Voters had the opportunity to get a firsthand look at the viewpoints and personalities of the 12 Boston mayoral candidates as Suffolk University hosted the only televised and webcast forum preceding the Sept. 24 preliminary election at the Modern Theatre.
Suffolk University students posed some of the most intriguing questions of the evening, addressing issues of job creation, how to balance security and privacy in fighting terrorism, drug availability, transportation and climate change.
And one student was offered an internship on the spot.
Jobs & an internship offer
Rose Garcia, who hopes to work in Boston when she graduate in two years, asked about job creation for young people and whether the candidates would support a ban on unpaid interns
“We want you to stay here, so that means we have to invest in new and small business; those are the ones that create jobs,” said City Councilor John Connolly. “We’ve got to make sure we have housing you can afford. And if you eventually have a family, I want you to stay in Boston for a lifetime, so that means we need to give you great public schools. It’s all of these pieces that are going to get you to be the talent that stays here and drive our economic engine.”
Counselor Rob Consalvo said that paid and unpaid internships are key to giving students the experience they need to get a leg up in the work community.
“I wouldn't be sitting here today if I hadn't had an internship in Sen Ted Kennedy’s office, which was unpaid, which led to a job in his office, which led to me serving in public service today.”
District Attorney Dan Conley asked Garcia what she was studying, and when he heard that she was majoring in political science with a philosophy minor, said:
“I have an unpaid internship for you right now.”
There was a cacophony of internship offers from other candidates before Conley regained the floor to repeat the offer, saying: “Many of our unpaid interns go on to be hired either in our office or in other branches of government.”
Expanding public transportation
In response to student Shana Berry’s question about whether candidates support the concept of round-the-clock public transportation, City Councilor Mike Ross said that, when he was elected in 1999, “I worked with the MBTA and students to get the Night Owl, and for four years we had late-night transit to 3 a.m.”
Ross said that the next mayor “has no choice but to make sure adequate public transportation is funded” and criticized the Legislature for passing a transportation package this year that won't increase capacity or late-night service.
Conley said that funding for improved service could come from the Legislature and efficiencies that could be achieved by the MBTA. “It’s a pro-growth agenda,” he said.
Advancing city’s economic development will depend on an improved public transportation system, according to community organizer Bill Walczak.
“I supported the business community’s approach, which was to increase the gas tax,” said Walczak. “The innovation district in South Boston is being strangled by the fact that we don't have sufficient public transportation.”
Citing recent deaths from the Molly drug, student Elainy Mata asked what the candidates would do to reduce drug use among young people in Boston:
Businessman Charles Clemons, a former Boston police officer, said that it’s important to invest in and strengthen families, which strengthens the community.
“I understand how important it is to have community policing, for us to bring that trust back to the Boston Police Department,” he said, calling for partnerships between police and residents, businesses and organizations as well as jobs and education for young people.
“We have to educate our kids at a younger age,” said State Rep. Marty Walsh. “We're talking about Molly … but we have heroin on the streets; we have pills on the streets. … What’s happening is that one pill, one oxycontin pill is taking some of our kids on a ride, a ride to death.”
In response to student Kelly Lyons’ question about how the next mayor will protect city against rising sea levels, Ross cited a plan to reduce the city’s carbon footprint that was put together by business leaders and is on course to meet its goals for 2020 and 2050.
“But we could be carbon neutral tomorrow, and we still have a problem,” said Ross. “The next mayor has to address climate change the way Mayors Menino and Bloomberg treated the gun campaign, and I will.” He said that collaboration with other cities and regions will be essential.
A disastrous storm could hit any time, according to Wolczak. “The most important thing we can do is to protect our infrastructure, especially the tunnels–our subway and big dig tunnels. If salt water hits those, we're in deep trouble; it’s going to cost billions of dollars. We need to do this on an urgent basis.”
Balancing public safety & privacy
Student Donald Desroser asked how, in the wake of the Marathon bombings, city leaders can balance a need for increased of security with a need to protect privacy.
“Let’s not be afraid of technology,” said Consalvo. “We'll use it, we'll balance the privacy issues, but we'll use it to keep our city safe.”
John Barros, a former member of the School Committee, said that technology alone does not solve crimes.
“We have to build relationships in our neighborhoods so people can watch out for each other. We have to make sure that people are engaged in keeping neighborhoods safe,” he said.
There were calls for better community policing, communication and changes in police leadership, with Ross decrying the lack of women and people of color at the higher echelons of the Boston Police Department.
When it comes to crime in Boston, it’s a “tale of two cities,” said Charlotte Golar Richie, a former state representative. “We need to shine a light on pockets in our city still wracked by violence.”
“We need a police department that looks like the community and speaks the language of the community,” said Clemons. “We have to bring trust back to policing.”
“The Police Department of 2014 should have different leadership,” said Counselor Charles Yancey, who called for more diversity in the department and a renewed focus on community policing.
City Councilor Felix Arroyo noted that most violent crime in the city occurs in three neighborhoods.
“People struggle with whether their children be shot,” he said. “The most violent thing that happens in our neighborhoods is poverty; twenty percent of our people live in poverty.”
The forum was sponsored by Suffolk University, the Boston Herald and NECN.