy, and more money in the classrooms. I would save libraries and community centers, as well as ask neighborhoods and civic associations to volunteer in helping to run, staff and take an active ownership role in these institutions.

Q. Foreclosures are rampant in the city. How would you help people avoid losing their homes? And if they do, how as city councilor would you help them get back on their feet

A. Landlords are the ones who are in danger of losing their properties. An expedited foreclosure and bankruptcy process would allow properties to be transferred to those people with the means to pay for and maintain them, and could be arranged in such a way as to have minimal harm on tenants. We should not attempt to prop up the market. When prices are allowed to fall, housing will be more affordable for those who have been thrifty - and who have saved rather than borrowed or lent irresponsibly.

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