By John Lynds
Last Wednesday night District 1 City Council Candidates squared off in one of the last debates or forums scheduled before the Tuesday, Nov. 7, municipal General Election.
Hosted by the Charlestown Navy Yard Association, over 100 voters from District 1, which includes Charlestown, the North End and East Boston, packed the MGH Institute of Health Professionals to hear each candidate give their unique perspectives on how to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the neighborhood.
Up first to introduce herself was Edwards who said being the daughter of a career U.S. Air Force veteran instilled in her at a very young age the duty to serve ones country and community. Edwards credited her veteran mother as someone who was a shinning example of what it means to engage in public service. She said has used that inspiration and is running for the City Council seat to ensure that Boston continues to be a city for all. While Charlestown and other neighborhoods face development issues, housing inequality and transportation woes, Edwards said she sees things like improving education, making transportation more accessible and affordable and setting resident on the path to homeownership as ways out of poverty and into the middle class. She void to be Charlestown’s advocate everyday at City Hall.
Passacantilli was next and said he is running because he sees Boston as a city of neighborhoods. Growing up in the North End he said he had an unbelievable childhood in his working class neighborhood that was filled with tight knit families. While the North End and many Boston neighborhoods have changed Passacantilli said he sees a resurgence in families moving back to the neighborhoods and raising their families. He said he believes stronger public schools are key to bringing more families back to neighborhoods like Charlestown but there needs to be measures taken to make living in the city an affordable option for families. As a renter, Passacantilli said he understands the struggles many residents are facing with rising rents and costs of living and believes more can be done to curtail this trend and return Boston to a place of family driven neighborhoods.
The first posed to each candidate asked how each views their role in city government and can promote the interests of Charlestown at City Hall.
Passacantilli said the best way to promote Charlestown’s interest would be to first talk to residents and see what they are passionate or concerned about. Passacantilli, who has worked at City Hall for the past 12 years said he could easily use his government experience and networks in city government to hold city departments acceptable to Charlestown residents. Passacantilli added that he sees City Hall as a building that should improve the quality of life for residents. He said working at City Hall has afforded him an opportunity and training to best deal with constituent services, handle situations, and know who to call when a problem arises.
Edwards on the other hand said Charlestown is under tremendous pressure with the upcoming North Washington Bridge rehab project, the redevelopment of the Charlestown Housing Development and a casino coming to neighboring Everett. She said what Charlestown needs now more than ever is an independent voice and fresh perspective to be able to think big and solve issues. She said that it is the residents of Charlestown who should be leading the conversation and sitting at the table when decisions are made that affect the quality of life here. She said she was proud of the network of support she has built in the neighborhood and it is that network that she plans to bring to City Hall to be the voice of the neighborhood.
On a question asking why Charlestown’s waterfront has not received the same level of attention as other waterfronts in the city, Passacantilli said his plan would be to use the fee that the Boston Planning and Development Agency charges for sales of property there to fund Navy Yard projects like an improved harbor walk, better greenspace, and an inner harbor ferry. Passacantilli added that he also has a plan to launch a kayaking share program modeled on the bike share program, Hubway.
Edwards said there needs to be more focus on developing and improving the Navy Yard as a place that is part of greater Charlestown and not isolated. She said she would advocate for a more walkable Navy Yard with more open and green space that is climate resilient and includes more efficient and affordable transportation to other points in Boston. To fund these improvements Edwards believes developers and other private businesses and entities should chip in, like business and developers did for the Rose Kennedy Greenway, because they are going to benefit from the improvements just as much as Charlestown residents.
The next question regarding the North Washington Street construction project, each candidate was asked how they would handle potential traffic disruptions over the five year timetable it will take to complete the project.
Edwards said first and foremost the project’s traffic plan needs to be well thought out and planned before any construction begins. As an Eastie resident Edwards said she has seen first hand the result of poor planning when MassDOT removed the toll booths at the Sumer Street toll plaza, which has resulted in a traffic nightmare for the neighborhood. Edwards feels the city and state can learn from those mistakes and should bring all community stakeholders to the table to iron out a concrete plan that will work for everyone so then, as construction progresses, the constructor will be held acceptable to the agreements they made with the community. She also suggested forcing whatever company contracted to do the work on the bridge pay for regular police details as well as providing the community with up to date data on traffic conditions.
Passacantilli said while there is no denying the project will be a huge inconvenience, he would advocate for strict enforcement of the ‘don’t block the box’ rule at all of Charlestown’s intersections, install smart traffic signals that can be calibrated in real time to keep traffic flowing and work with tour bus and duck boat companies to ensure they are not adding to the burden of traffic as the project moves forward.
The candidates were then asked about whether or not they supported the MBTA expanding ferry service to Lovejoy Wharf.
Edwards said she would support expanded service as a way to help the community gain another form of transportation and getting around as the bridge project commences. Edwards said the city is not using its waterways enough as an alternative form of transportation and needs to begin assessing the cheapest and fastest ways for people to move around the city. Again she feels developers and businesses could be partners with the city and a ‘ferry fee’ should be attached to future development projects as a way to subsidize the cost and make it cheap for the ridership. She pointed to the ferry between Pier 6 restaurant in Charlestown and the Reel House restaurant in Eastie as an example of how a private partner could work on a larger scale.
Passacantilli said he too was an advocate for a private/public partnership to fund a harbor ferry. He pointed to the project at Lovejoy Wharf and the building of a new dock as the step in the right direction to more waterfront access but said more needs to be done for large developers to begin chipping in to make a harbor ferry an affordable reality. He added that when it comes to waterfront transportation there needs to be solid planning to ensure that the ferry stops are integrated and connected to places people need to be or want to go instead of the most convenient stop for ferry operators.