District Five council hopefuls meet up with Mattapan voters

From left, District Five candidates Cecily Graham, Justin Murad, Alkai Powell, Ricardo Arroyo, Jean-Claude Sanon, Mimi Turchinetz, and Maria Esdale Farrell at the Brooke Charter High School.

The seven candidates for the District 5 City Council seat, which includes most of Mattapan, outlined their programs during a forum at the Brooke Charter High School last Saturday.

The district 5 seat is now represented by Timothy McCarthy, who announced earlier this year that he will not seek re-election. The candidates will face off in a primary election on Sept. 24, with a run-off between the top two finishers set for Tues., Nov. 6.

Questions at Saturday’s forum, which was convened by the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC) and was led by the group’s chairperson, Fatima Ali-Salaam, ranged from addressing violence and poverty, to school funding, to the siting of cannabis shops. But, the matter of whose voice can best carry the shared concerns of the district to fight for larger pieces of the city budget became a key point of the event, which drew an audience of about 50 people.

The candidates agreed that affordable, reliable public transportation is an important challenge to overcome as the city’s population continues to increase.

Cecily Graham, a lifelong resident of Hyde Park, began her career as a banker, where she saw many disparities in business loan opportunities for people living in Mattapan. She now works as a school teacher and regularly attends community meetings in Mattapan.

“I am focused on affordability, equity, climate change resilience, and public safety,” said Graham. She pledged to work for “inclusionary development that helps members of the community that are struggling with health costs because you should not have to choose between your health and housing, but also equity focusing on transportation, public education, and tackling zoning laws that fuel institutional racism.”

Justin Murad lives in Hyde Park and works for the city of Boston as a paralegal. “As city councillor I hope to bring everybody together as one, so everybody is at the table at the same time. No one is left out,” Murad said. “We should be bringing people into our community and also helping those who are already here by helping them to afford housing, to be able to move into the city, and also to avoid foreclosure with assistance through the city.”

Alkia Powell grew up in Mattapan and now lives in Hyde Park with her 14-year-old daughter. With over 20 years of experience in public service, Powell has worked at UMass Boston, for Fair Housing and Equity and in the office of Economic Development in Small Business for the city of Boston.

“I love my city. I love my district, which is why I´m running,” said Powell. “I know the struggle of losing folks to trauma because I’ve been there. I understand how hard it is to live paycheck to paycheck because I’ve been there. Having been able to work in non-profit, corporate, private sector, and city government, and state . . . I can get things done, and I want to be that voice for you.”

Ricardo Arroyo grew up in Hyde Park and worked as a public defender for four years. “I became incredibly troubled by mass incarceration and the over-criminalization of black and brown people when I was in high school,” said Arroyo, who said he wants to fight for more city contracts to go to people of color who own businesses in Boston.

“When we give out $665 million in discretionary contracts for landscaping, for food production, whatever it may be, less than one percent of that goes to people of color. That’s not a secret. That’s not something that would continue if I were your city councillor.¨

“Housing prices have doubled in ten years,” Arroyo said. “But the median income has stayed the same, and so it’s becoming harder and harder for working class families, for black and brown families to live and work in our communities.”

Jean-Claude Sanon is a native of Haiti who moved to Boston as a young man. He attended English High and Newbury College where he studied computer science. Sanon, who has mounted several previous campaigns for various offices over the last two decades, described himself as a “family man.”

He added, “I have worked tirelessly in this community. I have a vested interest in this community, and I have proven the fact that I can lead in Mattapan, Hyde Park, as well as Roslindale. Especially the people of Mattapan, the issues of the city are your issues and I am well aware of them, so elect me to be the servant who will be the voice of the voiceless.”

Mimi Turchinetz, who was born in Mattapan and now lives in Hyde Park, is an attorney and a community organizer who pointed to her advocacy on behalf of residents at a new 27-unit residential complex next to Fairmount Station.

“As an activist, as a lawyer, as a community organizer what I will do is integrate my knowledge base into this struggle,” said Turchinetz. “When a developer wants to get engaged they don’t go to the community first. Instead, they go to the city. . . . I’m running to build community, strengthen neighborhoods and knit the district together.”

Maria Esdale Farrell, a mother of six and lifelong resident of District Five, currently works in Councillor McCarthy‘s office. She was an aviation science major at Bridgewater State University. “But then I got derailed by some young love and I found myself as a single mom for 11 years struggling to make it,” said Farrell. “With some family encouragement and a lot of financial aid I went to trade school and became a hairdresser.” It took her ten years to finish her bachelor’s degree as she also worked in multiple positions. “What we do is we make things happen,” she said.

One focus of the forum was on the challenge of keeping existing residents from being displaced. “I know what it’s like to be priced out of your home and these developers are coming in and are not held accountable for the affordable housing required,” said Powell. “We want to keep our residents here, and I totally agree. I want to be that voice that makes sure that the process is followed.”

Incidents of violence that have impacted parts of the district are another point of discussion. Turchinetz vowed to apply her experience to addressing this problem. “I was an assistant district attorney and one of the reasons I left was that I felt that prosecution and jail was not the right answer for most of the folks who came to the courts,” she said. “What people needed, they needed programs, they needed services, they needed ways to address their drug addictions. . . . Jails are not the thing. We need to increase communication within the system, make sure that the [Area] B-3 [Boston Police] meetings are happening again so that people are talking.”

Farrell said that the next councillor will need to coordinate the various community groups in the district, including Main Streets and GMNC.

“We have a lot of great things out there, but we don’t have the pathways to connect. So I think it’s important to be a city councillor who’s in and around, someone who can help and be a valuable resource, presently, upfront and personally to help educate families, educate our students, to know what the possibilities are growing up in the community, especially when we talk about financial empowerment.”

The GMNC will host another forum this coming Saturday (Aug. 17) at 11:30 a.m. for candidates running for at-large city council. The event will be held at Moring Star Baptist Church, 1257 Blue Hill Ave., Mattapan.

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