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District 6 candidates face off in forum

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
District 6 candidates face off in forum
Kendra Hicks (left) and Mary Tamer during a February debate.

Housing affordability, police reform and the racial wealth gap were among the issues on the table Monday during the first candidate forum for the District 6 City Council seat, during which Kendra Hicks and Mary Tamer answered questions from Greater Boston Young Democrats and Young Democrats of Massachusetts.

Hicks and Tamer and the only two declared candidates in the race to fill the District 6 seat now held by Matt O’Malley, who has said he will not run for reelection.

Tamer, who lives in West Roxbury, kicked off the opening statements, citing her experience growing up in Boston as the child of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants and as a Boston Public School graduate, parent, former member of the appointed Boston School Committee and past president of the League of Women Voters.

“Today I’m running for the City Council because I believe every child in Boston should go to a high-quality school, because we need to prioritize equity in city services and contracts, because Boston should be a national leader on environmental issues,” Tamer said in the Zoom meeting, which drew 100 attendees.

Hicks, a Jamaica Plain resident whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, said she is running to make systemic changes in Boston.

“My commitment is to serve and lead with a collective vision, and the needs of the people who are most vulnerable in our communities serving as my North Star,” she said.

The wealth gap

Asked about approaches to tackling the racial wealth gap, Hicks stressed that the problem has no single cause.

“If we really, really want to focus on closing the racial wealth gap, we’re going to need to implement policies that give Black and brown people equitable access to economic opportunity,” she said. “And some of us are really going to have to make a commitment to redistributing resources to the frontlines.”

Tamer, in her answer, pointed to issues including the lack of access to public transportation and high-quality schools as drivers of inequality. She stressed the importance of business opportunities and home-buying opportunities.

“We have to make the overdue commitment to provide greater access to city contracts for businesses owned by people of color, whether it’s snow removal, trash removal or event planning,” she said. “These are lucrative contracts, and we need a transparent bidding process that opens the doors to all possible vendors.”

Education

Asked about how to help students struggling with learning during the pandemic, Tamer said schools need to provide social supports as well as academic support.

Hicks cited her experience as the mother of a student with autism and stressed the importance of making sure school buildings and teachers are safe before students return to classrooms.

“I really understand, personally, what a developmental regression looks like, and the impossible position that parents, students and teachers are in right now trying to mitigate those,” Hicks said. “And we’re also in a global pandemic. Our school buildings aren’t safe, teachers aren’t being prioritized in the vaccine rollout — and the list goes on and on.”

The candidates also were asked whether they would support an elected school committee. Tamer, who has served on the appointed board, said she would favor a hybrid elected/appointed body. Hicks said she would support an elected body and would be willing to spearhead a home rule petition to effect the change.

Diversifying neighborhoods

Asked what could be done to make West Roxbury, a traditionally Irish American neighborhood, more welcoming to diverse families, both candidates stressed the commonalities between that part of the district and the Jamaica Plain side.

“I do think that the people in the neighborhoods are grounded in shared values of wanting a community where everybody thrives. We want safe neighborhoods, transit that’s affordable and accessible, schools where our children can thrive, housing that is safe and affordable for all of us, and vibrant arts and culture and entertainment options locally,” Hicks said.

Tamer said she agreed with Hicks and added that the end of the pandemic could bring opportunities for neighborhoods to become more welcoming.

“I feel that now, with the vaccinations, there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel. I think we need to think creatively about, ‘How do we rebuild community, how do we bring folks together?’” she said.

Development and housing

In response to a question about how they would use their city councilor role to impact real estate development in the district, Tamer said she would push for a more transparent and inclusive development process with the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

“I think oftentimes the community is being given these proposals, and sometimes it seems that the horse is already out of the gate and people don’t really feel that they have a true say and what is being added to their neighborhood,” Tamer said. “I do think we need to focus on and demand long range planning and what we want our communities to look like.”

Hicks agreed on the need for a more inclusive and transparent planning process and also advocated for development of housing units affordable to the people currently living in Boston.

“I do think that if we want to house a changing city in an equitable way, we need a housing plan that’s based on the actual the real needs of our residents,” she said. “Half of our new construction should be designated for tenants and homeowners who are making 60% of the area median income or below, because that is what actually reflects Boston residents’ income.”

Police reform

Regarding how to reform policing in Boston, Hicks said that she would push for diversion of funding from police to community programs, as well as for greater oversight of police union contracts with the city.

“My plan is to work with current city councilors to strengthen transparency and accountability,” she said. “And I will call for Boston Police Department [union] contract negotiations to be made publicly viewable, just as a city council hearing is.”

Tamer said she would push for more officers of color to be hired.

“We need to continue to focus on making every city department representative of our diversity,” she said, “and everyone is treated with dignity and respect, whether or not they live here or they’re visiting our city.”

Campaign finance

Asked whether she would refuse campaign contributions from police unions and education privatizers, Hicks said her campaign has already committed to refusing funds from special interest groups.

Tamer, who served as director for the Boston Charter School Alliance, said she would not take money from police unions but did not answer on education privatization.

“I don’t know what an ‘education privatizer’ is,” she said.

Tamer began fundraising in December of last year, after O’Malley announced he would not seek reelection. She has received contributions from charter school backers, including the so-called “dark money” donors who funded the 2016 ballot question that would have expanded charters in Massachusetts, and has so far raised $39,170 from 148 individuals, according to filings with the Office of Campaign and Public Finance (OCPF).

Hicks began fundraising in September, planning a challenge to O’Malley. She has so far raised $59,711 from 1,042 individuals, according to her campaign’s filings with the OCPF.

Hicks, Tamer and any other candidates for the seat will be required to collect signatures for their nomination papers in April to secure a spot on the ballot in the September preliminary election. Nomination papers are typically due in May.

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