City, News, Politics

District 7 City Council candidates address community issues in forum

Education, community unity and development were at the forefront of a District 7 City Council Election forum, held at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury, on Tuesday evening.

Incumbent candidate City Councilor Tito Jackson and his challenger Sheneal Parker addressed about 50 community members at the town hall meeting, which was hosted by RoxVote Coalition, an organization that aims to increase political awareness and “get out the vote.”

Candidates had one minute to introduce themselves and then moderators Lisa Moris, a RoxVote coalition member, and Raymon Pullum, a Boston Latin Academy student, segwayed into a series of questions from community group representatives as well as audience members.

Parker said that as a community activist, businesswoman, teacher and single parent of a 15-year-old, she wants to help further serve the community.

“When my son was two, his father was murdered on the streets of Boston. Instead of taking on that why me what am I going to do attitude, I channeled my energies into serving my community,” she said to the crowd.

Jackson said that since he filled in for former City Councilor Chuck Turner, who was removed from office earlier this year, he’s “been doing things differently.”

“Thus far, in the first six months I’ve been able to connect over 100 people with jobs. It’s not enough . . .but I’d like the opportunity to continue to do more as your next city councilor,” he said in his introduction statement.

Kim Janey, Massachusetts Advocates for Children senior project director, kicked off the question and answer session by asking about education reform.

“What are your plans to hold Boston Public Schools accountable for closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rate and improving the quality of education for District 7?” Janey asked.

Parker said that as a Boston Public School teacher for 10 years, she has always been concerned with the quality of education within the district.

“I disagree with closing the schools and bussing students to other schools because the issue is still at rise,” she said.  “I’d like to go back to the whole neighborhood school concept . . . so we don’t have to bus our kids, because that’s that not the answer.”

Jackson said Boston needs to “extend the school day” and expand school assessment because saying the teachers are “satisfactory or unsatisfactory doesn’t cut it.”

In addition, Jackson said he would like to do more with science and math to help students with potential future careers.

Monique Blocker, a youth coordinator at the Madison Park Developmental Cooperation, asked how Jackson and Parker would assure the community has an input in developments, such as renovations to community centers.

“I think it’s important that people step forward and attend all the meetings,” Jackson said.

Parker said it is also important to “work with the developers from the beginning.”

“I would be there always be there to make sure our voices are heard,” she said. “That we’re there when the decisions are being made about who is going to be the architect. . .and whose getting the jobs.”

Because Roxbury parts of Fenway, Dorchester and South Boston are all part of District 7, Roxbury residents said there is a large communication gap when it comes to neighborhood issues.

For this reason, many forum attendees asked what the candidates would do to unify the communities and help bridge the communication gap between neighborhoods, residents and elected officials.

“One of my goals is to make sure that we have monthly meetings, that we can have different people from every neighborhood to talk about some of the issues, solutions in our neighborhood – things that might work for one part that might work for the other,” Parker said. “I want to make sure that connection happens because that’s important.”

Jackson echoed similar sentiments.

“One of the things our staff is working on is pulling together one person from each of those groups to meet on a biweekly basis to make sure that that connection is there,” he said. “The other thing I think would be cool is to have a signature event in District 7 where folks could come together and celebrate the great things that are this community.”

Moris said in an interview that the purpose of the forum was to increase political awareness and participation within the community.

“I think part of the issue within communities such as ours, often times we feel like our voices aren’t being heard by our elected officials,” she said. “Having forums like this creates opportunities for residents of the community to really sort of pinpoint what are the target issues impacting our lives and hopefully get some responses for candidates that are running for that particular office.”

Rachel Miselman, a Roxbury resident who works as a freelance journalist, said she came to the forum because she was “distressed” that there was a low voter turnout in the primary elections and because she wanted to “stay informed” about both candidates.

“There’s so much that needs to be done,” Miselman said. “And I’m afraid that what will improve the neighborhood will be at the expense of the neighborhood . . . and push people out and change its identity.”

Miselman said she wants a better future for District 7, specifically her Roxbury neighborhood.

“I want Roxbury to remain Roxbury but at the same time I want to see improvements made,” she said. “I’d like to see youth in a variety of different roles in the community and I want them to take advantage of the resources Boston has – there is no excuse for one particular neighborhood or district to be languishing.”

While she came to hear both candidates, Miselman said she plans on voting for Parker.

“I don’t think Tito [Jackson] stands up to Mayor Menino, who is more like a king than a mayor,” she said. “We need a city council to be strong in terms of its members.”

Similarly, Roxbury resident Dorcas Dunham, said Roxbury “definitely needs to have more of a voice in the community, especially among youth.”

“We need a candidate who is able to put plans in place for action,” Dunham said. “I’m hoping whoever wins will be fully equipped and able to represent our neighborhood fully.”

Dunham said after attending the forum, she will support Parker in the election.

“I had heard of Tito but I was looking for new blood,” she said. “I want a candidate who will not just say it but do it – I’m fed up with all the talk. Our youth are in jeopardy and there are so many things in our neighborhood at stake.”

Elections will be held on Nov. 8.

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