District 7 candidates talk issues as final vote nears

A week before voters are scheduled to head to the polls to select their next District 7 city councillor, the top two candidates faced off on term limits, a Wal-Mart coming to Boston, and the city’s snow removal efforts.

Voters will choose next Tuesday between Tito Jackson, a former aide to Gov. Deval Patrick, and Cornell Mills, a former civilian homicide investigator, to succeed Chuck Turner, who was voted off the council in December following his bribery conviction.

Jackson and Mills emerged from a seven-way preliminary in February, with Jackson taking 67.4 of the vote. Mills came in second place, getting 271 votes to Jackson’s 1,944, according to the Boston Election Department. Seven percent of the electorate turned out to vote.

Since then the exchanges between the two have turned sharper with Mills jabbing at Jackson on the campaign trail by, among other things, criticizing his opponent’s donor list. Jackson, who brought a considerable advantage in campaign funds and votes into this final round, has been less combative.

At the Tuesday night forum in Hibernian Hall, each had chnaces to ask questions of the other. One of the questions was from Mills to Jackson: Did he think Turner, who is due to report to prison later this month to serve a three-year sentence, was treated unfairly?

“Yes, I do,” Jackson said, adding that Turner had worked “side-by-side” with his father, the late Herbert Jackson, and that he was praying for Turner. “We actually have to give credit to that brother,” he said.

In another exchange, Mills said Jackson has often touted his relationships with Patrick and other top state and city officials, and asked “why hasn’t this district benefited” from those relationships before?

Jackson responded that those who came to the forum – roughly 80 people – were there to “hear solutions.” He noted that he was an economic development official in the Patrick administration and said the district needed to upgrade its information technology infrastructure to bring IT jobs to the community.

“I didn’t hear a direct answer,” Mills said.

When Jackson’s turn came, he said he opposed Wal-Mart coming to Boston, citing a negative impact on small businesses, and asked if Mills opposed it as well.

Mills noted that there was another big chain store nearby, Target, and a Wal-Mart in Quincy. Pressed after the forum, Mills said of Wal-Mart, “It’s bad for Roxbury,” but acknowledged shopping at a Wal-Mart for Christmas items and things for his children.

Jackson asked if Mills would work with him on neighborhood safety if Jackson won the election.

“I would definitely be willing to work with you on those items,” Mills said, leaving his response at that.

Asked by the moderator of the forum, Sarah Ann Shaw, whether they would commit to four terms – or eight years – in office, Jackson said he would.

“I wouldn’t want to put a number on it,” responded Mills, adding that he supports term limits.

Both said they support term limits for the mayor and that they would mentor youth to eventually take their places on the council.

The candidates also criticized the city’s response to the winter snowfall. “I will hold the mayor’s office accountable for this,” said Jackson. He noted that he and several campaign volunteers had helped shovel out some seniors during a recent snowstorm. “We need to make sure seniors are taken care of first,” he said, adding that he had not seen as much unplowed snow in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Mills suggested that shoveling snow presents an opportunity for youth to pick up the slack. “They need to get off the Playstation,” he said.

An audience member, citing his numerous endorsements, asked Jackson if he felt he had an “obligation” to his endorsers. “I feel obligated to represent the people of District 7,” Jackson said. “That’s my only obligation.”

The Mills campaign has sought to raise questions about Jackson’s endorsements and donations made to Jackson’s campaign. In campaign literature passed out at the forum, the campaign said that just 13 percent of funds raised in the Jackson campaign came from District 7.

Former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who is Mills’s mother and is scheduled to report to prison later this week to start serving a 42-month sentence on bribery charges, questioned the donations from developers and a law firm specializing in liquor licenses.

“You should be concerned,” she told a crowd gathered at a Sunday night gathering titled “The Attack on Black Leadership” in Roxbury. “People don’t pour that kind of money into Roxbury because they think we’re good people.”

Jackson said the donors are friends and family, noting that he ran a City Council At-Large campaign and helped the governor’s re-election effort, giving him access to a citywide and statewide network of people.

“It is a good thing and we should be proud people are paying attention to the need for resources in District 7. My campaign is focused on how we bring to fruition the hope and opportunity that needs to come to this district,” he said, adding that he stands by the network.

Jackson and Mills face off again tonight at a forum focused on the intersection of faith and politics that will start at 7 o’clock at the Charles St. A.M.E. Church on Warren St.

District 7 includes Dorchester, Roxbury, the South End, and parts of the Fenway neighborhood.