By Seth Daniel
The three District 1 City Council candidates met in their first open forum of the campaign on June 29, and each candidate made a good showing – detailing their strengths and giving the healthy turnout of residents in Charlestown a glimpse of where they are similar and where they are different.
When sitting Councilor Sal LaMattina announced he wouldn’t run again this spring, the race started off with several possible candidates, including some from Charlestown. Since then, the field has narrowed down to three candidates – two from Eastie and one from the North End. The candidates include Lydia Edwards (Eastie), Margaret Farmer (Eastie) and Stephen Passacantilli (North End). The forum was the first of the campaign in any of the three neighborhoods represented in the district, and it was put on by the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard.
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in the Navy Yard hosted the affair, and the format was predominately a question and answer with no direct debating between the three. Questions came from the sponsors and from the audience, with about 50 people coming out on a quiet Thursday night.
Some of the highlights for each candidate included Edwards’s discussion about how the City isn’t planning for the middle class. The issue came up during a question about the One Charlestown development, but Edwards also touched on it as the chief challenge facing the district.
“Our middle class is not planned for in this (development),” she said. “We haven’t come up with pathways to ownership…The people working on this project won’t be able to afford or qualify to live there…We’re not planning for our middle class and a City that doesn’t do that is destined to be a City of extremes like Manhattan. When you have the extremes and you end up with the middle class having to make long commutes to work in the city.”
For Farmer, one of her key moments was in talking about transportation, and she set herself as a major advocate of serious water transportation – a position that played very well to the Navy Yard audience.
“We need an inner harbor ferry system,” she said. “We are running out of space to build roads. The next option is water. If you can establish that, you can connect to East Boston, Charlestown, the North End, the Seaport and the Red Line. I think if that were possible, a lot of people would be able to leave their cars at home much more often. It has the ability to move people, larger numbers of people.”
Passacantilli hit a chord with his emphasis on constituent services, and how he has become an expert on helping people resolve problems in the neighborhoods during his career at City Hall.
“Constituent services is what this job is,” he said. “There are some overarching issues – like One Charlestown and Wynn Casino – but this is a nuts and bolts constituent services job. I am available 24/7, 365 days a year. I am that guy that if you have a pothole in front of your house and Public Works isn’t there in 48 hours, I’m going to get my boots on and do it myself. I am an expert at constituent services. I’m not being cocky. It’s what I’ve been doing at City Hall for years…I’m going to make it happen.”
On some other key issues, they related the following:
- One Charlestown – all of the candidates were in agreement that the development as first presented was too big.
Passacantilli said his big concern is about the infrastructure.
“I’m concerned about infrastructure and public safety,” he said. “I just don’t see how we can handle the density with our infrastructure and our schools and our parks. We don’t even have a full service police station in Charlestown.”
Farmer said the developer needs to engage with the community more.
“I’ve never seen a development come out worse when the community is involved,” she said. “A developer who doesn’t live here doesn’t understand that a left-hand turn in some place is needed in order to get to a certain street. That’s why they have to listen to the community.”
- Opiate Epidemic
Edwards said she would start a conversation in the schools much earlier than now.
“I would take an approach upstream and address drugs and addiction in real conversations in our schools,” she said. “Right now, doctors are leading the conversation. I think we need more people in recovery guiding these conversations.”
Farmer, who works in recovery services, said she would bring the Angel Program from Gloucester to Boston.
“We need people to be able to walk into any police station and find a bed,” she said. “We need treatment on demand. When someone says they’re ready, there needs to be a bed ready right there. If you wait two hours or two days that moment of clarity will pass and the opportunity for recovery will be lost. It’s called Rapid Access Treatment.”
Passacantilli said he thinks the City is on the right track with the Office of Recovery Services and the 3-1-1 system for Recovery Services.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction with the Office of Recovery Services, but I don’t think they are staffed well enough to be as successful as they can,” he said.
- Boston Public Schools
Passacantilli, a father of school-aged kids, said one of his biggest platforms is getting universal K-1 seats.
“I think we’ve made progress on the Boston Public School system, but I have more friends with K-1 aged children who have not been placed,” he said. “There should be a K-1 seat for every child. It’s not acceptable.”
Farmer argued for more equity across the district.
“The fact that our public schools aren’t the envy of the nation is something we should be ashamed of,” she said. “Our universities are the envy of the nation, so should the public schools. There are good schools and bad schools and people fight to get into the good schools. Every school should be a good school.”
Edwards said it’s time to start leaning on those universities and institutions to help pay more of the load for the public schools.
“We should be looking at the pilots (payment in lieu of taxes) these universities pay,” she said. “We should be leaning at them more and looking for them to increase and help fund our education system to prepare our kids to go to these universities. I’m looking for a good neighbor policy for our institutions.”
- North Washington Street Bridge replacement project
The question about the Bridge came from the audience and detailed how the Longfellow Bridge has taken seven or eight years to repair. The question was how will the candidates prevent that from happening on the North Washington Street Bridge.
Edwards said all of the contracts should be readily available to the public and the City should be choosy about who they pick.
“You shouldn’t be able to continue bidding on bridge projects if you can’t get the last one done in seven or eight years,” she said. “If you don’t get the last one done on time, maybe you shouldn’t get another chance to bid.”
Passacantilli said it will be critical to get the Bridge done before the Wynn Boston Harbor casino opens, and that might take holding some feet to the fire.
“It has to be complete before Wynn Casino opens or it will be catastrophic,” he said. “I am very, very comfortable going into Public Works. Sometimes you have to get your boots on, walk upstairs and get in someone’s face to let them know the people of Charlestown aren’t happy.”