Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Senate Candidates Debate in Charlestown

Last night, I attended the state senate debate between candidates vying for former Senator Jarrett Barrios' seat in the Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex District. The debate was held in Charlestown and was sponsored by three local organizations, Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown Business Association, Charlestown Waterfront Coalition. As you might imagine, local issues dominated the discussion. The candidates, as mentioned previously, are Chelsea City Councilor Paul Nowicki, Cambridge attorney Tim Flaherty, Cambridge attorney Jeff Ross, Cambridge City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, and Cambridge teacher and activist Laurie Leyshon. The debate was moderated by Michael Jonas of MassINC's CommonWealth Magazine.

The debate, I thought, was well attended for a special state-senate election debate. I estimated at least 80 spectators, most of whom seemed to be Charlestown residents. Outside the debate, Ross had the biggest presence early; his (mostly young) supporters carrying signs and wearing matching T-Shirts. Flaherty supporters were also out, but I didn't notice anyone for the other three candidates (I got there a little early to get a seat by an outlet!). I did notice that Leyshon and Ross seemed to be the ones who worked the crowd inside before the debate began.

The debate was largely cordial, with the candidates agreeing on many of the questions asked, particularly on the need for community involvement in development issues. Nowicki was the most forceful in his support for casino gambling in Massachusetts, and Ross was the only one who said he would not seek state funds to match city funds for Charlestown Navy Yard, but all were skeptical of MCAS as a graduation requirement to varying degrees. None of the candidates had anything particularly nice to say about the Boston Redevelopment Authority. There were only a couple of pointed moments during the two-plus hours. Earlier in the debate, Flaherty had mentioned that he wanted the seat because now was "a new and exciting time in Massachusetts politics." Galluccio countered later that he "wanted this job when it wasn't a new and exciting time in Massachusetts politics" and that he'd had the most time to think about the needs of the whole district. Also, having the last word in the debate was Paul Nowicki, who in his closing statement noted that he is proving his commitment to the district by declining to run again for his safe seat on the Chelsea city council. Unspoken, of course, was that this is in contrast to Galluccio, who is running for re-election as a Cambridge City Councilor at the same time he's running for the special election.

On style issues, I thought Galluccio, Nowicki and Flaherty were the most polished, though the two city councilors had more to say on their specific accomplishments in their respective cities and I felt like they could relate better to the problems of Charlestown residents. Galluccio noted that he wants to be "like a City Councilor, but with more power' and that he'd go to every community meeting in the district. Frankly, I don't see how that's possible given the insanely gerrymandered district comprising nine communities spanning three counties -- is he really going to go to every meeting from Brighton to Saugus? If he can't, he shouldn't promise it. Leyshon came off as very approachable, and I felt afterwards that she must have talked to half the neighborhood in preparation for the debate. She also, however, came off as very "Cambridge" and I'm not sure how that plays in the rest of the district. Ross has an interesting and varied resume, but he seemed much more comfortable when the conversation turned to statewide issues rather than the minutia of city planning.

Blow by blow below the fold
(anything in quotes should be accurate, consider anything else paraphrased)

QUESTION: Do you support the bill establishing a director of Tidelands and Great Ponds? How can MA ensure waterfront access?

Laurie Leyshon: Says she has a strong interest in environmental issues. It's important to designate tidal areas. The people of Charlestown should have the ultimate say in what happens to their access. She's heard over and over -- you're not represented by someone who lives in Charlestown. [Of course, none of these candidates in Charlestown, either -- sco] It's important for people to have ownership in their community. We need to have a sustainable approach.

Anthony Galluccio: It's crucial that legislature maintain power over the coastal areas. Chapter 91 has should be strengthened. This is an opportunity to elect someone who follows Barrios. He's cautious in delegating away authority. Main charge to protect Chapter 91.

Jeff Ross: Supports designation of a director. He will be involved in the future of the waterfront & what the development will be. We need to make sure the waters aren't becoming polluted. He supports the expansion of green space in Charlestown. He will work with the community.

Tim Flaherty: Chapter 91 was watered down during the Dukakis years. DEP allowed buildings to take place. Need to have clarity on that issue. The legislature has intended to 'seek clarity' after the SJC decision. Waterfront is greatest natural resource. Supports the legislation.

Paul Nowicki: Also would support the legislation. Chelsea waterfront is dilapidated. We've worked hard to bring it back. Proponent of open dialogue. He demanded to open process when a power plant wanted to move to Chelsea waterfront and has a history of dealing with waterfront development. Salt piles -- DEP has failed to regulate them. We've worked to bring them 'under the umbrella'.

QUESTION: Business health is not good in Charlestown. They're losing storefronts. Parking is always an issue. How to balance residential parking needs with commercial parking needs?

PN: We face that in Chelsea -- it's densely populated. To deal with existing businesses, you need to open up dialogue. For new development -- minimum of 1.5 parking spots for each person that goes in. They did a study in 1995 in Chelsea. He talked about a new development with 90 units, but spots for 36 cars. Supports requirements for parking for all new developments.

TF: We have to balance Quality of Life issues. He lives in Harvard Square, so he understands parking issues. Having neighborhood restaurants is a benefit. Supports a requirement for densely populated districts that valets be available during certain hours so business will have to provide parking.

JR: There's a study coming out that is going to look at best use of Charlestown along Main Street. The question lies with the community. What types of mixed-use buildings should there be? He would be an advocate for residents.

AG: He brought Zipcar into Cambridge. No one has gone to more meetings around development. Harvard, MIT, these are routine issues. Senator would be very similar to a city councilor in seven communities. Show up to meetings, etc. Neighborhood has to decide on development vs parking.

LL: Ultimately the citizens of Charlestown need to decide these. Residents need support from Representatives & Senators. Need to 'look outside the box' for solutions. Residential parking and parking for residents are different. A lot of residents may need to walk to the restaurants. She doesn't drive and would look into having better municipal transit. What about shuttle buses that run frequently at times when people want to go to dinner? A lot of unused space under Rt 99 and the highways where you might put in parking spaces. Study what other cities do for parking. "Make it fun for people" to take transit.

QUESTION: MA is 47th in spending on state parks. DCR merger has been done in name only, hasn't worked well. All parks are suffering. How would you change this?

AG: Worked for Sen Robert Wetmore, who had a reputation for protecting state parks. GOP administrations were not very supportive of open spaces across the state. He initiated an open-space fund in Cambridge. Would like to eliminate MBTA storage spaces. He would be a strong advocate for reinvesting in public spaces.

JR: Charlestown has one of the most important parks in MA. Lately there have been many crimes in the park and the surrounding area. The challenge is funding so rangers and police can make the parks safe.

TF: The DCR is symptomatic of 16 years of GOP governorship. Across the board things have been underfunded. Open space is important -- that's a quality of life issue. We need to reinvest in state park system. Not just the DCR, all across the board. The crime lab -- 16,000 pieces of evidence not processed because they're underfunded? Where to get the money? We need to prioritize.

PN: In Chelsea, they made a requirement that open space be provided with new developments. He got funding for the Chelsea Soldier's Home because he made it a priority. The GOP admin have depleted everything. He's not in favor of privatization. Prices will skyrocket and the people who need / want it the most are going to be priced out. He would work with municipalities to make sure the state property is taken care of, finished being built, etc.

LL: The park is the heart of the community. Parks everywhere in the state are in trouble. We have to take care of them. They reflect how we feel about people's lives. It's a matter of pride. The state should close corporate loopholes to pay for them. 1,100 corps that earn $100M and only pay $456 a year in taxes. Wal-Mart doesn't pay taxes here. "Wal-Mart is not a church. It should not be tax exempt." Combined revenue is at least $340M. That pays for a lot of things.

QUESTION: Education -- it's five years since MCAS became a grad requirement. Supporters say it boosts achievement. Critics say it's an impediment. What's your position on MCAS?

JR: Has two kids who go to public school. Son studying for MCAS (5th grade). He's bored by the repetition and not learning. As a parent, he doesn't like it. Teachers need to have more discretion. There are benefits. Kids at the highest levels get benefits. We don't need to eliminate it. Supports bill to scrap it as a grad requirement.

TF: Don't know that he would support bill. Know a little bit about it. Education "changed my life". Is MCAS the best way to test a kid? He's not sure. Teachers are penalized if their teachers don't grade well, so of course the curriculum is geared toward teaching to the test. There's a place for music, arts, PE. The State Constitution is "a very interesting document" -- says that MA must, for the "preservation of rights and liberties", provide for public education.

PN: Does not believe in test as soul requirement. He has two daughters in Chelsea public schools. It's imperative to focus on broader scope of what schools do. Education is important. He would work to make sure that anything that comes out of Beacon Hill is fully funded. He'd also like to expand the school system -- early childhood education, after school programs.

LL: "I am actually a teacher." She would support the legislation. A child's entire portfolio should be taken into consideration. She started an art school in California because art was eliminated in the public schools when she lived there. As a teacher, the way you connect with children is to cater the lesson plan to each child. Kids should be excited to go to school. MCAS kids are not excited. She worked on the achievement gap task force with Boston Public Schools. You have to have freedom -- if children need more time on one subject, you have to take that time.

AG: Spent 13 years on public schools -- he's "obsessed with public schools", and at-risk kids. He's been endorsed by Mass. Federation of Teachers. Portfolios are a better determinant. However, MCAS did improve public schools in Cambridge. He's the only candidate that has chaired a school committee and negotiated a teachers' contract. The MCAS is not as important as things like extended school days, bullying, etc. Let's move on to real-important issues.

QUESTION: Infrastructure -- Do you support prioritizing renovations in Charlestown? How do you prioritize as a legislator?

TF: Look at the netting under the Tobin Bridge. It's to catch lead paint chips. Do we want to suffer a tragedy here? This is an emergency situation. Romney improved the cape commute so people could get to their beach houses. What about Charlestown? There should be a capital bond immediately for Sullivan Square. There should be mitigation for building a stadium.

PN: Back in 1994, he sat on the charter commission in Chelsea. Chelsea went into receivership. Capital improvement was very important -- they put 5 year capital improvement plans in the charter. Legislature needs to make sure that there is a process that there is prioritization of infrastructure improvements. Make sure there is community input and that improvements are done by needs, and not by who's the loudest voice. There should be a comprehensive plan, not piecemeal.

LL: We don't have a choice but to make sure our bridges are kept up. Look at the Big Dig. We have old bridges where no one is accountable, but with the Big Dig there was a lack of accountability in the construction. There's a lot of money that's still due the state. We should close the corporate loopholes so there are more funds. We can't afford to take the risk. Sullivan Station needs a lot of work. It's not a pleasant place to go to, but it could be a vital center.

AG: Not only would he fight for funding, but he'll be at every neighborhood meeting. He recognizes the "whole picture". He is not going to be a senator that spends a lot of time on Beacon Hill -- but will be a neighborhood senator. Roadways are a disgrace. Long term planning is a disgrace. This is true of Charlestown, Everett, Chelsea, Somerville. Look at pedestrian crossings. The district needs development that makes sense -- residential housing density, low-level retail, etc. There need to be long-term plans. That has to be the charge of this senator.

JR: The state needs to look for ways to reinforce the infrastructure. Federal money is being drained off. We should look at public-private partnerships for funds. We should have mixed-use zoning planning.

QUESTION: Boston Redevelopment Authority - What do you think of its dual role as development agency and planning agency?

PN: In Chelsea, the city had no checks and balances. This caused problems in Chelsea. Those are two areas that should be separate. Look in the navy yard. It's important to have separate entities. When you're changing the landscape of the community, the process has to be open, accessible, inclusive so everyone respects the end product.

LL: She's been in the area for six years and never seen anything like the BRA anywhere else. She's never seen a city where you have a planning commission where there's no oversight. The BRA is astonishing in that it just does "whatever the heck it wants to do" She's heard this over and over again and would work to get that changed. People have to have the ability to control what happens to their communities. Where does the BRA money come from? They deal with this all over the city -- Roxbury, etc. City needs to also look at green building.

AG: Cambridge has an independent planning board. It was shocking to see the difference in Charlestown. He wouldn't pretend to be able to overhaul the Boston City Charter as a State Senator. Still, folks need to look to a state senator who can "exert influence over the process". He will be tenacious, relentless.

JR: The problem with the BRA is how development is approached. What needs to happen is the community should take more of a role and band together and work with councilors, legislators. etc. Communities could use some leadership in coming up with a vision and changing the perspective.

TF: The BRA has an inherent conflict. It's an inside ballgame. We need transparency in government. Why does the BRA share dual roles? He's not afraid to stand up to BRA, Mayor Menino or anyone. There's a sea change happening across the commonwealth and he wants to have a chance to take part in that. "I don't need this job. I want it"

QUESTION: Casino gambling may be on its way in MA. Is gaming the easy way out?

LL: At the heart of that question is "Why did it take us 400 years to recognize the Wampanoag nation?" We are obligated to allow them to have a casino. Whether we want to have everyone else come in, that's a "tricky issue". One casino is one thing, five is something else. She would like to study it further. On one hand are issues of gambling addictions, but the real issues are traffic, the effect on the infrastructure. Given how much the Wampanoags lost when we came here, we need to give back.

AG: "I have no horse in this race." He doesn't have any objection. Gov. Patrick has the potential to be a great Governor. He thinks we should have slot machines first, then casinos. He will take a hard look and keep an open mind, but he's not sold.

JR: State needs to look at the environmental impact. It's not clear how much money would actually come back to the state. We need to look at it as a community. What's the detriment versus the revenue?

TF: He comes to the issue from a law enforcement perspective and says he understands the social ills surrounding this issue. It's not a moral issue. Gambling is on the way in Massachusetts, but it's not going to happen overnight. This is a 4-5 year process. We need to be smart about it. We need to be able to reap the benefit of it. There are measures we can place to limit social ills. How are we going to pay for it? Expand the economy. Create real paying jobs. If gambling comes, he will make sure that the district gets their fair share.

PN: We should adopt the slots at dog tracks. Casinos should absolutely be allowed. Before you have the process of addressing the questions, you need to say yes. He has the endorsement of Rep. Kathy-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere) who has Wonderland dog track in her district. He will make sure there is community input. Let's open the doors so that we can do this in a smart way.

QUESTION: Healthcare costs are soaring. Municipalities now have the option to opt into the GIC. The law requires approval of unions, so few will. What can we do to reign in health care costs?

AG: He supports the Governor's. plan. Increasing purchasing power is one way to fight back. This is an example of middle class vs working class vs unions. He's proud at how well Cambridge pays employees. State should transition to single-payer health care. We're robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need to look globally at health care. Stop pitting people against one another.

JR: State needs to continue on working on universal health care system. The GIC bill is a good start. Everybody needs coverage.

TF: This is a divisive issue. This district is wonderful because of the diversity. Universal health care / single payer should be available for everyone. GIC process is good but a complicated process. One third of our budget is spent on health care costs. It's a budget buster and this is not going to change -- people are living longer. Paying for it is a complicated issue. Municipal partnership act is a good idea. GIC is good in the short term.

PN: He has the experience of uniting people on divisive issues. He's in favor of entering into GIC -- it would save Chelsea $1M. It's the same across the district. We should work to restore this money back to the municipalities. He created & chaired Labor Relations committee in Chelsea. They've gone from 90-10 to 85-15. That's leadership. He's in favor of Universal Health Care / Single Payer. We need to review programs on a year-by-year basis.

LL: Cambridge Health Alliance has done a good job. MGH has been providing free care. We're just beginning to get the health care situation right. We tried to get health insurance through the health care website for daughter. We couldn't find the right plan! She supports the Municipal Partnership act and doesn't want to pit private sector against public sector. Michael Moore's Sicko should be required watching for Americans. We could be so much better. We need to study what other countries are doing.

QUESTION: Do you support use of state funds to augment city funds for Charlestown Navy Yard?

JR: It's "hard to find community in the Navy Yard" because of how it's been developed. He would try to create public-private partnerships instead. It's difficult to appropriate funds so directly.

TF: Yes. The Navy Yard is a beautiful place to live.

PN: Yes. We have a history of doing similar in Chelsea.

LL: Yes. Definitely work on partnerships between the state and the city. She did get a sense of community in the Navy Yard. The walkway along the waterfront was frequently blocked. We're going to have to deal with the BRA.

AG: Sure. The next Senator should fight for state funds. A little goes a long way. The reality is we have to make the developer pay through zoning. We reduced densities in Cambridge, increased open spaces.

QUESTION: What is the most important issue facing Charlestown, and how would you help resolve this issue?

TF: The prevalence of drug use among young children. He was a prosecutor in charge of a drug unit. It's very easy to talk about being tough on crime. That's not being smart on crime. There's no intake facility in Charlestown. In 2003, the state lost more people to ODs than car accidents. There is a problem in Charlestown, Cambridge, Somerville. Let's get the drugs out of Charlestown.

PN: The drug & alcohol problem. It's the same in Chelsea, Everett, Somerville. He has a history of dealing with this for 15 years. He sponsored a Weed & Seed program in Chelsea. We need more Police officers on the street. They assist in prevention, and can act as social workers. He's worked with re-entry programs. We need funding for those programs so when people come out they have a sense of where to go.

LL: Crime. She talked to kids in the projects. They're just as worried as the wealthy people. This goes across economic lines. As a teacher, the first thing is to make sure we have mentors, after school programs, support groups, social workers for parents. More programs are critical. She did a green jobs forum with Sen. Downing, Rep. Festa. When people have jobs, they're less likely to do drugs. "Green Collar jobs, not drugs."

AG: He sees what everyone else sees. This is a pervasive problem. Where are the drugs coming from? It's not just more beds and more counseling. Charlestown has very effective programs. Every kid in Charlestown should know who their senator is. Building that relationship is the first step. He supports diversionary justice. "We're turning kids who don't think they're thugs into thugs by treating them like thugs."

JR: The problem is more broad based than just drugs. We need more first responders. In Brockton, there are similar problems. There needs to be a broad-based approach to reducing crime. You need to have counseling centers. We need transitional assistance. We need CORI reform so people can get jobs. There isn't just state money.

QUESTION: The LNG deliveries put the neighborhood at risk. Also, we are overbuilding our Waterfront in Charlestown. What are your thoughts?

PN: LNG? Get it out of here. You can't, for the sake of money, change the character of our neighborhoods. We put all those oil tanks along our waterfront. We sold out to get the quick buck.

TF: The LNG freighter is a disaster -- 3 feet on either side. We were reduced in federal homeland security funding. Other non-urban areas get more funding. The harbor pilots are not even government regulated.

JR: Charlestown & Chelsea need more advocacy to keep things out of town. There's a proposal to put LNG off the coast. The community needs to be involved.

AG: The Tobin Bridge, Oil Tanks, Rt. 99 as a dumping ground all shouldn't have happened. There are risk assessments that the public should be able to see. The Waterfont is our most valuable resource. We should be moving to residential T-Stops, not putting density toward the waterfront. He has a legacy of taking on institutions.

LL: The LNG situation is crazy. There's no such thing as an acceptable risk. Lloyds of London has insured the LNG. No one's allowed to see these assessment. We don't need to spend money on a risk assessment. They've already been done.

LL: She loves the Navy Yard and was particularly impressed with the Korean War memorial. Her father was a West Point grad, killed in action in Korea. She feels an obligation to make the country a place worth dying for. Her main interest is in the environment. He put together the Green Jobs forum in Cambridge. She's always worked as a public servant -- trying to help people, bring people together. People came to the forum because there was a desire for change. Everyone wanted to create a better place. We will have a green jobs policy for Massachusetts. She's also the Cambridge coordinator for CORI reform.

AG: Thanks to everyone. "I wanted this job when it wasn't a new and exciting time in Massachusetts politics." He's had a lot of time to think about the issues brought up today. How do we unify the town? How do we protect the skating rink? The community has become near and dear to him. Picture him when the bridge gets closed down, etc. He wants to act like a city councilor but with more power.

JR: Thanks everybody. Each area in the district has needs. He's suited to meet those needs. He's sued the RMV to stop them from implementing REALID. He's been working on civil liberty issues, particularly his work in Brockton. He cares about all the towns and districts.

TF: We've all got varied experience. We're all "progressive democrats" but he admits that he's not sure what that means. He has experience is in trying cases. "Don't vote for me because of the cases I've tried. It's not about me. It's about you, the voters." Politics is going to be done differently. We have to create real, affordable jobs. This district is a microcosm of Massachusetts. It's about where we're going.

PN: These issues are the issues he's been working on in Chelsea. It's important to look at the past. In five of eight terms, he's been the top vote getter in the most diverse community in MA. A leader brings people together and does it the right way. That's what he's done. That's what he'll do. Four terms as president of the city council. Chelsea's image is catching up to reality because of the progress. Drug relates to crime prevention. Weed & Seed. Make sure we have programs for nonviolent offenders. Money should be available for immigration programs. He's not seeking reelection to city council seat.