On friendly turf, Patrick pitches policy and politics

The 2010 gubernatorial race came to Dorchester this week as Gov. Deval Patrick hosted an “urban town hall” at a Codman Square church. “It’s hard to be heard above the din of ‘hate radio,’ ” Patrick told a welcoming crowd that packed Rev. Bruce Wall’s Global Ministries Christian Church on Sunday night. But the governor had little trouble in the friendly room that gave him a standing ovation upon his entrance.

The warm reception from attendees – most of whom said they were Democrats in a show of hands requested by the governor – is a stark but unsurprising contrast to a recent Suffolk University poll. The poll of 500 Bay State voters showed Patrick with an unfavorable rating of 50 percent with 60 percent saying it’s time for another person in the Corner Office and 68 percent characterizing him as a “weak leader.”

Patrick said there are “people on the sidelines rooting for failure.” “Some of them are running in this race,” he added.
Patrick faces a crowded field as he goes for another four-year term. Two Republicans, Charles Baker and Christy Mihos, are running, and a former Green-Rainbow Party candidate for governor, Grace Ross, is hoping to run in the Democratic primary against Patrick. Unenrolled candidate and state Treasurer Timothy Cahill and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein are also running.

The Suffolk poll, conducted jointly with 7News between Feb. 21 and Feb. 24, showed Patrick winning the race with 33 percent of the vote. Baker received 25 percent. Cahill received 23 percent, while Stein received 3 percent. Sixteen percent labeled themselves undecided.

Patrick also referenced Republican Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate win over Democratic candidate Martha Coakley. “One senator and we’ve been acting like Chicken Little all over America,” he said, referring to Democrats in Congress who despite having a large majority are struggling to pass bills such as a massive health care system overhaul.

But much of the “urban town hall” focused on policy questions from the crowd, including on topics such as HIV/AIDS and reform of the state’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system.

Patrick urged individuals to make “health choices” despite “pressure to experiment with your bodies.” “Wait,” he said. “Wait. Take your time. Be responsible.” But Patrick also made clear he was not pressing for an abstinence-only approach, noting that he had rejected federal funds early in his term that came with strings attached: schools needed to teach abstinence-only programming. Patrick said there is “no proof it works.”

Asked about funds available for cutting back on teen pregnancy rates, Patrick said, “There’s no doubt we can do more. When the revenues come back I know what to do.”

Patrick said Beacon Hill was close to CORI reform. Reform advocates say the system is hard to understand, and Patrick himself claims it turns a “minor offense into a life sentence. We’ve got to push this and this is our chance,” Patrick said after noting that the Senate passed its version last year. “It’s stuck on the House side,” he said. “We need CORI reform, there’s no doubt about it. We are closer now than ever right now.”

Councillor Arroyo files for hearing on health centers
City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo is pushing for a hearing on the economic stability of Boston’s 25 community health centers. Arroyo said the centers are “key places” used by both the “working poor and the middle class” struggling financially amid the economic downturn.

The centers, including seven in Dorchester, serve over 400,000 patients annually, with 46 percent funded through government programs such as MassHealth and Medicaid. “There are so many people in this city who know only community centers as the place to get health care,” Arroyo said.

The centers are also highly dependent on government subsidies. Indeed, the Codman Square Health Center could lose half a million dollars this year under the proposed state budget for fiscal year 2011 that includes cuts in a host of areas. “These are not mismanaged organizations,” Arroyo told the Reporter.

The centers collectively employ about 5,530 individuals.

Arroyo recently toured the health centers, including the one in Codman Square, whose chief, Bill Walczak, suggested a hearing into grant opportunities and fiscal challenges facing the health centers.
Arroyo is also pressing for a hearing to ensure full funding for summer youth jobs. “The youth of our city must receive the support and encouragement that they deserve,” he said. “A key component of that is full funding and support for youth summer jobs. A summer job promotes the well-being of our youth which we should always strive for. The qualifications for these jobs should be as expansive as possible so no youth is left out of an opportunity to work this summer.”

A number of summer jobs programs, including the Boston Youth Fund, the Boston Private Industry Council, and Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), Inc., employed 10,000 youth in fiscal year 2010, though cuts to state and local aid have caused funding to shrink by nearly a third over the last eight years. Another decrease is expected this year, though Gov. Patrick said this week he is pressing Congress to provide money again this year to help fill the gap.

As of press time, a hearing date on either youth jobs or health centers had not been set. The hearing order on health centers was filed jointly with Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Check out updates on Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.