District 5 council hopefuls make initial pitch at forum

At a candidate forum last Thursday (May 23), two candidates for the District 5 (Roslindale, Mattapan, Hyde Park) city-council seat - Ricardo Arroyo and Mimi Turchinetz - repeatedly proclaimed themselves progressives who would go far beyond constituent services and help other progressives on the council tackle issues from systemic racism to the climate crisis.

Maria Esdale Farrell, who works as an education aide to current Councillor Tim McCarthy, said idealism is all well and good but that she would largely stick to McCarthy’s current focus on bread-and-butter local issues, such as potholes and crime. Alkia Powell, who currently works in the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, agreed with Arroyo and Turchinetz - and Farrell - on many issues, but did not call herself a progressive.

The four spoke at a forum run by Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale at St. John Chrysostom Church. Several other people have announced their candidacies for the seat, but the group limited participation in the forum to people who have already turned in enough signatures to qualify for the Sept. 24 preliminary, have filed campaign financial data with the state and have answered a questionnaire from the group. One candidate who met those criteria, Justin Murad, did not attend.

On several issues, all four candidates agreed: Commuter-rail fares at Readville and Roslindale should come down, more bike lanes would be good, the council should take a close look at how people get on the School Committee and the council should get the ability to add items to the budgets of city departments, rather than just the power to veto those budgets.

It was on broader, citywide issues - and on McCarthy’s legacy - that they differed.

Arroyo - the only candidate to announce before McCarthy announced his retirement - said two of McCarthy’s actions helped convince him to run: The councillor’s decision to vote against a proposal to help renters stay in their apartments and his public backing of Gov. Baker in last fall’s elections. 

“We’re very close to having a progressive majority” on the city council, and Arroyo - whose father and brother both served as at-large councillors - said he wants to be party of that.

“My whole life has been about effecting social change,” Turchinetz said, declaring herself “a bold progressive” who would work on not just immediate constituent issues but on broader issues as well. Turchinetz said McCarthy, against whom she ran in 2013, is a nice guy, but that she would refocus the job on such issues as “structural racism,” affordable housing and the climate crisis.

“Those are not his priorities,” she said of McCarthy.

Turchinetz cited her work in the past with such officials as Ralph Martin and Dianne Wilkerson and her long-time role with the Southwest Community Development Corp., which recently opened a 27-unit affordable apartment building next to the Fairmount train station.

Farrell said ideology and vision are well and good, but that “basic city services” would remain her lodestar as McCarthy’s replacement.
At the same time, she said, she’s a different person from him: She’s a mother who has struggled with issues from finding a place to live to mental illness in her family - and she’s put all six of her children through Boston Public Schools.

“Councillor McCarthy can afford to put his kids in Catholic school; I can’t,” she said. She said she and McCarthy have worked very well as a team, but that they have sometimes differed on issues. She did not detail those differences.

“I’m not running so I can be a puppet to anybody,” Farrell said.

“I’m not going to judge Tim McCarthy,” Powell said. “I think he’s a great guy.” But she did say McCarthy seemed to show “a little bit of favoritism” towards Hyde Park over Roslindale and Mattapan.

Farrell said she did not see any favoritism, that in her work with McCarthy, “I help everybody who comes to me; we work hard to represent everybody.” She did say, however, she considers the district to have four neighborhoods: Mattapan, Roslindale, Hyde Park and Readville.

Arroyo and Turchinetz - who, like the other two candidates, also live in Hyde Park - agreed with Powell.

“People in Mattapan feel marginalized,” Turchinetz said, adding that, politically, “Roslindale has been marginalized” by a long string of Hyde Park-focused councilors.

Arroyo noted the district is now at least 70 percent minority and that its next councillor needs to look at larger issues because the district does not exist in a vacuum, such as the fact that whites in Boston have an average net worth of $250,000, while blacks have an average net worth of just $8. He also pointed to a recent report that just 0.55 percent of roughly $600 million in city contracts go to companies owned by minorities, women and Boston resident. He vowed to work on “institutional systemic issues” and to “name them, shame them and change them.” At the same time, he continued, there are specific issues in the district to address - such as the fact that Mattapan does not have a single restaurant with a liquor license.

Building housing

Farrell said she supports affordable housing but said that it has to be balanced with market-rate housing.

“Boston is really leading in affordable housing, believe it or not,” Powell said. But she said she is worried about people - in particular senior citizens, being displaced by rising housing costs. She added that she’s especially sensitive to the issue of affordable housing because as a kid, she was displaced from her home and then, as a single mom, she was displaced again.

Both Turchnietz and Arroyo said they would push to increase the amount of units developers would have to set aside as affordable with new projects from the current 13 percent to at least 20 percent. 

Turchnietz said she’d love to set that number even higher and pointed to the example of South End’s Tent City - originally built with one third units for low-income residents, one third as affordable for working people and one third for people who could afford market rates. At the same time, she said, neighborhoods need more of a say in the development process, especially with large projects. She pointed to a proposed complex on Sprague Street in Readville as an example of where supposed “community benefits” have been less than clear.

Arroyo called for community benefit agreements that would detail specifically what developers of projects over 10,000 square feet in size would provide the neighborhood.

Transportation

All four agreed with a proposal by current councilors Michelle Wu (at large) and Kim Janey (Roxbury) for free service on at least some MBTA bus lines, and possibly across the entire T system, and said they would continue work by Wu and McCarthy to get the T to cut commuter-rail fares for riders who board at Readville and Roslindale.

Arroyo called for a dedicated bus lane on Hyde Park Avenue and said the district really needs far more good bike lanes. He added that he would also want to look at developing bus service that can get residents to local shopping areas rather than the current system that just focuses on getting people to Forest Hills or downtown.

Farrell said Roslindale, with its dedicated bus lane on Washington Street and active pedestrian-safety group, is an example for the rest of the district. She said she would focus on roadway issues, such as pedestrian issues and congestion caused by drivers using services such as Waze to dart onto local streets.

Powell said that more work needs to be done to separate bicyclists and motorists.

Turchinetz said she would work with state legislators on more funding for the Fairmount Line, to increase its service to every 15 minutes and to develop a system to let its riders use CharlieCards.

A version of this article first appeared on UniversalHub.com on May 24. Universal Hub and the Reporter share content by arrangement.