Challenger slams Walsh on displacement, education funds
District 7 City Councillor Tito Jackson, who grew up in Grove Hall and still lives there, faces a steep, uphill climb in this year’s race for mayor, a fact underscored by newly released polling data showing incumbent Mayor Martin Walsh with a 31-point lead. Nevertheless, Jackson is sharpening his already pointed critique of the mayor’s track record on affordable housing and education in his bid to unseat him.
In an interview with the Reporter last week, Jackson insisted that his message is resonating with Bostonians’ who, polls find, are simmering with discomfort over housing pressures, inequities, and slower-than-hoped-for improvements from the Walsh team over the past three years.
The councillor hit Walsh for misfiring on ambitious projects that ultimately failed, notably the Boston 2024 Olympic bid and IndyCar, and compared him unfavorably to the late mayor Tom Menino.
“There was more of a neighborhood focus with Menino,” said Jackson. “I do believe in being out in the neighborhoods, connecting with folks. But also, these large event-based [projects]… Menino did not like for others to come and, quote-unquote, ‘take over his city.’ He stood firm against that. But I would say, more than ever, I’ve seen less input, less voice, and less standing for neighborhoods and communities when it comes to development.”
Jackson harkened back to his childhood on Schuyler Street in Roxbury where he was one of four adopted children in a household of eight people. “We grew up with a house, we grew up with driveway, and a backyard. And a bunch of the people on our street did the same,” he said. “The dream of that has changed. We are a city where that dream is fleeting for most families, and people are clawing to stay in the city of Boston.”
He lays a sizable chunk of the responsibility for that on the city’s housing policy, which, he says, “values profit over people,” specifically citing the history of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), formerly known as the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Jackson said his constituents feel the administration “is not hearing them,” adding that the BPDA “fundamentally does not represent the people of Boston,” calling it “wholly unaccountable” to the neighborhoods it serves.
“In a Jackson administration,” he said, “I would separate planning and development in the city of Boston, adding that the BPDA should be “dismantled.”
At this point, the city has several distinct planning districts either completed or under way, including one around Glover’s Corner in Dorchester. Jackson feels that the narrow, piecemeal nature of the studies is flawed and promises instead a master plan that would be citywide in scope.
The Walsh administration is in the process of completing a wide-ranging Imagine Boston 2030 master planning study, although it seems Jackson’s proposal is specifically tailored to development neighborhood-by-neighborhood.
After the Reporter’s interview with Jackson, a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll found that Walsh can claim a decisive advantage over Jackson in every region of the city, every age group, among both men and woman, and among white, black, and Latino voters.
Of voters polled, 54 percent chose Walsh and 23 percent chose Jackson, although 18 percent are still undecided. Retired police officer and former School Committee member Robert Cappucci drew 4 percent and businessman Joseph Wiley polled at 1 percent.
The preliminary election on Sept. 26 will likely whittle the race down to Walsh and Jackson for a head-to-head contest in November.
In a conversation with WGBH’s Jim Braude on the Greater Boston show this week, Jackson acknowledged the 46 percent of those polled who have either never heard of him or haven’t formed an opinion about him. The poll found that 39 percent of respondents said they have personally met Walsh.
“They’re gonna meet me,” Jackson told Braude. “What this poll lets me know is that I need to get out into the neighborhoods. It also shows, though, that Mayor Walsh with 4 million bucks in the bank, only has a little over 50 percent of folks saying they’re going to vote for him. That shows trouble, and that gives an opportunity for me to speak about the issues that people care [about].”
The poll highlighted several issues that are priorities for Jackson. About 71 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the price of housing in the city, and 58 percent said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with Boston’s cost of living. Some 75 percent of people in Boston make under $50,000 a year, Jackson emphasized in his interview with the Reporter.
“We are a campaign that is uniting the city,” he said. “These are neighborhoods and communities that were built up by working families who raised their families — and by raising their families they raised their neighborhoods — and now they are being decimated by such upward pressure.”
Jackson said he would mandate a higher proportion of affordable housing in new developments and re-define the way “affordability” is calculated— replacing the Area Median Income metric, which includes the metropolitan area— with one that is Boston-specific.
Public education is the other key plank in Jackson’s messaging effort. In the Menino era, he said, “there’s a whole lot more we could have done with building more schools.” But even during the 2009 recession, he noted, “you still saw investment.”
The poll found that 6 percent of voters said the city schools have gotten a lot better over the past four years; 20 percent said things were somewhat better; and about 25 percent say things have become worse or a lot worse since Walsh took office.
Jackson said the $40 million increase in the BPS budget for the coming year is inadequate, “a farce, a red herring that’s been out in 100-degree weather for two weeks.”
After accounting for teacher contract negotiations, funding for new programs, homelessness programs, and early education — which he concedes are important— Jackson said that leaves about $9 million for existing schools and existing programming, a less than one percent increase. He was the only city councillor to vote against the city general operations budget one Wednesday, though City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley joined him in voting against the BPS budget.
Cutbacks for autistic programs are deeply offensive to him. The $455,000 cut to Madison Park Vocational Technical High School is a knock against necessary vocational education, he said, adding, “If we’re talking about a city with $7 billion of construction right now, this mayor is not investing in a pipeline of well-trained young people to go into the building trades and to build for the future of the city of Boston.”
The Walsh administration continues to face criticism for the lack of diversity in city departments, particularly police and fire; it’s a critique that Jackson said is well-deserved. Overall, respondents to the poll said racism is not prevalent in Boston, but by a narrow 42 to 45 percent margin. But 57 percent of black Bostonians think Boston is racist, compared with 37 percent of whites who think so.
Jackson, who endorsed Walsh prior to the final election in 2013, blamed the administration for “falling well short of what people in the city expect of us,” particularly in communities of color.
“We have a mayor who as candidate Walsh promised communities of color that he would do a disparities study,” Jackson said. “Three-and-a-half years, it hasn’t happened. It shows a lack of leadership to the broader business community. As mayor of the city of Boston, Day One, I will do a disparities study and look to ensure that minority-owned businesses and businesses owned by women are at the table to be able to take part in city contracts so that those dollars flow back.”
As to the campaign, Jackson insists that the race will tighten as summer runs toward a September preliminary that he expects will give his candidacy a visibility boost.
“This race is not a race that I put forward to prove a point. This is absolutely a winnable race,” Jackson said. “Mayor Walsh got 37 percent of his vote from communities of color. Mayor Walsh has not delivered for communities of color or for the city of Boston as a whole.
“Neighborhoods from Southie to Dorchester to East Boston to Mattapan are experiencing the worst displacemnent that we’ve ever seen in the city of Boston, the challenger said. “At a time when the mayor and his administration are saying things are so much more afforable and costs are evening out, people are getting pushed out of the city because of $200 increases in their rent. They’re fighing to hold on.
“We are building a coalition of people who believe in the whole of Boston, the promise of Boston, that it’s a city for all, not just some based on how much they’re worth,” Jackson declared. “So, there is a very real path to victory when it comes to all of those coalitions coming together for a leader who is going to focus squarely on the city and not be willing to auction it off to the highest bidder or do outlandish things that put the fiscal health of the city in the balance.”