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Final debate held in District 5 race

Arroyo, Farrell define positions on issues

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Final debate held in District 5 race
District 5 City Council candidate Maria Esdale Farrell addresses the audience at English High School as candidate Ricardo Arroyo listens. BANNER PHOTO

The candidates in one of the city’s most tightly-contested city council races went head-to-head at English High School Monday, outlining their differences on issues ranging from education to affordable housing.

Public defender Ricardo Arroyo and Maria Esdale Farrell, a legislative aide to incumbent District 5 Councilor Tim McCarthy, debated for 25 minutes, giving one-minute responses to questions posed by moderator Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston Branch of the NAACP.

Arroyo spoke of his volunteer work with teenagers in a youth baseball league and the work he did finding services for his clients while working in the Committee for Public Council Services.

Farrell spoke about her volunteer work with youth programs, church-based programs and youth sports leagues in Hyde Park as well as her work on the Citywide Parent Council and other efforts to improve the Boston Public Schools.

“I was seeking a quality education for my children because I thought they weren’t getting one,” she said. “I dedicated my life to that cause.”

The candidates showed the greatest difference on rent control. Asked whether he would support such a measure, yes or no, Arroyo didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Farrell initially answered, “Forms of it.”

“It’s yes or no,” reminded Sullivan.

“I can’t answer yes or no,” Farrell said.

On the subject of increasing the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy, which requires that developers of buildings with more than nine units set aside 13 percent as affordable to moderate- and low-income households, both candidates said they would support an increase. Arroyo further said he would support a tax surcharge on vacant units, such as those foreign investors sometimes buy in luxury buildings in Boston, and said he would support District 1 Councilor Lydia Edwards’ call for a real estate transfer tax.

Farrell said she too would support a vacancy tax.

“I think it’s very crucial that as we build housing and affordable housing that we have balance,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re not overdeveloping our neighborhoods. We want to make sure that there’s community benefits for anything that’s built.”

Asked their thoughts on the transportation challenges facing the district, Farrell decried the lack of traffic enforcement in the area and advocated for traffic calming measures such as speed bumps and raised crosswalks. She said the city should be guaranteed a slot on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board to better advocate for the needs of Boston MBTA riders.

Arroyo said he would support Wu’s call for free MBTA access and better service on the commuter rail lines serving the district. He said he would support the creation of bus lanes on Hyde Park Avenue and Blue Hill Avenue and better infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

On education, Arroyo favors reducing the number of standardized tests, getting rid of the controversial ISEE test as a standard for admission to the city’s exam schools and putting more resources into bilingual education, noting that the city ranks low in its education of those who speak English as a second language.

“For a district that’s 40 percent immigrant, that’s unacceptable,” he said.

Farrell said she would support full-time nurses in every school, a hybrid elected-appointed school committee and ending the use of the weighted student funding formula.

“It hinders success of our schools,” she said of the funding mechanism.

On the campaign trail

While the candidates articulated substantial differences of opinion on a range of issues, the differences they have displayed off the debate stage are in many cases more striking.

Arroyo has run what appears to be an intensive get-out-the-vote campaign aimed at energizing a base of voters that has not typically backed the winning candidates in District 5. The district has never been represented by a candidate of color since Thomas Menino became the first to represent the newly-created district in 1983.

After posting a decisive preliminary victory with 2,235 votes to Farrell’s 1,813, Arroyo said his campaign had knocked on more than 15,000 doors and identified more than 3,000 supporters in the eight-way race. Arroyo left his job in November last year to challenge incumbent Tim McCarthy. He has since been campaigning full-time.

Farrell, who continues to serve as McCarthy’s legislative aide in the capacity of an education advisor, is barred by law from engaging in campaign activities during the workday. Although she has campaigned district-wide, she derived the majority of her votes from the primarily white Readville and Fairmount sections of Hyde Park.

While Farrell has downplayed the historically racially divisive politics in Hyde Park, McCarthy characterized her preliminary election performance as a victory over people of color and women in a bizarre election-night speech that has since garnered thousands of hits on social media.

“We ran against women,” McCarthy said. “We ran against minorities. We ran against people who have a name that’s been out there 40 years, that was endorsed by all the nonsense people who don’t have the boots on the ground like we do.”

Monday night, Farrell stopped short of disavowing the us-versus-them rhetoric her boss used in his speech, but instead asked people not to judge her for his comments.

“I hope that people judge us on our words and our actions, not by those that are around us or surround us or support us,” she said during her closing statement. “I think that it’s important to understand that we stand on our own as candidates.”

Throughout the campaign, Farrell has emphasized her alignment with McCarthy’s positions. She appears in multiple photos on her Facebook page campaigning with a Tim McCarthy tote bag and told “Under the Radar” host Callie Crossley during a Sept. 13 candidate roundtable that she would be close to where McCarthy stands on most issues.

In his closing statement, Arroyo said he decided to run because he wanted to combine a focus on constituent with a commitment to public policy reforms. He said he has a “just, equitable vision for the future of the district,” addressing racial inequities in income, education, policing, housing and transportation, “while also understanding that the delivery of constituent services on a daily basis is justice on a municipal level.”

He added, “I’m running because I believe this district deserves more. They deserve to be seen, they deserve to be heard. This district is 74 percent people of color and I believe that they deserve a seat at the table.”

Voters go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 5 to decide the outcome of district and at-large city council races.

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