Mayoral candidate Charles Yancey staked his claim to the title of the race’s “education candidate” during a recent hour-long interview at the Gazette’s office.
Yancey, currently a city councilor, spent the majority of the interview discussing improving education in the city, saying students are being “short-changed.” He is in favor of an elected School Committee, and invariably, the interview drifted towards his long-time proposal to build a new high school in the city.
“It’s embarrassing living in a city where high school students have to go to McDonald’s for lunch,” he said, referencing that some City high schools do not have cafeterias.
Yancey also spoke about his almost 30-year experience as city councilor and affordable housing. Besides running for mayor, Yancey is also on the ballot for reelection to his District 4 seat, which covers parts of Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan and Roslindale.
“I’m running to make a positive difference for the people of Boston. I believe I know how to run the city,” he said.
Yancey criticized having an appointed School Committee, saying that it has “ceased to advocate for more resources” and that that is one reason why there is a push to return to an elected body. He said it is “highly unusual” for any member of the School Committee to come to City Hall or a City Council meeting to advocate for resources.
“I knew the names of all the School Committee members when it was elected,” he said.
Yancey said that by being an appointed body, the School Committee is accountable to one person—the mayor—and that there is “no sense of independence.” He pointed to last year’s school-closing plan where appointed member—including his mayoral competitor, John Barros—went ahead with the process over the objections of many residents.
Yancey brought up a proposal he has long sought, and long been criticized for—a new City high school. He said that there are 18,000 high school students in the city, but only 14,000 seats.
“What’s happening to the other 4,000 students? They’re going to substandard facilities,” the councilor said.
Yancey noted that in 2000, the City Council passed a measure to build a new high school, but Mayor Thomas Menino vetoed it. Menino said that the City couldn’t afford to build the new school and would do it later, but has managed to kill the proposal year after year, according to Yancey.
The councilor said a new high school in 2000 would have been $57 million, with the state picking up 90 percent of the bill. He said now it would cost $145 million. Yancey also pointed out that in 2004, the City hosted the Democratic National Convention, costing $60 million.
“We have the money for what we want to do. We don’t have money for what we need to do,” said Yancey.
He said he would like to see a new high school built in Mattapan, as it is centrally located with a high number of students living there. But, he said, it doesn’t have to be in that location, as long as BPS gets a new high school
“My theory is that the complaints are more about location than having a new high school,” he said.
Yancey, who noted that BPS hasn’t had a new high school since 1979, said the school system has inappropriate and inefficient facilities. He pointed to the Greater Egleston Square High School, which does not have a library or gym. The councilor said other areas of the state have more success in public education because they have more resources.
“Boston should be the showcase of public education,” said Yancey.
Yancey said he has a “severe sense of guilt” that the City is “short-changing our students.” “As mayor, students will have a strong ally in me,” he said.
Asked where he stands on the charter-school debate, Yancey replied, “My responsibility is not to charter schools, but to make sure Boston has the best school system in the country. I think we can do it.”
Yancey said he wants to bring high-quality education to all students, as that will mean less police and overtime because BPS graduates will be well-educated, have decent jobs and be productive, law-abiding citizens.
“That’s the picture I see,” he said.
Yancey has long been in the public arena, having been first elected to the City Council in 1983. He said he thought he was going to be a one-term councilor, as he proposed “risky” legislation, including a law banning free samples of cigarettes in the city in 1984. Yancey said that was “heresy back then,” and that he received hate mail.
Also in 1984, Yancey helped craft legislation that pulled City assets from companies doing business with the apartheid government of South Africa. He said other states and cities followed, and in 1990, Nelson Mandela picked Boston as the first United States city to visit because of that law.
Yancey is being criticized by competitors for running for mayor and his City Council seat at the same time. He emphasized that he wants to win the Mayor’s Office and is serious in the effort. He said he is running for the council seat as well because his supporters don’t want to lose his representation totally if he does not win the mayoral race, and he said some of his competitors are just jealous they did not think of doing so themselves.
If elected mayor, Yancey said he wants a complex affordable housing strategy that includes all developers, who would contribute to a fund that goes towards affordable housing.
He said that as mayor he would like to extend hours for nightclubs, as long as they are free of violence and not disturbing neighborhoods. He said that would help attract young people to the city.
Yancey said he fashions himself as an independent thinker with integrity who doesn’t always do the most popular thing.
“Sometimes I wonder if I have any friends in this city,” he said.
John Ruch contributed to this article.