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Jackson, Walsh debate live from Dudley Square

Clash over housing policy, school funding, policing

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Jackson, Walsh debate live from Dudley Square
Martin Walsh, Adrian Walker, Tito Jackson

Mayor Martin Walsh and District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson clashed over issues of police accountability, economic development and education in the first of two debates scheduled before the Nov. 7 general election.

In Walsh’s assessment of his first term in office, his administration has invested more in schools than ever before, built more affordable housing than at any time in recent history and presided over a police department lauded by former President Barack Obama for its community policing work.

The audience was at capacity in Hibernian hall for the first of just two debates in
which the mayor has agreed to participate.

“We’re creating opportunities in every neighborhood,” Walsh said, speaking of the city’s unprecedented construction boom.

To hear Jackson tell it, Walsh has cut schools by $142 million, refused to implement simple police reforms like body-worn cameras embraced by other major U.S. cities and facilitated the development of luxury condominium projects unaffordable to most Boston residents.

“This administration put forward an idea to have a helicopter pad built on your dime [for General Electric] and actually the same night that that helipad was being proposed, this administration was closing the Mattahunt school in Mattapan,” Jackson said.

While Jackson and Walsh had appeared at candidates forums, last week’s debate marked the first time the two have gone head-to-head in a debate with rebuttals. Questions on economic and racial inequality figured prominently in the debate, sponsored by the RoxVOTE Coalition and moderated by Adrian Walker of The Boston Globe.

Policing and safety

Jackson said he would achieve a police department more reflective of the city population, and he assailed Walsh on lacking diversity in police and fire, noting that 75 percent of new police officers and 90 percent of firefighters hired under Walsh were white.

Jackson criticized the 4 percent arrest rate for non-fatal shootings, while Walsh said even that represents a 21 percent increase in the clearance rate for such crimes.

To deter violence, Jackson said he would find ways to engage youth in other activities, including creating 5,000 youth summer jobs and 1,000 year-round youth jobs as well as reopening the Grove Hall Community center. He called for the return of more locally-focused police and for creation of a more powerful civilian review board, something that body had recommended.

Walsh refrained from committing to implementing body cameras and said that he instead improved safety by using peace walks, informational meetings with clergy and community leaders and greater command staff diversity to build trust.

Economics

Walsh said the city’s unemployment rate declined in Boston, but acknowledged that Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan still have higher unemployment rates than is the citywide average. He said one way he helped was by increasing the Boston Residents Jobs Policy, while Jackson said these requirements for hiring local often are not enforced and asserted that less than 2 percent of city contracts go to people of color. Walsh defended pursuit of companies like G.E. and Amazon saying that when such companies locate in the city, they create a number of jobs for Boston residents thus helping to build local wealth. Meanwhile, Jackson said the city should not use resources to lure large for-profit companies, asserting that he would offer nothing to entice Amazon to locate its second headquarters here.

Housing and development

Walsh said the city is on track in its housing plan to serve a growing population’s needs, with nearly 9,000 low- and middle-income housing units permitted, completed or in progress. He highlighted the increase in the portion of affordable units that developers are required to make and praised voters’ passage of the community preservation act.

“Our housing plan is right on pace where we need to be,” Walsh said.

He added that low-income housing cannot just be concentrated in some neighborhoods but most be spread throughout.

Jackson charged that 87 percent of housing in Boston is unaffordable to city residents.

“We are not building housing for the people who live in the city of Boston,” he said.

Jackson promised to raise the affordability requirements even further and demand that housing developers using public land price one-third of their units as affordable to low-income individuals, one-third for moderate-income and one-third market-rate. He claimed he could work with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization to create 1,000 homeownership units within several years, which he said would create community stability and wealth. Furthermore, Jackson called to dissolve the Boston Planning and Development Agency and replace it with a professional planning organization he said would be more attentive to the people’s needs.

Schools

Jackson said that while Walsh added funding to Boston Public Schools he cut heavily as well, and that schools suffer from chronic underfunding. Results of this are felt such as in some schools lacking nurses and psychiatrists, he said.

Walsh said he has brought initiatives such as more pre kindergarten seats and extended learning time at some schools, as well as more supports for low-level schools, and that he has narrowed achievement gaps.

Jackson said Boston’s teaching staff has gotten less diverse, while Walsh asserted that teaching diversity has increased under his tenure.

Racial equity

The fact that the questions were being posed by a coalition of Roxbury-based social justice-focused organizations seemed to give Jackson somewhat of a home court advantage. That advantage seemed most palpable when the questions included a racial slant. For example, when asked whether blacks in Boston wield a measure of political power commensurate with their share of the population, Walsh lauded black elected officials in the auditorium, noted that 44 percent of the city’s hires during his administration were people of color and cited the high number of blacks, Latinos and Asians in his cabinet. He also noted that he was the first Boston mayor to initiate open discussion on race.

“We know there’s a problem with race in our city and we have to deal with it,” Walsh said.

Jackson’s initial answer was much shorter:

“On Tuesday, Nov. 7 we have a great opportunity to ensure there is power for people of color in the city of Boston.”

The predominantly black audience included supporters of Jackson and Walsh, many of whom wore teeshirts and stickers bearing their candidate’s name. Walsh’s appearance at the Dudley Square venue underscored his campaigns determination to beat Jackson on his home turf. During the Sept. 26 preliminary, Jackson garnered just 29 percent of the vote to Walsh’s 63 percent. Jackson won just three wards: 12, which is located in Roxbury; 11, which is a Roxbury/Jamaica Plain ward; and Jamaica Plain ward 19.

When asked about Boston’s reputation as a racist city, Walsh highlighted his administration’s efforts to contend with issues of inequality, including holding a town hall meeting and a series of race dialogues.

“If you don’t deal with the past, you can’t look forward to the future,” he said.

Jackson criticized Walsh for policies he said disproportionately harmed people of color while seeking to site and install a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr.

“It is unacceptable to build a Martin Luther King statue when you cut funds for the Martin Luther King school,” he said.