District 5 candidates gather for West Roxbury forum
In a prelude to what promises to be a hard-fought eight-way race for the District 5 City Council seat, four candidates squared off during a recent forum sponsored by the West Roxbury/Roslindale Progressives group.
The forum, held at the St. John Chrysostom Church in West Roxbury, brought out candidates Ricardo Arroyo, Maria Esdale Farrell, Alkia Powell and Mimi Turchinetz. To participate in the forum, candidates were required to respond to a questionnaire by the organizing group and to have submitted enough signatures to appear on the Sept. 24 preliminary ballot.
The four candidates who appeared spoke about their commitment to the district and answered questions about issues including housing affordability, school governance and transportation.
Kicking off the opening remarks, former public defender and Hyde Park native Arroyo spoke about growing up attending school committee meetings with his father, Suffolk County Register of Probate and former City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo, and hearing issues debated, then watching the policies play out in the BPS schools he attended. Arroyo noted that he is the only candidate who challenged outgoing District 5 Councilor Tim McCarthy before the incumbent pulled out of the race.
Farrell, also a Hyde Park native, noted that she has gained insight to the work of the city council while serving on McCarthy’s staff. She said she has spent much of her adult life in activism.
“When we find there’s a lack of resources in our community, you just get involved,” she said. “It’s what we do.”
Powell, who grew up in Dorchester and has lived in Hyde Park for the last two years, said she has gained insight into city government working in the city’s Office of Fair Housing and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. She said she sees room for improvement in Hyde Park.
“It’s an amazing community, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said, adding that she can leverage her knowledge of city government to help improve the neighborhood.
Calling herself a “bold progressive,” Turchinetz cited her experience working in government heading the Boston Tax Help Coalition and in the community as a founder of the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation.
“I am a community leader,” she said. “I am an advocate. I’m an activist.”
Asked what criteria they would prioritize for new housing in the district, which includes Hyde Park and portions of Mattapan and Roslindale, the candidates offered divergent answers.
Responding first, Farrell said she would like to see housing with varying degrees of affordability.
“We need to have a balance of all types of housing in our community,” she said.
Powell acknowledged a need for more affordable housing in Boston and said surrounding communities need to do more as well.
“We need to hold our sister cities accountable,” she said.
Turchinetz called for an increase in the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy requirement from the current 13 percent affordable to 20 percent, drawing applause from the progressive-leaning audience.
Arroyo backed Turchinetz’s call for a 20 percent IDP requirement and also called for a requirement to include solar panels on all developments of 10,000 square feet or more.
Asked her opinion of the effectiveness of the current appointed School Committee, Powell first responded that she would work with newly-appointed BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. Asked the question again, Powell said she would like to see the committee be more reflective of the city’s diversity.
Turchinetz said she would like to see the body be more accountable to parents and students.
“I would support a hybrid elected or fully elected committee,” she said, but added that she is concerned that school committee members might use the elected seat as a steppingstone to higher office.
Arroyo, too, said he would support a hybrid elected and appointed board, provided the community has more input on the appointments.
“What I would like to see is more transparency and accountability,” he said
Farrell, noting that she helped revive the Citywide Parent Council, said she supports any system that keeps parents involved in the schools.
Asked how she would differ from the leadership style of incumbent Tim McCarthy, Turchinetz said she considers him to be a good friend and a good city councilor. She said she would approach the job with more of an equity lens and would make affordable housing and the climate crisis her top priorities.
Arroyo said he made the decision to challenge McCarthy last year in response to the incumbent’s less-than-progressive stands on issues, including the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act, which would have required landlords to notify the city when evicting tenants.
“He was one of three councilors to vote against tracking evictions,” he said.
Arroyo noted that a significant bloc of the council is more progressively oriented than McCarthy.
“My goal is to join them,” he said. “I don’t think McCarthy is someone who would fall in that category.”
Farrell took a decidedly different tack, noting that she was the only candidate present who worked for McCarthy, but that she didn’t always agree with him.
“Tim McCarthy didn’t have to fight for his kids in the Boston Public Schools,” she said. “He can afford to put his kids in private schools. I can’t.”
She added that she would make sure the council is “more sensitive to diversity.”
Powell said she wouldn’t take a swipe at McCarthy, adding, “I think he’s a great guy.”
She noted that she has lived in Mattapan and would address issues in that neighborhood as well as in Roslindale.
In a final lightning round, when asked whether they agreed with Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ list of misdemeanor crimes not to be prosecuted, all but Farrell said they did. All four said they would support shutting down the Boston Police Department’s gang database.
Asked whether they think the school department’s system for determining who is admitted to exam schools is fair, all four replied in the negative. All four said they would support free public transportation. All four said they supported diversity in public office.
Who was missing?
Candidates who have been certified to appear on the ballot but did not answer Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale’s survey include Cecily Leticia Graham, Yves Mary Jean, Justin Matthew Murad and Jean-Claude Sanon.
Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale is one of three Boston chapters of the group Progressive Massachusetts. Other chapters are Jamaica Plain and Downtown Boston. The Boston chapters of the organization were seen as instrumental in driving turnout in support of Rollins in last year’s race for Suffolk County District Attorney, state Rep. Nika Elugardo’s upset win against former Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez in the 11th Suffolk District and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s win over incumbent Michael Capuano.