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Walsh, Jackson focus on mobilizing supporters

Issues take a back seat to candidates’ ground game

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Walsh, Jackson focus on mobilizing supporters
District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson and Mayor Martin Walsh prepare to cut the ribbon on the newly-renovated Freedom Housebuilding in Grove Hall. Behind are state Rep. Chynah Tyler, at-large Councilor Anissa Essaibi George and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz.

At 11 a.m. last Saturday, Mayor Martin Walsh and District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson crossed paths at the ribbon-cutting for the newly renovated Freedom House.

Walsh thanked Jackson for his advocacy on behalf of the reconstruction of the Grove Hall youth services agency. The two danced along with a New Orleans-style second line band to the front of the building, where the mayor performed the ceremonial cut of the ribbon.

Walsh campaign volunteers Gail Forbes-Harris, Cherose Singleton and Tymecha
Furrow door knock on Circuit Street in Roxbury.

The cordial atmosphere at the event belied the fierce election campaigns Jackson and Walsh are both waging. A Walsh campaign full-court press in the heart of Jackson’s city council district underscores what many see as the mayor’s push to beat Jackson on his home turf.

An hour earlier, near the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Warren Street, several dozen volunteers with the Walsh campaign gathered to pick up clipboards. Donning red T-shirts that read “Labor for Marty Walsh,” groups of volunteers fanned out across Roxbury’s Ward 12, knocking on doors to identify supporters the campaign can count on to vote on Sept. 26.

Meanwhile, at Jackson’s Dudley Square headquarters, volunteers streamed in Saturday morning, collecting signs to distribute and clipboards holding the names and addresses of voters before heading out to Brighton, West Roxbury and South Boston as the District 7 city councilor pushes to shore up support citywide in the 10-day stretch leading up to the preliminary election.

The centrality of Boston’s black community in the 2017 mayoral race has been evident from the day nomination papers were available back on May 3. Walsh and Jackson both showed up in Dudley Station, each working to collect signatures at Roxbury’s commercial and transportation hub.

For all the fierce door-to-door campaigning, there has been little in the way of debate on the key issues dividing Walsh and Jackson: housing, education and criminal justice. There have been no debates in the mayoral race to date and the other two candidates in the race, Robert Cappucci and Joseph Wiley, have been largely silent on the issues.

But in recent years, Walsh and Jackson have staked out clear positions.

Housing

In Dudley Square this May, Walsh told the Banner the number one concern he heard from voters was the lack of affordable housing in Boston’s surging real estate market.

The mayor kicked off his first term in office with a plan to add 53,000 units of housing by the year 2030 — the 400th anniversary of the founding of Boston. That effort came as planners projected the city’s population to grow from the current 673,000 to more than 800,000. By August of this year, more than half of the 53,000 units were either permitted for construction, under construction or built. But while 1,740 units of affordable housing have been built or preserved during the more than three years Walsh has been mayor, pressure on middle- and low-income renters remains painfully high, with 21 percent of the city renters spending more than half their income on housing.

Early in his term, Walsh said the production of new units would relieve pressure on the city’s rental market by creating more supply. His administration scored a partial victory on that front, with rents in residential units built before 2010 dropping by 4 percent citywide last year after years of steady increases. The average rent for all apartments in Boston — $2,770, according to the internet-based listing service RENTCafé — has remained largely unchanged .

With the bulk of new housing units in the city going up as studios and one-bedrooms in high-rent areas of South Boston, Downtown and the Fenway, Jackson has been vocal in questioning who is really benefitting from the city’s construction boom. In 2015, he founded Reclaim Roxbury, an organization fighting displacement in the neighborhood that makes up his home district .

Education

Protests over BPS school budgets cut were fierce in 2016. Starting with a picket line of teachers and parents in front of the annual State of the City address, the demonstrations picked up steam with three student walkouts that drew thousands out of the city’s high schools and middle schools to march on City Hall.

Jackson supported the students and spoke out against the Walsh administration budget, which increased school spending by only $13 million — a one percent raise that activists said would necessitate more than $20 million in cuts to schools. Jackson and protesters noted that the cuts were coming despite a growth of more than $150 milliion in the city’s property tax revenue. Jackson staked out a position of hardline opposition, appearing at protests with the students, speaking up during City Council meetings and, ultimately, voting against the mayor’s budget.

Jackson also took the lead on opposition to ballot Question 2 in November 2016 which would have removed the state’s cap on charter school expansion. On that issue, Walsh and Jackson were on the same side, both arguing that rapid charter expansion would threaten funding for the city’s district schools.

This year, Jackson again spoke out against budget cuts affecting 49 of the district’s 126 schools. Walsh administration officials pointed out that the overall school budget increased by nearly 3 percent, with $14 million going toward extended learning time in several schools.

Walsh also announced in 2017 the “Build BPS” ten-year facilities master plan aimed at making billions of dollars worth of repairs, improvements and new buildings for BPS schools. The announcement came a year after a consultant’s report leaked to the media recommended the closure and consolidation of 20 to 50 BPS schools.

Criminal justice

The Walsh administration has touted declining crime and arrest rates, with major crimes last year reaching their lowest point in a decade. This year, however, an uptick in shootings has marred the relative peace, with 151 shootings between January and August .

As Walsh’s term in office began, much of the United States was gripped by protests spurred by social media coverage of police-involved shootings and use of deadly force that left unarmed blacks dead. Large and spirited demonstrations in Boston were mostly peaceful, though several dozen nonviolent protesters complained of assaults by police during a November 2014 protest.

Data released by the Boston Police Department at the behest of the ACLU that same year pointed to a disturbing trend — higher rates of police monitoring, stops and searches of blacks by Boston cops.

While Walsh earned plaudits early on for appointing a diverse command staff at the BPD, he has endured criticism from Jackson and others for the declining hiring numbers for black, Latino and Asian police officers.

Another point of contention: body-worn cameras. While Jackson has called for immediate implementation of a body camera policy, Walsh instead opted for a six-month-long study, outfitting 200 officers with the cameras. At the study period’s conclusion on September 11, Walsh refused to commit to full implementation of body-worn cameras, telling the Banner he will await the results of a months-long analysis of data gleaned from the study before making a decision.

Plenty to debate

Should Walsh and Jackson opt to participate in a debate following the Sept. 26 preliminary ballot, body cameras, affordable housing and education funding will likely be among many issues of contention between the two. But in the next few days, both campaigns likely will be more focused on the immediate task of identifying likely voters who support their candidate and getting those voters to the polls.

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