Mayoral hopefuls on Tuesday pledged to diversify the police force and aggressively enforce the city’s jobs policy for residents, minorities, and women on public construction sites. They made their promises to the several hundred people who had packed the auditorium inside Uphams Corner’s Kroc Center to see the 12 candidates for mayor up on the stage two weeks before the Sept. 24 preliminary.
The forum was put together by the local branch of the NAACP, the Salvation Army, the Urban League of Massachusetts, and UMass Boston.
The Boston Residents Jobs Policy, which city officials have continued to wrestle with, was a topic early on in the discussion; it’s not a law but a guideline for city-hired contractors, who are directed to ensure a minimum of 50 percent Boston residents on jobs sites, as well as 25 percent minority and 10 percent women.
Former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie, who served as Mayor Thomas Menino’s housing chief, said she would assemble a “strong legal team” early in her tenure to strengthen the jobs policy, while Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said he will look to raise the percentages. “That’s not being enforced and it ought to be enforced,” he said.
John Barros, a former executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, said that when the Kroc Center was being built, 57 percent of contracts went to minority and women-owned businesses. “We can do it when we’re serious about it,” he said.
Dorchester state Rep. Marty Walsh said he would hire a chief diversity office to “keep an eye” on the policy. Walsh, a longtime labor leader, pointed to the “Building Pathways” program, which focuses on providing apprenticeship opportunities to people of color looking to enter the building trades. “We need to do more and we will do more,” he said.
City Councillor Michael Ross said the pathway to increased jobs runs through the school system and that he would focus on investing in vocational technical schools. Ross also noted that, with the help of Jamaica Plain state Rep. Jeff Sanchez, he sited a classroom in the Longwood Medical area. “You shouldn’t have to know a politician to get into a program that is only hiring a few people,” he said.
City Councillor At-Large John Connolly said innovation shouldn’t be limited to the “Innovation District” in South Boston, but include neighborhoods like Dudley Square, Mattapan, and Roslindale. Connolly noted that he held a hearing with fellow City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley that focused on better connecting minority-owned and women-owned businesses with available work.
The candidates were also asked what their election would mean for the communities of color. Walsh said his cabinet “will reflect the city of Boston,” and the “top echelon” of the Boston Police Department will be diverse.
Others turned to their biography. Golar Richie, who has lived in Dorchester for 26 years, said she would be a “champion” for civil rights. “You will see a difference with Charlotte Golar Richie as mayor,” she said. Later in the forum, she said she would install a female superintendent within her first 30 days in office. The remark prompted applause from the crowd and a high-five from Charles Clemons, co-founder of the TOUCH 106.1 radio station and a former police officer.
Ross told the story of his father, Stephan Ross, who is a Holocaust survivor. “He came here with nothing,” the Mission Hill councillor said. “This country, this city gave him everything he had. And in my family we were taught to never forget that. It’s why I’m in public service.”
Connolly, pointing to his past as a teacher, said he will be a “bold leader who will transform our schools, while Barros said he would use “turn-around schools” to close the achievement gap, work on stronger relationships with police, and provide jobs for youth.
City Councillor Rob Consalvo, who hails from a district that is 68 percent people of color, said that regardless of whether a neighborhood is politically active or not, “every one gets service” in a Consalvo administration. From Mattapan Square to Readville, he said of his current office, “we serve everybody.”
District 4 Councillor Charles Yancey touted his 30 years on the 13-member City Council. “You have to hit the ground running in January of 2014,” he said. “I have that experience. I have challenged each and every department and each mayor since 1984 to fight for economic justice and you will get that from Mayor Charles Yancey.”
City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo noted that he grew up in subsidized affordable housing in the South End before his family moved to Hyde Park. Arroyo also deployed a line he has started to use with more frequency on the campaign trail: “The most violent thing that happens in our community is poverty.”
The lone Republican in the race, David James Wyatt, who frequently highlights his anti-abortion stance, also attended the forum.