By Seth Daniel
Special to the Gazette
When Councilor Tito Jackson took to the podium to announce his bid for mayor at the Haley House Cafe in Roxbury on Jan. 12, he didn’t paint himself as a candidate for one particular group of people, but for all of the people of the city – in particular those in the neighborhoods and the students in the public schools that he indicated are increasingly getting left behind by a City he said is focusing too much on big money, big events, and corporate deals.
“We need a Boston that is thriving not in one of 23 neighborhoods, but in all 23 neighborhoods,” he said to a crowd gathered in the parking lot of the Haley House Bakery, a work program for those trying to get back on their feet. “Today, I announce my candidacy for mayor of the City of Boston and my bid to become the 55th mayor of Boston…We need a mayor with a backbone to stand up to big business…It is time to have vision for the City of Boston and we want a mayor that will work in the interest of all of Boston.”
Jackson has been on the City Council for District 7 since 2011 when he won a Special Election to replace outgoing former Councilor Chuck Turner. He represents Roxbury, and parts of Dorchester, the South End and Fenway. He also represents a very small portion of the Mission Hill area.
Part of the surprise of the announcement – which has been in the making for more than one month – came in that Jackson was one of many strong backers of Mayor Martin Walsh in the 2013 election, when leaders like Jackson and John Barros, now a City worker in Walsh’s administration, and Charlotte Golar Richie united behind him in a coalition that knitted together many different constituencies that likely brought Walsh to victory over then Councilor John Connolly.
Now, however, Jackson said he is disappointed in Walsh’s first-term performance. Saying it would be a race about issues and not people, he said the administration has focused too much on failed big events like Boston 2024 (Olympics bid) and Indy car races, as well as on big business and growing only certain parts of Boston. He said that has been countered with decisions that he believes have worked against the people, particularly students in the public schools who – starting in middle school – have to take the MBTA instead of regular yellow school buses.
“I was disappointed,” said Jackson, in response to a question from WBZ’s Jon Keller. “I believe there are many other things we could have done with the dollars that we had. And I was disappointed when we kicked seventh and eighth graders off yellow school buses and put young people in harm’s way (on the MBTA). I was disappointed when commissions that could have helped people in the city were voted down, and I was disappointed when we focused on the Olympics instead of the actual city plan we should have. I’m not disappointed anymore. Instead of that, I’m stepping up and I will prioritize working people.”
Prior to a short question and answer period, Jackson spoke for about 25 minutes giving his background growing up in Boston after having been adopted by his parents, Herbert and Rosa Jackson. He contrasted his experience growing up in his tight-knit community with what is happening now to those same people, including his kindergarten teacher – whom he said was struggling, like many, to stay in a city that is leaving them behind.
“She deserves to stay in Boston and she needs our help right now,” he said.
“Working families are barely holding on,” he said. “From Roxbury to West Roxbury, from South Boston to East Boston, from Dorchester to Mattapan and from Chinatown to Charlestown – the struggle is real…Families are struggling to stay in the city they grew up in, the city they invested in, the city they raised families in and the city they went to school in. They invested in this city and it’s abandoning them…Gentrification has become a neighborhood norm. And we’re judging our successes on the numbers of million-dollar condos, skyscrapers, and (publicly-funded) helipads we build.”
He said his message, instead, is that the people we raise up should be the standard of success, rather than the growth that is leaving some of them behind.
Within that message, he unveiled his slogan, “We are Boston.”
And to reinforce it, many times he broke into a traditional call and response pattern with the crowd.
“Who are we?” he yelled.
“Boston,” chanted the crowd.
“We are Boston,” he would conclude.
Many times, in what seemed like his main issue, he returned to the topics of Boston 2024, of cuts to public school budgets and transportation, and of the $276 million General Electric incentive deal given by the City.
In fact, he combined the issue of school cuts with the deal for GE, saying revenues that should have been used to close the school funding gap and to invest in school transportation were instead used for the GE package – including the controversial publicly-funded heliport.
“We are not going to allow big money to rule the day,” he said. “Big money got us in this situation and big money leaves us behind…Boston is a great city whether or not you get a $276 million incentive package or not. The miss with the GE deal is we don’t have the workforce needed to provide them with in the industry of technology or biotechnology. Instead, you’ll see attrition from other companies for the jobs that are there (at GE).
“I actually object to giving money to companies that can afford to move here,” he continued. “I support and believe in large companies, but we need to have incentives. We overshot that bid. We gave GE too much…We can’t budget from one year to one year…and then take the revenues that should have been used for schools and put it in incentive packages for big companies.”
As an aside, he said he would fight against any publicly-funded helipad for GE.
“That’s something I’ll work against,” he said.
Jackson said his campaign would start at the grass-roots level and would include traditional campaign events, and also an aggressive door-knocking campaign throughout the city.