Contested District Council Candidate Forum Notes – 10/14

Candy Mero-Carlson declined because of another commitment; Cipro and Stratman were invited but are not here

So – Hampton-Dance, Rose, and Haxhiaj are in attendance

We are welcomed by Maritza Cruz; forum sponsored by YWCA, NAACP, MAWOCC, LEON, LWV, others.

Link to video

Moderators are Attorney Rubby Wuabu and Sophie Marani

Candidate introductions:

Councilor Rose: originally ran to make the city a better place for his daughters to raise their children.  However, in running for third term, bring people to get together.  Councilor‘s job is not to be an expert but to bring people together.  Social justice, taking care of vulnerable populations.  District race is very contested and important.  Our democratic values are on the line and cannot emphasize enough how important it is to maintain.

Haxhiaj: her story is the story of many other families who fled their home countries not from choice but because of political violence.  24 years later, making her second bid for CC.  In past few months, have knocked on thousands of doors.  Has shared with them about life experience and experience as community activist, youth worker, shaped – has advocated for equity as board member of YWCA.  We all deserve to have our voices included in planning.  Future greener, healthier for everyone.  Affordable housing for all people.  Elect people who are forward thinking (oh my word this was great – just watch the video)

Hampton-Dance: decided to run because she represents the everyday person.  Not a politician, not polished.  Knows what needs to get done.  Wants to be microphone, amplify people‘s voices and concerns.  No matter how many time people call and write letters.  She feels all the people at the table are running on equity.  She believes she can accomplish some things because she is unafraid and refuses to be quiet.  [She was quite impressive – I was not sure what to expect as a non-D2-voter!]

Q1: how to improve access for woman- and POC (not a quote)-owned businesses in city contracts?

Etel: worked with CLC on this.  We should be taking the lead in how we think about equity.  Pandemic has raised questions.  Would like an equity audit of purchasing, contracts.  It doesn‘t end at putting a line on the city website.  Have right people do the outreach.  Listen to people about what is missing from the contract.  We cannot talk about equity without listening to the people who are impacted by inequity.  Wants to make sure process is transparent.

Sean: Apologizes for opponent not being here.  He is a small business owner.  Often times to contract with people to offer resources.  Also pres of a nonprofit.  What happens is that you are going up against people who have huge teams, dedicated grantwriters.  Look at bidding process closely, even playing field.  Aggressive TIF policies – can use as an opportunity to look at the bid process.

Johanna:  making people aware that there are monies available.  How to get word out: community colleges, resource centers, workshops on how to start a business.  It‘s one thing to talk about bidding, but as a normal person – how do I start a business or a nonprofit?  Where is the front door?

Q2 from NAACP: ARPA funds gives us unique opportunity.  How to determine priority areas?

Etel: the starting point for how we ensure all communities are taken care of.  ARPA is to uplift those who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.  What has been done in community listening sessions is not good.  Affordable Housing Coalition – 20% of ARPA should be dedicated.  Prescription should come from the community.  CC should listen more to constituents.  Not to be seen as a “good listener” but because it‘s the right thing to do.  Need to spend money in housing, take care of food insecurity, starts and ends with an equity lens.

Johanna: (whispers: “I have to agree with Etel”)  Fight is still on for 20%…we need buildings built for affordable housing, for those stuck in family shelters.  If single person and homeless, you might not get a bed.  Lofts for $2500 a month – I can‘t afford that – so where do I live?  Rent increases – those working 40 hours a week cannot afford.  No more protection from evictions.  How to pay back rent?  More mental health and drug addiction treatment.  We can build a ballpark – [then] we can build apartments.

Q3 from LWV: District councilors often hear specific infrastructure complaints.  What specific experience do you have to efficiently respond?

Johanna: have assisted people in a variety of issues and is not even on the city council yet.  All it took for her to listen.  Then put action behind it.  Provide transparency.  We can say “I‘m going to take care of it” all day long but nothing gets down.  I plan on being accessible 24/7.  It‘s going to be overwhelming, but I work best under pressure. 

Etel: Has been a long-time organizer and has learned about the issues in the city.  Has worked with mothers to have utilities fix gas leaks.  She will work with people who disagree with her.  What she has heard when knocking on doors – different way of thinking about safety, public health, and intersecting issues (housing is safety, housing is health).  Proven record of doing this already.

We have time for questions from the audience.

BLOG FAVORITE Fred Taylor: civilian review board.  We‘ve heard about what the state will do.  Do you support civilian review?  Why/why not?

Johanna: YES.  Has been very vocal about this.  Needs subpoena power.  Police cannot police themselves. Done on a biased level, rinse and repeat process.  No reprimand for bad behavior or misconduct.  Weed out bad apples.  WPD should be respected, trusted – not feared.  If you fear the police, you will not call the police.

Etel: YES.  In the city, we have gone a long time without listening to voices of black and brown people.  Executive order needed.  Police should not be excluded from accountability.  Police officer‘s job description should not be called because of social issues like homelessness.  Definitely civilian review board with subpoena power – but also in best interests of communities most impacted by police brutality. 

Follow up: who should serve?

Johanna: orgs at the forefront (names a bunch). 

Etel: has heard criticism that we can‘t have volunteers with expertise.  Many boards and commissions are already staffed by volunteers.  Need to appoint people who have lived experience.  Accountability to those most impacted.

Rose (who had to step out): would like to see process started done first – then work from there.  Would like to see that through in advance of starting something new.  Each district has own identity – want to see each part of city represented.  Mental health, trauma backgrounds helpful as well.

Q from Shelly Rodman of LWV: read about CC discussion of composition of SC from the previous CC meeting.  Three options were presented.  What do you think?  One month comment period for residents to say something – seems like tight timeframe.

Johanna: OK with three options – each seems reasonable. 4 week time period – but this has been ongoing discussion.  Conversations should have been done at this point.  Because this has not been done fall on the Council.  Done deal – needs to move forward.

Sean: in his two terms, that was probably the saddest CC meeting.  It should have been an 11-0 vote.  When he talks about values on the line, this is exactly what I mean.  Councilors on the record talking about charter review, stats about black/brown people not being represented.  We‘ve been challenged for 400 years in this country.  This levels the playing field.  He is disappointed with some of the commentary.  He likes all options – just wants to get it done.  He is very pragmatic. 

Etel: shocking that it was not a unanimous vote.  Plaintiffs have entered into consent decree – interested in their perspective.  Why is it that every time we try to bring equity forward, why is it that certain members of the Council continue to block progress?  Hurting communities.

Q from me about an issue facing each candidate‘s specific district they‘d like to tackle.

Johanna: certain areas that are very well kept, a lot of the district is not – from trash on the streets to panhandlers on every corner, to rundown properties.  No time, money, attention invested in those neighborhoods.  Neighborhood should reflect people who live as a whole.  Clean atmosphere – take more pride.  Need to hire more DPW, Parks employees to create that atmosphere.  Send out mailers for neighborhood cleanup.  We say we take pride in the city, but there are certain areas of D2 where that doesn‘t show.

Sean: food insecurity.  Seeing people suffering after the pandemic.  Perception that everyone in D1 is well-off, but that is not the case.  There‘s a lot of diversity in the district.  Community fridges are great, Carl Gomes, etc. are being helpful.  QCC has a food pantry.  Kids who are choosing books over meals.  Goals is to change perception of D1 – money is not growing on trees.  Balanced resources around the district.  Tacoma getting rectangular field and spray park, 149 W Boylston Drive – worked with John Mahoney to get that cleared (more parks mentioned).  One of the most beautiful sites on the lake. 

Etel: did a walk audit with neighbors on Mill St 4-5 months ago.  #1 thing is pedestrian safety, children and elderly narrowly escaping being hit by cars.  Pleasant, June, Mill are all very busy.  Traffic calming measures, elderly/seniors/bikers/children need safe streets.  Meeting at West Tatnuck because child had been hit – crossing guard also hit.  We talk about public safety, public health – both issue.  People need a walkable city.  Green/walkable/transportation all related.  Free WRTA is part of this.  We also have a lot of vacant properties.  Park Ave, Big D on Mill Street.  That‘s an issue on their minds.  Incentives to make sure that we are building for neighbors, not for outside people.  All of our residents need to be included in decision-making processes. 

Q: at the NAACP candidate forum, every candidate says that they listen.  It is easy to listen to people who talk in ways that are familiar to you.  Has talked with those who consider themselves progressive but object when someone demonstrates anger or frustration, because it makes it hard to hear the logic.  Can you respond to that concern, what would you do?

Johanna: this just happened last week.  She was knocking on a police officer‘s door.  He was outside and it was a spectacle.  Maybe I can brighten his day…he said he wasn‘t voting for anyone who was not pro-police.  I‘m not, but I‘m not against them either.  I don‘t want people abusing authority.  She wanted to hear why he thought that about her.  He was already angry.  Went on a tangent with Main South.  I spent 25 minutes talking with him and his wife.  I come from a household with a DEA agent; I can understand where he‘s coming from.  We have an understanding.  We didn‘t walk away in anger.

Sean: 26 years in field of mental health and education – people can yell at him. We‘re such a big city.  On Saxon Road, issue with runoff coming into basements – but different from GBV or upper Burncoat or Lincoln Village.  8 neighborhood meetings in our district.  It‘s easy to make issues small – try to understand where people are from.  He grew up in single-parent household, moving quite a bit.  Gives him a good perspective on what needs are.  In the end is committed to finding common ground.  Also times when we have to tell people bad news.

Etel: started career as community mediator in small claims court, then taught about conflict resolution.  We cannot walk away from conversations because we feel angry.  At the end of the day, what‘s beneath anger and frustration is pain.  Pain of not being heard.  Doesn‘t want to police people‘s emotions.  We cannot get stuck in our separate corners and not have conversations.  Our lives are rooted in nuance and complexity.  Conflict is opportunity to look at how we relate to each other.  We need to come from place of compassion – build, not destroy.

Final statements:

Etel, from the heart: This has been a very difficult year for a lot of people.  Her office is located in a shelter.  There is not a day that goes by that she doesn‘t think about the kids on the steps of her building.  Purpose: wants to serve beyond normal definition of serving.  Pathway for those who will come beyond her.  Need doors opened, so that people can express hopes and dreams.  Has been hurt by a lot of negativity hurled her way, but as leaders lead with integrity, patience, ability to talk to all.  If elected, easy to make promises.  Commitment to listen, act, organize, to make sure we are building city for all people and not just a few.

Sean: the COVID disparity study from UMass is way for ARPA funds – do not need to reinvent, can do some strategic planning.  Walkability is important, 2 miles to get to school (without bus) and need studies to get to school.  At one point he was personally filling in a lot of potholes.  $110 million in streets scheduled to be repaired.  Need to figure out how to chip away at that – use unused tax levy.  He is very thoughtful – offered office hours during pandemic.  A great city councilor is an expert in partnering with others and bringing them together.  We have opportunity to not just be reactive/band-aid but have assessments can inform our practice and we can be proactive.  We need someone who is not a one-sided thinker, not just about one department in the city.  Lack of educated approach will stall the progress we have made.

Johanna: her 9-5 works for a nonprofit that contracts with EOHHS and Elder Affairs, directing people to get what they need.  A lot of what‘s missing is pointing people in the right direction.  If you are a councilor in the city, you should know where the resources are at.  She can relate to people in a real way and understand.  She can understand waiting in line at food pantries, going to CMHA.  Someone needs diapers for their baby – she can help them find the right resources.  I am not the voice – but I will amplify.  I may not be that polished diamond – but I am getting there.  I will not leave you out in the cold.

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