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Haitian Chamber hosts candidate forum

Ten challengers share their views with Boston Haitian community

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Haitian Chamber hosts candidate forum
Yves Mary Jean speaks while Lee Nave, Jr., Ricardo Arroyo Domingos DaRosa and Jean Claude Sanon await their turn. BANNER PHOTO

With at least four candidates contending for the District 5 City Council seat and at least nine vying for the four at-large seats on the body, members of Boston’s Haitian-American community had an opportunity last week to hear first-hand the ideas the aspiring officials plan to bring to City Hall.

Ten candidates turned out to a forum, sponsored by the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce of Massachusetts and held at the Blue Hill Adult Day Health Center’s function room in Dorchester, to answer questions about the policies they plan to champion in city government if elected this fall.

“We feel that there are many candidates who have declared,” said Richard Champagne, a co-founder of HACCM. “We need to know where people stand on issues of importance to our community so people can make an informed decision about who to vote for.”

At-large candidates Domingos DaRosa, Taushawn Tinsley, Julia Mejia, David Halbert and Priscilla Flint-Banks shared the stage with District 5 candidates Mimi Turchinetz, Yves Mary Jean, Jean-Claude Sanon and Ricardo Arroyo. District 9 Council candidate Lee Nave Jr. rounded out the roster.

Most of the city’s estimated 40,000 residents of Haitian descent live in or in proximity to the District 5 seat, which includes much of Mattapan, all of Hyde Park and a section of Roslindale. Former 7th Suffolk state Rep. Marie St. Fleur and former 1st Suffolk state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry are the only two Haitian-Americans who have held office in Boston. The seat is open, as incumbent Tim McCarthy announced in January that he will not seek a fourth term.

HACCM board member Vedna Lacombe-Heywood, who sits on the Plymouth School Committee, said her groups aims to have a better-informed Haitian electorate.

“We want for people to have a front-row seat to hear the ideas the candidates have regarding issues in their community,” she said.

The candidates speak

In a preview of crowded candidate forums to come, the 10 contenders were each given just a minute-and-a-half to answer questions, sacrificing depth for breadth.

District 5 candidate Turchinetz said she would fight to preserve affordability in Boston.

“I feel like the city is under assault by developers who are moving people out,” she said.

At-large candidate Halbert spoke about his work on the staff of former City Councilors Sam Yoon and John Tobin and said he would work to elevate the voice of constituents in city government.

“What I hope to do, if I’m able to win your support early, is be that voice and work with you,” he said.

Halbert also said he would advocate for greater transparency and a more equitable distribution of resources throughout the city.

At-large contender Mejia spoke about her work as a parent organizer and said she helped bridge the gap between charter school parents and parents with children in the Boston Public Schools.

“I created an opportunity for parents of all sectors to have a conversation,” she said.

Mejia also would advocate for education reform, she said, and to increase the amount of payments in lieu of taxes the city receives from nonprofits such as universities and hospitals.

District 5 contender Jean spoke about growing up as an immigrant in a low-income family that once faced eviction.

At-large candidate Tinsley spoke about his work as a Boston Public Schools teacher and as staff member for former City Councilor Charles Yancey and former state Rep. Gloria Fox.

At-large candidate Banks said she would work on job creation, affordable housing and education.

District 5 contender Sanon, making his third bid for the District 5 seat, expressed confidence in his victory this time around.

“I have tried this a couple of times before,” he said. “Hopefully, people will be behind me this time.”

Sanon said he would fight against school closings and seek more money in the city’s budget for education.

At-large candidate DaRosa spoke about his challenges growing up as the child of Cape Verdean immigrants in Boston and said he would fight for school funding and better public safety policies.

“They keep cutting the school budget and increasing funding for public safety, but our city isn’t safer,” he said.

District 5 candidate Arroyo spoke about his work as a public defender and said he would fight for the residents of the district.

“I’m running to make sure Hyde Park, Mattapan and Roslindale get the resources they need.”

Arroyo also said he would fight for affordable housing and full funding for the Boston Public Schools.

Nave, who is challenging incumbent Mark Ciommo in the Allston/Brighton-based District 9, said he would fight against displacement of Boston residents as the city sees its rents and home price rise rapidly. Institutional expansion from local universities has pushed the formerly working-class district out of reach for many long-term residents.

“Housing prices have skyrocketed,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of families who have been there for generations.”

Most of the candidates said they would support a return to an elected school committee in Boston. Halbert said he is in favor of a hybrid model with a mix of elected and appointed members.

More to come

The forum was not the first foray into politics by HACCM. Last year, members met with U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley during her bid for the 7th Congressional District seat.

Champagne said the group will hold more such events in the future.

“We want to make sure our community stays engaged and holds elected officials accountable,” he said.