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Jackson, Walsh face off in final mayoral debate

Candidates clash on housing, policing, race issues

Karen Morales
Jackson, Walsh face off in final mayoral debate
Mayor Martin Walsh and District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson greet each other prior to the WGBH debate. (Photo: courtesy Meredith Nierman/WGBH)

Mayor Martin Walsh and District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson continued to wrangle over issues of affordable housing, racial inequality, economic development, transportation and education during their second debate last week.

Broadcast live from WGBH’s Brighton studio, this debate was the last chance for the candidates to communicate their campaign platforms before a live audience and convince voters before the Nov. 7 general election. The event was moderated by Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.

In a poll conducted by WGBH, 26 percent of likely Boston voters said the biggest issue in the city is housing, while 11 percent said crime and another 11 percent responded with public schools.

Housing

As Walsh has stated throughout his campaign, his administration set out to create 53,000 new housing units over three years and so far, the city has permitted 22,000 units, with 9,000 of them designated as affordable.

In the debate, Jackson countered that the Mayor has permitted too many luxury units and not enough affordable ones, and maintained that instead of eradicating the Boston Redevelopment Authority as promised, Walsh simply rebranded it as the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

“The BPDA is not a transparent organization, it’s not a city agency,” said Jackson. “The money it collects does not go back to the city.”

The mayoral challenger said he would eradicate the BPDA and create a new city department in its place. He also said he would utilize public land for housing and ensure that each development would have one-third low income units, one-third moderate income units, and one-third market rate units.

Moderator Braude said New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have mandated rent control as a solution to skyrocketing rents, and asked whether the candidates would consider doing the same in Boston.

“I don’t believe rent control would work,” said Walsh.

Jackson said he would consider it but proposed that he would work to raise the percentage of affordable units required in new developments from 11.5 to 25 percent and he would spend $5 million on creating flexible housing vouchers.

Walsh contended that although 11,000 vouchers are currently issued by the city of Boston, vouchers are a short term solution and he prefers to invest in permanent housing for residents.

As Jackson has stated many times throughout his mayoral campaign, he said the Walsh administration does not create enough affordable housing units and that the definition of affordable is still not accessible to many.

“Affordable for the Walsh administration is [for incomes of] $70,000 and up,” he said.

Racial Inequality

Moderator Braude shifted the debate towards the topic of racial inequality and asked Jackson whether he thinks Walsh believes that black lives matter.

“The Department of Justice said he didn’t do what he should have done,” said Jackson referring to charges of racism at Boston Latin School last year and the mayor’s delayed response to it. “Whether he believes black lives matter or not,” he continued, “his actions are what I take issue with.”

Those actions, Jackson said, include putting forward a RFP to do a disparity study after another disparity study found only 0.5 percent of city contracts are given to businesses owned by people of color, which Jackson said, “makes no sense.”

Jackson said the mayor’s “respectful disagreement” with the NAACP’s 218-page report that found that Walsh fell short in accomplishing campaign promises to increase educational outcomes, and provide employment, housing and public safety for communities of color, was dismissive.

There is a 33-year difference in life expectancy between Roxbury and Back Bay residents, Jackson noted, with people typically living to age 58.9 and 91.9 in each respective neighborhood.

A telling WGBH poll asked voters whether they think Boston is a city where their hopes and dreams can be realized. The results showed that 56 percent of white voters responded “yes,” compared to only 33 percent of black voters.

“The NAACP report was a generational report,” said Walsh. “That’s failed policies by the federal government, by state government, and the city of Boston since I’ve been mayor, and before I was mayor.”

He continued, “I have never backed away from the issue of race. We had the first town meeting in the city of Boston where a mayor talked about racism.” He also noted his executive order last year to change the number of city-owned contracts and said 50 percent of public school educators hired since he became mayor are of color.

“I do not deny there are issues we have to deal with, but we are talking about generational issues here that my administration is tackling,” he said.

Boston Police Department

Jackson said he would issue body-worn cameras and create a civilian review board to oversee the BPD, and modify the civil service exam to increase the number of officers of color in the Boston Police Department.

He would also eradicate the “biased hair test that gives false positives for short curly hair,” he said, adding, “The city of Boston has spent over $1 million defending this test.”

Walsh responded that Boston currently has the most diverse command staff in the history of the BPD and the most diverse cadet class.

However, he continued to dodge the question of body-worn cameras, stating that the pilot study conducted by Northeastern University will be released sometime in December and that “it’s about building trust.”

According to a WGBH poll, 78 percent of likely Boston voters are in favor of body cameras for police officers.

Jackson cited the lack of diversity in public safety jobs as another concern, noting that 75 percent new BPD hires are whites, as are over 90 percent of new firefighters.

Walsh stated that poverty has gone down 14 percent and arrests have decreased by 30 percent.

He pointed to his creation of the My Brother’s Keeper program as a positive way to create opportunities for youth in Boston and keep them away from criminal activities.

Business Development

For Jackson, the $25 million tax incentive offered to GE was too much, and he would not offer any sort of financial incentive to Amazon, the giant online retailer looking to locate their second headquarters.

“I helped bring Google into Boston based on the workforce and locale that we have,” he said.

Walsh said that GE has invested $25 million in local education, $25 million in job training programs in Boston and $10 million in healthcare.

As for Amazon, Walsh argued that its location in Boston could give the state a chance to look at new MBTA investments and improvements.

Education

In response to Jackson’s accusation that the mayor is willing to expedite business deals like GE and Amazon but not properly fund public education, Walsh said he doesn’t want to simply throw money at schools, but build pathways to success. He said that the current $1.1 billion school budget is up since 2013, and cited the BuildBPS plan and Dearborn STEM Academy as successful initiatives.

Jackson said, “As mayor, I will fully fund BPS for more nurses, art, music, and computer science education. I would democratize the education system and the school committee, which would not be appointed by the mayor.”

Braude asked Jackson how he plans to finance all of his proposed initiatives, noting that the city councilor had delayed in releasing a budget proposal as promised. Jackson said his FY19 Budget would be released in the next 48 hours. The budget was uploaded online two days later and can be read on Tito Jackson’s campaign website.

Transportation

Both candidates agreed on issues of transportation such as bringing back late night T service and increasing the use of bicycles.

Walsh said he is open to the possibility of a Red-Blue Line connection, and Jackson said he wants to look into creating bus rapid transit, a successful transportation option in places like Mexico City.

To close the debate, both candidates were asked to say the best thing they thought their opponent accomplished during their political career.

“The best thing the mayor has done is try to deal with the issue of opioids. I don’t think he has been all successful in that space, but I do believe that he has made an attempt,” said Jackson.

Walsh thought that the best thing Jackson has done is to care passionately about the kids in Boston. “We may not agree on everything but the bottom line is we care about those kids that are right here.”

Jackson called out Walsh for continuing to have two City Hall officials that have been federally indicted still on the payroll.

During the debate, the mayor was again asked whether he appeared before a grand jury and again, Walsh declined to respond because he said there is still an open case that will be heard in January. But he defended keeping the officials on staff.

“They are getting paid. Because in the United States of America, people are innocent until proven guilty,” said Walsh.

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