District 3 candidates talk taxes, budget, dorms

District 3 council hopefuls: From left: Marydith Tuitt, John O'Toole, Craig Galvin, Doug Bennett, Marty Hogan, Frank Baker and Stephanie Everett. The group assembled before a June forum in St. Mark's church.District 3 council hopefuls: From left: Marydith Tuitt, John O'Toole, Craig Galvin, Doug Bennett, Marty Hogan, Frank Baker and Stephanie Everett. The group assembled before a June forum in St. Mark's church.

Six of the seven contenders campaigning to replace outgoing District 3 City Councillor Maureen Feeney have offered a varying mix of responses to a Dorchester Reporter questionnaire that covered taxes, Mayor Thomas Menino’s fiscal 2012 budget, and the always controversial topic of dorms at UMass Boston.

By Tuesday evening, the six candidates had responded to the questionnaire, which was sent out July 1; despite multiple phone calls by the Reporter seeking a response, information technology consultant Marty Hogan did not reply.

While the candidates who answered come from different backgrounds, their views offered little divergence on major issues. With one exception, all consider themselves Democrats to varying degree. All said they supported unions, hardly a surprise considering that Dorchester is home to a number of politically powerful unions. And all support gay marriage, an issue that remains controversial elsewhere in the country after it was legalized by the Bay State’s highest court in 2003.

The completed questionnaires are available in full at the Reporter’s website.

Among the issues brought up in the questionnaire were the use of the terms “North Dorchester” and “South Dorchester,” which rankles many local residents. Coined by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the city planning agency, in the 1960s, the terminology, nowadays used in breakdowns of various city statistics, is considered to have racial connotations. And many of the candidates indicated a willingness to tackle the issue.

“It’s an artificial distinction and has no place in our community,” said Craig Galvin, a civic activist who owns his own real estate firm.

“As a lifelong resident, I have only known one Dorchester,” wrote John O’Toole, a former president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association.

Because Dorchester is Boston’s largest neighborhood, the geographic distinctions may be necessary for the BRA, he added. “However, I know of no one from Dorchester who uses this distinction to identify where they are from. I would certainly address the issue if it became of concern to people in the district.”

Asked if he will work to eliminate the long-time distinction, Frank Baker, a former city employee, said: “Yes. We can only move Dorchester forward if we act as one.” Marydith Tuitt, an aide to state Rep. Gloria Fox (D-Roxbury) sounded a similar note.

Doug Bennett, a former Nantucket selectman who has frequently voted Republican, put it even more simply: “What I will do is fight to eliminate the BRA because it is an unnecessary bureaucratic institution that is extremely un-democratic.”

The candidates were also asked to weigh in on the fiscal 2012 budget, which reflected a city and state still struggling to break free of a weak economy. The City Council voted 12 to 1 in June to support the mayor’s $2.4 billion budget, which closes nine schools and merges eight into four; pulls staff out of some community centers; and continues a trend of municipal layoffs. Councillor Charles Yancey was the lone ‘no’ vote.

O’Toole did not directly answer the question of how he would have voted on the budget, except to say that money saved from busing should be used to enhance the school system and the council “needs to continue to seek opportunities to diversify the City’s revenue stream to counter the skyrocketing health care costs.” Baker said the mayor and City Council “did their best with the hand that they were dealt.”

Stephanie Everett, an aide to state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, and Galvin said they would have voted for it. Galvin said he would have pushed for prioritization of community centers, adding, “It’s not perfect but I would have voted to approve it, as did nearly every existing member of the Council.”

Tuitt and Bennett were the only candidates to say they would have opposed the budget, with Bennett citing the $80 million “waste” on school transportation and busing.

Asked if he supports raising taxes to support city services, O’Toole, noting the weak economy, said, “It would be irresponsible and dishonest to tell voters certain things are off the table.” He added, “I plan to do everything I can to prevent raising taxes on residents.”

O’Toole said he supported raising city revenues by taxing university and hospital-owned properties. Galvin also voiced support for more from nonprofit payments in lieu of taxes. “The city services we all depend on can exist only if we pay for them,” Galvin said. “Yet in the current economic climate people are really struggling, and we have to do everything possible to avoid new demands on the property tax side.”

Everett said she was “open to looking at all available opportunities to prevent further closings and/or cuts to invaluable resources.”

Baker, Tuitt, and Bennett said they opposed raising taxes.

The candidates had mixed views on UMass Boston eventually bringing dormitories to its Columbia Point campus. Everett said more conversations with the community and UMass need to occur before she will weigh in on the issue.

Baker said he supports dorms because of the jobs and additional seats for working class families they will bring, while Bennett maintained that UMass Boston should continue to be a commuter school for students.

Tuitt said she supports how constituents feel, particularly those who fear they will be living in the shadow of a campus like Northeastern University.

Galvin is open to discussing a proposal for dorms, but any decision must be made in consultation with the neighborhood and the city.

“My biggest concern is that UMass remains true to its mission of serving the community in which it lies, and that it remains accessible to the residents of Dorchester,” O’Toole wrote.

The candidates were also asked to name up to three political role models. Baker, describing himself as a moderate Democrat, pointed to Congressman Stephen Lynch and his predecessor, Joseph Moakley, as well as President Franklin Roosevelt.

Tuitt pointed to Shirley Chisholm, the first black Congresswoman; Mel King, the former mayoral candidate and state representative; and her boss, Rep. Fox, among others.

Everett also pointed to Chisholm, and listed President Obama and her boss, Sen. Chang-Diaz. Galvin named President Jack Kennedy and former Boston City Councillor Larry DiCara.

O’Toole said President Harry Truman was one of his role models, as is local resident Loretta Philbrick. “Although not widely known throughout our district, Loretta Philbrick has been a selfless and undeniably important servant to our community for many years,” he wrote.