Dist. 7 candidates debate
Residents turned out at the Twelfth Baptist Church last week to hear from the candidates seeking to replace longtime incumbent Gloria Fox when she steps down from the Seventh Suffolk district House seat.
Three Democrat women of color will face off in the Thursday, Sept. 8 state primary: Marydith Tuitt, chief of staff to Rep. Gloria Fox; Monica Cannon, community liaison/youth worker for Roca; and Chynah Tyler, former aide to Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz.
Louis Elissa, president of the Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association, moderated the discussion, presenting questions submitted by audience members.
Cannon said that to combat recidivism, work is needed to ensure those returning from incarceration can satisfy their basic needs. Job training is not enough if an individual cannot find housing — a major problem that she said she has encountered in her work with Roca.
“You can’t expect someone to change their life if they don’t have somewhere to sleep at night,” Cannon said.
Another issue Cannon noted: Employers discriminating against those with criminal records. Making such discrimination illegal has not quashed the practice, only the public acknowledgement of it, she said. One potential fix is to pass laws creating incentives for hiring ex offenders.
Tuitt said any policy to reduce crime must identify and target the factors that push people into criminal activities in the first place, such as difficulty obtaining and keeping jobs and housing, and providing family support.
“A lot of it stems from their environment: lack of jobs, lack of a way to maintain and hold their families,” Tuitt said. “We have to look at root causes.”
Tyler said providing more opportunities to youth would deter many from violence, and said she has people on her staff with recently-sealed records.
To improve local economic outcomes, Tyler said small businesses need opportunities for landing contracts development sites and that jobs on these sites need to go to local residents. Achieving such goals may require provision of workforce training.
Cannon and Tuitt similarly emphasized the need for contractors and developers to hire local residents. Tuitt said that while it is illegal to tell developers who to hire, the community can give recommendations and assist developers in making the kinds of hiring decisions it wishes to see. This includes quickly connecting developers with local applicants and supporting residents in securing and maintaining positions, once hired.
Cannon spoke of a need to provide employer incentives for hiring youth with CORIs. As an example, she pointed to the federal bonding program, under which employers unable to obtain commercial insurance to protect them in the event of employee dishonesty — such as theft or embezzlement — for at-risk hires can secure interim federally-provided coverage instead.
In statements made prior to the meeting, all candidates said they support increasing minimum wages to $15 an hour and providing workforce training.
Schools and Question 2
Tuitt and Cannon said they oppose lifting the cap on charter schools because of the financial damage it represents to district schools due to unfunded charter reimbursements.
“If this was a business, you would not take on more debt without having the funding to compensate that debt,” said Cannon, who has five children in BPS schools.
Tuitt also said charter schools need to fix their handling of children with special needs and disabilities before talking about expansion. Speaking on BPS, Tuitt also called for updating school buildings and making at least half of the school committee members elected.
Tyler cited her time attending both district and charter schools and said debates over lifting the cap distract from a more significant discussion: ensuring that a variety of quality options are provided.
“Lifting the cap — that’s not the discussion,” Tyler said at the meeting. “The discussion is parents want good quality options for their children.”
In a printed statement, she said she supports passing Question 2.
Asked about transit disparities in the district, Tuitt said any approach needs to examine how not just bus lines but also the Silver, Green and Purple lines impact the district. The Silver Line still has not restored the connectivity lost when the Orange Line moved. While the district has among the highest bus ridership, those vehicles are old, and fare increases especially impact seniors, she said. Tuitt also took a moment to praise the Hubway bicycle rental company, which recently opened new stations in Roxbury.
Tyler decried the district’s buses as among the slowest and said the communities should be receiving faster, better buses, not bikes. She said investments should be made to make the MBTA more affordable and on-time.
Cannon called for raising transit funding through passage of the millionaire’s tax and revenue collected from large corporations entering the communities, instead of offering them tax incentives.
In response to a question on how they would tackle healthcare disparities, all candidates noted difficulties seniors face in obtaining affordable coverage.
Cannon said seniors should not have to pay out of pocket for medications, and Tuitt said one necessary fix is closing loopholes that allow the most cost-efficient, but not necessarily the best, medication be selected.
Tyler said she wants to ensure health care is affordable and reliable. In printed statements provided at the event, all candidates said they support legislation to enact a single-payer health care system.
All candidates spoke of the importance of facilitating affordable homeownership options in the district.
Tuitt added that there is a need to persuade landlords and property owners to stabilize rents, and Cannon noted that the state’s definition of affordable housing does not match district residents’ experiences.
Communication and involvement
To ensure constituents are apprised of issues and engaged, Tuitt said she would publicize information, including about upcoming hearings. To do this, she would hold town hall sessions in the communities, drop print newsletters at sites such as the Haley House, ask clergy to post notices on church bulletins, distribute flyers and use social media.
Cannon also promoted local town hall meetings as means of closing the perceived gap between the district and the State House and ensure residents are aware of conversations in which they may wish to participate, before decisions are made for them. Additionally, she said she would hold office hours in the district — suggesting locations such as the library or Dunkin Donuts — as well as ensure efficient constituent services, including rapid response to phone calls and effective use of social media.
Tyler said she would provide communication in whatever manner constituents think is best, whether social media, a newsletter or town hall sessions. To facilitate residents’ engagement on issues, she would seek to provide education on the political system, she said.
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