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District 7 campaign pulls crowded field

Bridgit Brown
District 7 campaign pulls crowded field

Among the seven candidates for the District 7 Boston City Council seat, the key issues are revitalizing the district’s economic base, improving public education at underperforming schools and increasing public safety. Cornell Mills, the son of the former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, talks with supporters at a recent fund-raising event. (Tony Irving photos)

Haywood Fennell holds court with potential supporters.
Front-runner Tito Jackson recently received the endorsement of first lady Diane Patrick.

Roxbury voters will head to the polls next week to narrow the field of candidates seeking to replace ousted Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner in the District 7 seat.

Seven hopefuls will appear on the Feb. 15 ballot, but only two will qualify for the final election to be held on March 15.

The crowded preliminary contest includes some familiar faces as well as first-time candidates with considerable support.

Tito Jackson, the son of labor activist Herb Jackson, most recently served as Gov. Deval Patrick’s political director and has already garnered a number of major endorsements in the contest. He finished fifth in the last at-large city council election.

Cornell Mills, the son of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, has been working the district since the special election was called in the wake of Turner’s conviction of federal bribery charges and ouster from the 13-member city council.

Rounding out the top tier of candidates are former state Rep. Althea Garrison, Natalie E. Carithers, Danielle Renee Williams, Roy Owens and write-in candidiate Haywood Fennel.

Jackson says he has a five-point plan to revitalize the district. That community-based plan includes growing local business, improving job training programs, increasing safety by fostering community forums on crime and neighborhood watch programs and creating more affordable housing.

Cornel Mills, 36, is a native of Boston. Seeing crime and violence as the top issues concerning the district, Mills wants to reinstitute the concept of community policing. “We’ve turned away from that,” he says. “When it was successful in the nineties, it was because the community was at the center of it. There’s more of a focus on the religious community and prosecutors taking over that fight. At this point, we need to find a way to get our community members, brothers, sisters, fathers, everybody involved in the policing efforts.”

Recalling a recent visit to the Burke High School, he said he was surprised to learn that 60 percent of black and Latino youths are dropping out of that school.     “We need to do proactive intervention, as well as trauma and mental health counseling in the schools because most of the children in the community are directly and indirectly dealing with the violence issues of the community.”

Mills said he wants to establish proactive training programs that will teach necessary skills. For example, he said, “If there is a huge windfall of jobs coming to this state, we need to figure out what the qualifications are and have a three to sixth month window to train people so that by the time the jobs get here they will be ready to go.”

He also wants to focus on entrepreneurship by encouraging and supporting small businesses, as well as keeping the money that is made and spent in the community.

To date, Mills has raised approximately $7,000, with a significant portion of this coming out of his own pockets. “I’ve been putting my own money where my mouth is in terms of financial support,” Mill said. “But I’m optimistic and I see it as a sacrifice.”

He has a field crew of approximately 40 volunteers throughout the district; and a staff of six advisors, including a treasurer, a fundraising chair and someone working on his senior development work.

Mills is very clear on what his priorities are as a city councilor. He understands that as a councilor he will not pass laws, but will be an advocate for the district’s needs.

“As a city councilor,” he said, “my hope is to be a hands-on leader who is on the streets, in the community and on the ground, dealing with the residents’ issues. Everyone talks about having a district office, but what I would prefer to do is to partner with different churches and community groups and have a roving office where I post a calendar online and people can find me at a given time in a particular location.”

Althea Garrison has been a resident of Boston for more than 40 years. She attended Newbury College, Suffolk University and Harvard University. Her professional experience now includes a 23-year post as vice president of the Upham’s Corner Health Center. She is also a former state representative and sat on the election committee then, helping to pass the first law in the nation for mail-in voter registrations.

Garrison said that she is in favor of old-fashioned politics. And education. “I think any one that is concerned about education should have an education themselves,” she said.

She supports job creation and economic development for District 7. “We don’t have a lot of jobs in the district and I am for creating jobs and giving businesses tax breaks, provided that they create a certain number of jobs in the district.”

Her campaign has not raised a lot of money, but she said this race is not going to be about money. “In the end, the people will elect the person that has done a good job and who deserves to be elected.” With four dedicated volunteers, she says that her campaign depends on being totally grassroots.

Natalie Carithers was born and raised in Boston. It was while working for state Rep. Willie Mae Allen that she began to start thinking seriously about entering the political arena. She served as Allen’s legislative aide.

As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, Carithers holds a seat on their national committee. She also served two terms as president of her chapter, and belongs to the Boston section of National Council of Negro Women, the NAACP, the Eastern Stars and the Women’s Pipeline for Change, which educates and supports women of color as they run for political office.

On crime, Carithers wants to increase the number of available crime watch groups in the district, and do so street-by-street and neighbor-to-neighbor. “Our neighbors must feel free to release information. I don’t like to say ‘snitch.’ I like to say ‘tell the truth’ about what is going on.”

And that means working with police when necessary. “We have a very strained relationship, and we need to work together,” she said. “We need them to solve this problem. We can’t do it on our own.”

Improving education is also a top priority. “If our schools are underperforming, then why are they under-performing?” she asks. “It’s not just the children. It might be the teaching style that our children are not grasping …We are diverse and we learn diversely.”

Carithers said she wants to build a skillful workforce in the district by advocating for more programs to prepare citizens to take on and succeed at jobs.

“Our greatest resource, is human resources,” she said.