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Jackson challenges Walsh on education, housing

Mayoral candidates present conflicting views of the city at J.P. forum

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Jackson challenges Walsh on education, housing
Tito Jackson (right), BNN anchor Chris Lovett (left).

Mayor Martin Walsh and City Councilor Tito Jackson made their cases to Roxbury and Jamaica Plain voters last week, fielding questions about housing, schools and their records in office in the first mayoral candidate forum since the Sept. 26 preliminary election.

Walsh kicked off the forum, hosted by Democratic committees from wards 8, 9, 10, 11 and 19, touting his accomplishments over the last four years for half an hour before Jackson took the stage and for the next 30 minutes took aim at Walsh’s record. Walsh emphasized what he characterized as $152 million “investments in schools.” Jackson hit back, detailing $142 million in cuts to BPS schools. Jackson hit Walsh for city and state tax breaks used to lure General Electric to Boston. Walsh spoke about the promise of new manufacturing jobs the multinational corporation might bring to Boston.

The contrasting versions of the last four years gives an insight into the rhetoric each is likely to deploy on the campaign trail: Walsh’s vision of a prospering city with substantial challenges his administration has been willing to take on, versus Jackson’s vision of a city with growing disparities between long-term residents struggling to afford rents and deep-pocketed newcomers occupying gleaming new luxury high-rises.

Martin Walsh

“We are a city of Boston right now where families can barely afford to live here. The housing policies are pushing people out of the city and gentrifying people out of the city every single day,” Jackson said in his opening statement.

“We have $8 billion of development in our city,” Walsh said in his opening statement. “We have 60,000 new jobs in the last three years, we have 30,000 new people living in our city in the last three years. We’re building housing like we’ve never built before in our city. We have a triple-A bond rating for the last three years in our city.”

The location of the forum — at English High School — underscored the tensions between Walsh’s triumphal take on his initiative to build the city out of its housing crisis with 53,000 new units of housing and the perceived lack of affordability in the luxury condos currently under planning and development along the predominantly working-class Washington Street corridor neighborhood surrounding English High.

Barely a minute into his remarks, Walsh was interrupted by a heckler wearing a City Life/Vida Urbana T-shirt, who questioned the mayor’s commitment to affordable housing.

“When I was running for mayor, I stood with you guys on a picket line when a guy was getting evicted out of his house by, I think, Santander Bank,” Walsh shot back. “He was an Iron Worker Local 7.”

Walsh listed among his accomplishments an increase in the percentage of affordable units required in new developments from 13 percent to 18 percent; increased revenue for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which he said is plowing millions of dollars back into the production and maintenance of affordable units in Boston; and the passage on the 2016 ballot of the Community Preservation Act, a measure that will provide millions more in affordable housing funds.

While Walsh’s Boston 2030 housing plan calls for the production or preservation of 8,000 units of affordable housing, the city will likely exceed that goal, he said.

“There’s no magic number, because if you’re a family of four, whether you’re making zero, $50,000 or $100,000, you’re still struggling to make ends meet in those situations,” Walsh said. “We have to build housing so people can stay in the city, so we don’t continue to see what’s happening in South Boston and Charlestown, where many of the people sold and left, younger people came in and costs went up, and we’re starting to see that spread to Roxbury, to Dorchester where I grew up, to Mattapan, to other parts of the city. We’re working to make sure we build more housing.”

Boston Public Schools
Walsh’s assessment of the Boston Public Schools similarly contrasted with Jackson’s searing criticism. Walsh cited the district’s 72-percent graduation rate — the highest ever — and said there are more Level I and Level II schools than ever before, while also acknowledging that there is more work to be done.

At one point he seemed to undercut his own assertion of unprecedented investment in the schools, citing principals who struggle with funding.

“Some principals think it may actually be better to go to Level 4, because extra money comes with that, than sticking with Level III limbo,” he said. “That can’t be the answer. The answer has to be improving quality education.”

Jackson, who rallied alongside frustrated students who walked out of classes on three occasions last year to protest proposed budget cuts, brought his message back to school funding.

“I’ve been in this room too many times when young people were begging, begging for resources,” he said. “In the past three-and-a-half years we’ve seen $140 million in cuts to our public schools. Eleven million in cuts in this past year alone, with 49 public schools receiving cuts.”

Jackson called for restoration of funding for school nurses, librarians, and music and art programs in all BPS schools.

Jackson also took aim at Walsh’s proposed compromise with charter proponents in which he proposed a gradual lifting of the cap on charter school expansion from the current 18 percent to 23 percent, along with increased funding from the state.

Incentives — for whom?
While Jackson has over the last year hammered away at Walsh for tax breaks given to General Electric to entice the multinational to relocate its headquarters to Boston, Walsh leaned in to the controversy, bringing up GE in his remarks.

“I’m bringing up GE in this room for a reason,” he said. “Because in some ways, having GE come to Boston puts us in a very important conversation around the country about companies moving to our city. And I think GE is just one step in that. What I’d like to see in the next step is, how do we bring in manufacturing?”

Walsh said GE could help the city by partnering with local startups to manufacture its products.

”Everything we touch is made somewhere,” he said. “So why not look and try and take advantage of some of that by using the leverage of General Electric to maybe take something they’re making and bringing into the city of Boston so they can make it here.”

Jackson hit at the GE deal and Walsh’s interest in luring Amazon to Boston, saying he would not offer incentive packages to large firms.

“They’re free to come here, and they have enough money to do that — but what they don’t need is our tax money,” he said. “And, by the way, they don’t need a helicopter pad either. I would take those incentive dollars that are being allocated to these large companies and I would re-allocate them to small companies, locally-owned companies, companies owned by women and companies owned by minorities in the city of Boston and we can actually economically uplift people.”

Jackson also suggested that the city itself could direct more of the $2 billion it pays out for goods and services to businesses owned by women and people of color.

“Very little of that goes to Boston-based businesses and businesses owned by women,” he asserted.

The forum was one of several scheduled over the next few weeks. During Walsh’s remarks, Jackson remained outside the Jamaica Plain High School auditorium in the building’s lobby, complying with an agreement between Walsh and the ward committees that the two candidates not be in the same room during the forum.

Jackson and Walsh are scheduled to debate head-to-head for the first time Wednesday Oct. 11 at 5:30 at Hibernian Hall in an event sponsored by the RoxVOTE Coalition.