City Council At-Large candidates discuss issues of housing and police

JP Progressives, Mijente, NAACP, Right to the City Vote, and BEJA hosted a forum for the At-Large City Council candidates on May 17, where 12 candidates were split into two groups and answered questions related to housing, education, police, workers and an equitable economy, and democracy as it relates to the City Council charter and potential changes.  

There were also “Lightning Round” questions at the beginning of each round, where candidates answered yes or no questions.

The first group consisted of Said Abdikarim, Kelly Bates, incumbent councilor Michael Flaherty, Ruthzee Louijeune, Carla Monteiro, and Nick Vance. The second group included James Colimon, Domingos DaRosa, Alex Gray, incumbent councilor Julia Mejia, and Erin Murphy.

For the education round, candidates were asked about the Boston school committee and whether they support a fully elected committee, a fully appointed committee, or a hybrid of the two. Right now, Boston has an appointed school committee. 

Most candidates said they were in support of a fully elected committee, with Alex Gray, David Halbert, Said Abdikarim, and James Colimon saying they would like to see a hybrid model employed in the city. Carla Monteiro said she would like to see a hybrid model at first, but then transition over to a fully elected committee, as she believes the process for running a campaign is not equitable for all, and work would need to be done to make that happen. 

For housing, candidates were asked about their priorities when it comes to affordable housing in Boston.

Alex Gray, who is blind, said he would advocate for accessible housing should he be elected. “I will fight for affordability, but I will fight more for accessibility,” he said. He also said that he is in support of a first generation homebuyer program.

Julia Mejia said she is in support of raising the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) 50 percent. “I think we need to reflect what the city needs,” she said, adding that she is calling for lowering “the threshold for when IDP kicks in.” Additionally, she said her office is “in the process of creating a citywide steering committee to help inform our planning and development process.” 

Other candidates, like Erin Murphy and Domingos DaRosa, talked about looking at city owned lots to build affordable housing, and DaRosa said that more public housing controlled by the city is a solution to the housing crisis. 

Policing in the city has been a huge topic of discussion this election cycle, with many candidates looking to make big changes to the police budget and how public safety is approached.

Candidates were asked: “Given the City Council’s Influence over budgets ad recognizing the constraints of the council in regards to the police contract, how would you approach reform of our current system of police and public safety, and associated spending?” 

Ruthzee Louijeune said that while “there is a lot of power even in that up or down vote” that the council currently has over the city’s budget, she believes the goal is to have participatory voting on the council. She also said that strengthening and investing in nonprofit organizations can help decrease violence in neighborhoods that is experienced by so many young people in the city. 

Carla Monteiro said that “I believe in a collaborative approach,” adding that she thinks both responsibilities and funds should be reallocated, especially when it comes to “responding to mental health, substance abuse, and [the] homelessness crisis.” She also said that having more collaborative programs with the Boston Police Department and “reallocating 911 calls to other responders so that we could use those fundings for a city run crisis team,” are things she would support. 

Nick Vance said that “we need more community policing” in the city and also have more police training. He also said that money should be reallocated to “social services programs.” 

Said Abdikarim said that he also supports participatory voting on the council for the budget, and said that diversity training is a must for police officers, as is “community engagement between law enforcement and the residents of Boston.”

Kelly Bates called for the elimination of tear gas, rubber bullets, and attack dogs, as well as to “strengthen” the city’s new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency. “We need to remove things for the police that frankly they shouldn’t be spending their time on,” she said, “where social workers can intervene and help our communities.”  

Michael Flaherty said that “there are certain matters” where the city would “need to work with federal law enforcement,” along with ICE, such as issues of child trafficking and exploitation, drug and weapons trafficking, and cybercrimes.

He said that his approach to public safety has “never been driven by ‘we need to arrest and prosecute our way through problems.’ It’s been more of a holistic approach.” He also said that police “may not be required” for calls about substance abuse or mental health. 

“I think our office has been one of the leading voices,” Julia Mejia said, in “dealing with all things police reform.” She said her office has been “fighting for a 15 percent reallocation” of the police budget, when many other advocates have only been asking for 10 percent.

Erin Murphy called for the expansion of the police cadet program, as she believes more police officers are needed in the community. 

“I strongly believe that everyone should feel safe wherever they call home in Boston,” said James Colimon. “Needless to say, we need the police.” He aid as a Black man in Boston, he has experienced “my fair share of racial profiling. We need to make sure we have a police department that reflects the community they are serving,” 

Domingos DaRosa said that he has heard that police want more training, and said that “a lot of them are suffering from mental illness themselves.” He said that reallocating funds to programs for violence prevention and community policing is something he is in support of. 

Alex Gray said that “people by and large very much want greater accountability” when it comes to the police department, and said that he has heard from some people that they are “afraid” of taking money away from the police department. 

David Halbert said that as a city councilor, he would be an advocate for “making very hard decisions as to what we would vote yes or no within the budget relative to public safety and where that money is going—where it shouldn’t be going, quite frankly.” He also supports investing more money into mental health services, substance use councilors, and social workers. 

Candidates were also asked how they would use the approximately $300-400 million in funding allocated for the Boston Public Schools (BPS) through the American Rescue Plan. 

Many of them, including Nick Vance, Michael Flaherty, and Ruthzee Louijeune, said that they would use the funds for infrastructure improvements to BPS schools, as many of them are in desperate need of improvements.

Others, like Kelly Bates and Said Abdikarim said they would like to ensure teachers have proper wages and training, and Abdikarim also said that investing in STEM and vocational programs is important for him. Bates said that she would like to see more “worker training for jobs that are going to be relevant post-pandemic.”

Michael Flaherty called for “more school nurses” as well as “more social and emotional opportunities,” especially as the city recovers from the pandemic and students make adjustments again. 

The lightning rounds at the beginning of each topic section allowed candidates to provide a quick answer to some hot button issues. During the housing lightning round, candidates were asked if they support rent control, and everyone except Michael Flaherty, James Colimon, and Erin Murphy said yes. 

Candidates were also asked if they supported a requirement for the majority of new affordable units to be built on-site, and all candidates said yes. 

For the police lightning round, candidates were asked if they support closing the BPD gang database, and all but Said Abdikarim, Michael Flaherty, and Erin Murphy said yes. 

When asked they supported the cessation of information sharing between the Boston Police Department and ICE, all said yes except Michael Flaherty.

When asked if they would “advocate for the reallocation of money from the Boston Police Department budget to reinvestment in communities,” all aid yes except Michael Flaherty, Alex Gray, and Erin Murphy.

For the full video with all questions and responses from every candidate, visit the JP Progressives Facebook page, where screenshots are also available from each lightning round question so responses can be viewed at a glance.

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