12th Suffolk candidates face off in town hall
In a virtual town hall, democratic candidates for the Massachusetts House of Representatives 12th Suffolk seat answered questions Saturday about wealth disparities, housing justice, health care and more. The three candidates vying for Dan Cullinane’s seat are Stephanie Everett, Jovan Lacet and Brandy Fluker Oakley, all lawyers working in Boston.
The Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC) hosted the town hall live on its Facebook page Aug. 1, a month out from the Sept. 1 Democratic primary. The 12th Suffolk District currently covers most of Mattapan, and the GMNC focuses on any public issues that may affect Mattapan residents, including elections.
The race recently went from four to three prospects, after the only white candidate, Cameron Charbonnier dropped out of the race on July 15.
Closing the wealth gap
GMNC board member Joy Gary brought up the 2015 “Color of Wealth in Boston” report, which shows the median net worth of Black Bostonians to be $8 compared to the $247,000 of their white counterparts, and $12,000 for the city’s black Caribbean households.
Candidates put forth several ideas for wealth-building.
Lacet supports partnerships with larger companies like GE and Amazon, as well as universities in the area, to create more jobs.
“We appreciate our mom-and pop-stores, we want them to be there, but we can create more economic development,” he said.
Fluker Oakley’s approach is centered around education and transportation. Economic mobility, she said, starts with ensuring the youth have “a quality education so they can go on and do whatever it is they want to do, whether it be college or career.” Transportation initiatives that “allow for greater mobility to the city center” can get more Mattapan residents access to more jobs, she said.
As former deputy chief of staff for Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Everett says she learned that “if you don’t say where you want money to go it will go into a general fund and it will go someplace else that you did not intend.”
Preparing for climate change
Environmental concerns may not be a top priority among legislators right now, but the candidates are aware of Mattapan’s preparedness for climate change. Fluker-Oakley noted that she’s received endorsements from Sierra Club Massachusetts and Sunrise Movement Boston, and she supports the Green New Deal proposed by Sen. Ed Markey and supported by the Boston City Council.
She and Lacet both mentioned solar power as a solution, but Lacet warned that implementing solar power could cost Mattapan families more than they’re able to pay.
“We do need solar, but we have to watch and make sure we’re … not taking advantage of the homeowners not paying more for the solar system than we should be paying,” Lacet said.
All three candidates mentioned the cleanup of the Neponset river, which Everett said could be a Superfund site with designation from the EPA for a more urgent response. She also supports the environmental justice bill recently passed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which “will allow us to really get into more homes and more communities and talk about the issues that impact us.”
Fighting gentrification in Mattapan
A GMNC board member brought up the lack of affordable housing in Mattapan, specifically for millennials.
When asked how to mitigate the effects of gentrification, Lacet said he’s aiming for at least 25% of new housing developments to be affordable, similar to what he says is happening in Jamaica Plain.
“We have young folks who are working, who want to get their own place, so we do have to recognize that,” he said. “So, when folks want to develop, we need to make sure that the voices of the youth are heard.”
Fluker Oakley responded that she is part of that generation and spent years as an adult living with her mother. “Which is why I continue to promote rent stabilization, to make sure that folks have knowledge of when their rent will increase and that they’re not pushed out.”
Everett added that those interested in buying a home need assistance as well, through programs that help with down payments, and protections for the elderly so “they know what to do with their property as they age,” she said.
She also mentioned bills in the House and Senate that allow tenants the right to counsel, which all three candidates support.
Affordable health care
After a final question about health care, candidates discussed action items related to increasing access to affordable plans for Mattapan residents.
Because of the effects of COVID-19, Everett said she sees the need for affordable health care rising, especially when it comes to paid sick leave.
“Without that, they’re suffering,” she said.
Lacet said making a COVID-19 vaccine affordable is key and said that it’s important to improve the health insurance system to increase the amount of benefits residents can access.
“We need to work with Mattapan Health Center, and the other health centers in the district,” he said, so that those who need basic care do not go straight to the hospital.
Fluker Oakley wants to ensure that the most vulnerable populations get the testing and contact tracing they need. Providing assistance to community health centers will be essential to helping those populations, she added.
“As a state representative I will ensure that our community health centers are receiving the funding that they need to take tackle these disparities head on,” she said.