District 1 candidates Del Rio, Coletta square off at Ward 1 Committee meeting
Last Thursday, District 1 City Council candidates Gabriela Coletta and Tania Del Rio came together in an East Boston ward committee event aimed at getting their message to constituents and helping committee members decide on an endorsement for the district, which spans East Boston, Charlestown and the North End. The two are vying for the council seat soon to be vacated by newly elected state Sen. Lydia Edwards.
Edwards is set to resign from her seat in April, leaving a vacancy to be filled in a May 3 election.
“Gigi” Coletta joins the race as an East Boston native and former chief of staff to Edwards. Most recently, the 29-year-old was working as the external relations manager at the New England Aquarium.
“I truly believe in what city government can do to better people’s lives. And that’s the perspective that I plan to bring,” Coletta said Thursday.
She said her experience at City Hall gives her a unique skill set she hopes she can bring to the office.
“I know how to cut through the noise when speaking to special interests, negotiate effectively and deliver for this community,” Coletta said. “I intend to center the lived experience of every individual and I just look forward to being inclusive and collaborative, and to further promote a truly welcoming, inclusive East Boston.”
Del Rio comes into the race having moved to Boston to pursue a graduate degree in 2014. Originally from Mexico, the 36-year-old Del Rio was working for the Mexican Consulate before a new policy required her to give up her green card for a temporary work visa. Instead, she left that position in favor of heading up Boston’s Office for Women’s Advancement until January 2021 when she became the executive director of the YWCA of Cambridge.
“I’ve been at the helm of city departments, so I know how it works, but I’ve also been at the helm of organizations outside — nonprofits — pushing for change on the outside at the state and at the city level,” Del Rio said Thursday. “And I’ve been delivering real results for communities.”
She added that her personal experience, including as a mother to Boston Public Schools (BPS) students and as an immigrant, position her as an important advocate for East Boston residents.
In campaign fundraising, Coletta is currently leading, having nearly $122,000 at her disposal according to the most recent state filings. Del Rio has about half that in her campaign wallet, with $64,262 raised so far.
The March 24 conversation centered mainly around the issues facing District 1 residents, with each candidate getting a brief chance to answer. The two did not diverge much, with left-leaning priorities and ties to the Latinx community guiding their platforms. Here’s what each had to say during the meeting.
Coletta laid out plans for increasing the city’s floor for affordable housing requirements in new developments from 13% to 20% and a 72% increase to the city’s linkage fees program.
The Linkage Program requires large-scale commercial developments over 100,000 square feet in Boston to pay into funds that support the creation of affordable housing and workforce development.
Eventually, Coletta said, she would like to see the program increase to $24 per square foot and the square footage threshold lowered, “so that any new development that’s coming we’re getting money directly for affordable housing, and it’s going into the neighborhood housing trust.”
Del Rio spoke about her support for rent stabilization measures and more homeownership programs to offset neighborhood displacement. She added that she wants policies with no qualifiers because “as a homeowner, I can tell you that the new version of this is doable. It’s going to allow homeowners to maintain livable spaces for their tenants, while stemming speculation and allowing people in their longtime homes to be able to stay.”
Del Rio added she also wants to see overhauls to inclusionary development policies, including closing loopholes that allow affordable units off-site and smaller than market-rate rentals.
Environmental justice/airport pollution
With East Boston located partially on the city’s waterfront and close to Boston’s Logan International Airport, candidates were asked how they would address concerns of rising sea levels and pollution in the neighborhood.
Coletta said she supports community-led waterfront innovation, including infrastructure to manage sea level rise and a focus on reducing the transportation emissions around the airport.
“We should be working with Massport to limit the amount of cars that are traversing our neighborhoods and ensure that they have options for travelers to park their vehicles in lots in the suburbs,” she said.
Additionally, her platform includes expanding East Boston’s tree canopy to improve air quality and moving Boston away from fossil fuels.
The hallmark of Del Rio’s climate plan is her proposal for a system of “carbon budgeting” wherein the city would work with big emitters on their accounting of emissions.
“Each entity would then have opportunities to save their allowances for low-emission periods and then borrow from future periods,” she said.
Additionally, Del Rio said she supports a moratorium on new development in flood zones and the waterfront until a chief of planning is put in place. As for Massport, she said she wants to stop airport expansion and track its current carbon emissions.
Both candidates support additional street infrastructure on the increasingly congested East Boston streets, including crosswalks, stop signs and stop lights — promoting safer driving conditions.
Coletta said she wants better ferry infrastructure and access to electric vehicle charging.
Del Rio expressed support for Mayor Michelle Wu’s free transit push and said she intends to push for an MBTA blue-red line connector.
Both also said they would prioritize low-impact development near existing transit hubs.
On education, Coletta leveraged her City Hall experience, saying she would aim to funnel money back into students and staff.
“BPS just released their $1.3 billion budget. As chief of staff, I oversaw the budget analysis of VPs and other city departments. And my first question was, why is the administrative budget so bloated? Why is it not going directly into classrooms? And so as city councilor, I will utilize my new budgetary authority to fight for targeted investments,” she said.
Those investments would include buildings and facilities improvements, additional teachers and special education staff, and expanded mental health resources.
Del Rio also mentioned supporting mental health for students in her response, but her more pressing concern, she said, was the failing school transportation system. She spoke about the shortage of bus drivers causing students to miss school because of parental work schedules, and a lack of bus monitors leading to incidents of bullying and violence on school buses.
“The past three years as a BPS parent have really brought into focus at all of the problems that our Boston public schools face,” she said.
After nearly two hours, the meeting ended with both candidates ensuring there was more to say about each issue. To learn more, they said, constituents can visit each of their respective websites.
To watch a full recording of the meeting, check out the Ward 1 Committee Facebook page. The committee’s next meeting, where they will choose an endorsement, is set for April 13 at 6 p.m. A Zoom link to that meeting is available on their website.