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City Council-at-Large Candidate Forum Recap

Last night the eight At-Large Candidates running for Boston City Council participated in a forum at Florian Hall moderated by State Representative Dan Hunt and POLITICO Massachusetts Reporter Stephanie Murray. The forum was hosted by four of Dorchester’s Civic Associations along with the Ward 16 Democratic Committee. All the candidates were in attendance except for Althea Garrison who had an “unforeseen situation” arise.

The crowd of around 100 was lively and well behaved throughout and the forum moved quickly. Each candidate introduced themselves, then there were 4 questions, each of those those questions was asked of only two randomly selected candidates, then there was a lightning round, a one word answer round, two short budget questions for everyone and then (phew!) there were closing statements. The entire forum ran smoothly and all candidates gave considered, thoughtful answers to the questions asked.

It was obvious that all three current At-Large Councilors, Michelle Wu, Annissa Essaibi George and Michael Flaherty care deeply about Boston and its residents. They have a depth of understanding about their jobs that comes from doing the work day in and day out. All of the challengers: David Halbert, Erin Murphy, Alejandra St. Guillen and Julia Mejia, care about Boston, are smart and thoughtful and have passion for a range of diverse issues.

Some highlights from each candidate’s opening and closing remarks and from the four questions which ranged from Exam Schools to Safe Consumption Sites to Safe Streets to Zoning (the candidates are listed throughout in the order in which they were seated last night):

Michael Flaherty: Really concerned people are being priced out of Boston; considers Dorchester his 2nd home; he lives in a neighborhood [South Boston] that is overdeveloped; Boston needs a standalone planning committee with real urban planners

Annissa Essaibi George: currently chairs the Homelessness, Mental Health and Recovery committee; top priority as a councilor was to ensure that all Boston Public Schools (BPS) have a school nurse and she made that happen; there are 5000 homeless BPS Students, major issue that needs to be addressed; The ISEE needs to be looked at; supports criteria to enter an Exam School but all kids need to have access to curriculum; all of our public schools are for Boston residents only, need to stop that theft of services

Alejandra St. Guillen: seeing the Boston she grew up in become more and more out of reach; mobility in Boston is an issue and it’s tied to zoning; we should all support Slow Streets; the MBTA is a mess; it’s not feasible to not have a car [she lives in West Roxbury]

Erin Murphy: has run the Boston Marathon three times in support of the Gavin Foundation and its mission, she raised $60,000; in considering road diets: we need to consider all factors and all the people involved; in favor of Slow Streets but need to listen to all stakeholders

David Halbert: has over 15 years of experience working in state and local government; concerned about the issues that are important to Bostonians; supports safe consumption sites because, as the father of two young daughters, he is terrified of them or anyone getting pricked by a needle. City of Boston is collecting 14,000 needles a week from our streets; get needles out of our parks and doorways; should be a regional conversation; it’s not just Boston’s problem; City Council needs to be bold

Julia Mejia: how do we create opportunities for the people who are impacted by the choices government makes; went to Dorchester High School, didn’t know that Exam Schools existed; we need to challenge the assumption that Exam Schools are the end all and be all; need to focus on all schools, our K-8 pathways need to be strong; all kids need test prep, we should have prep specifically for English Language Learners; look at MCAS for entry to Exam Schools

Michelle Wu: Boston has big issues, the Council is the place to address them; Boston does not do citywide planning [but we should]; we need clear and consistent rules across the board; what happens now is exhausting and draining; planning is related to all issues: traffic, displacement, pricing, density, climate change; every neighborhood is suffering from lack of clear consistent rules

The next two rounds consisted of a lightning round and a round of one word answers.

Lightning Round highlights!

Raise your hand if you:

Oppose the construction of new billboards and the conversion of existing static billboards to digital billboards. All candidates raised hand

Will have an aide dedicated to Dorchester who will attend civic association meetings.  All candidates raised hand

Support expansion of body camera program to 100% of Boston Police Officers. All raised hand except for Annissa Essaibi George and Erin Murphy

Support the creation of safe injection facilities in Boston. Julia Mejia, David Halbert, Michelle Wu and Alejandra St. Guillen raised hand

Will you stand with the civic associations in our votes to support or oppose development projects before the BPDA and ZBA. All candidates raised hand

One Word Answer Round highlights:

Do you support .5 parking spaces per unit in Transit Oriented Development? If no, what should the number be? Flaherty: No, it should be at least 1. Annissa Essaibi George: No, supports 1. Alejandra St. Guillen: yes. Erin Murphy: No, should be one in Dorchester. David Halbert: yes. Julia Mejia: yes. Michelle Wu: Yes, but Transit Oriented Development is about more than just parking.

Where space permits, should an off-leash dog park be part of every park renovation in the city? They all said yes.

The final questions had to do with Boston’s budget. They were each supposed to identify their top priority that they would advocate for in the city budget and then they were supposed to list the one item that they would advocate for removing from the city budget:

Michael Flaherty: Will advocate for closing the achievement gap and making a voluntary Year 13 for BPS students.  He thinks the city relies too much on outside contractual and outside legal services, he would eliminate those

Annissa Essaibi George: Will advocate for Mental Health and Counseling services in schools and for strengthening Boston’s Crime Lab. She will advocate reducing the school transportation budget by 50%

Alejandra St. Guillen: Advocate for improving education and increasing social and emotional services in schools. Also advocate for more affordable housing with a luxury tax to fund it.  She will advocate for reducing and trimming costs at the BPS central office and the outside consultants they hire

Erin Murphy: Advocate for education and for fully funding our schools, including K1 seats for everyone. Advocating for looking at each line item in the budget to make sure line items aren’t wasteful

David Helbert: Would advocate for increasing the Small and Local Business program. Would double it in size because small businesses define our neighborhoods. He would advocate for reforming the amount that the city pays in overtime to police officers.

Julia Mejia: Would advocate for the people and make sure they have opportunities to be heard. She would add childcare at all city hearings and meeting so people can more easily attend. She would also focus on education and getting more guidance counselors into our schools. She would advocate for removing police officers from our schools and using that funding for guidance counselors instead.

Michelle Wu: Would advocate for our schools and especially for vocational education. Madison Park should be a top notch school. In the Operations budget she would focus on traffic issues and making bus service better and making more dedicated bus lanes. In the Capital budget she would focus on climate change and advocate for making residences and neighborhoods more resilient. And she would eliminate the $85 million dollar payment the city sends to the MBTA

Election Day is Tuesday, November 5th. You can vote for FOUR of these candidates to represent the entire city as a City Councilor, At-Large.  Is it not too late to register to vote in this election. To learn more visit here!  To find your polling location or to request an absentee ballot, please visit here!

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About the Author

Anna White

Lower End homeowner since 2005. Mom of three BPS kids. Friend to all except those who don’t clean up after their dogs and/or who put their trash out in kitchen bags (seriously, people, it’s not that hard to use a barrel). Queen of the Nerds (okay that one is only in my dreams).