Councilor John Connolly attended the Candidate Forum that took place on Wednesday, July 29, 2009.
John Connolly’s Questionnaire and Introductory Remarks with the JP Progressives
150 word maximum, no minimum. We will publish your answers in their entirety in the web version of this Candidate Survey. In the printed version, we reserve the right to edit for length, but not for meaning or intent.
There is limited space available for development in Boston. Given that, what sort of development should be prioritized, and how will you ensure that this development addresses pressing unmet needs, including affordable and low-income housing?
The following types of development should be prioritized, especially within our neighborhoods:
- Mixed-Use/Mixed-Income: We should prioritize Smartgrowth Development that combines retail and residential uses linked to public transportation that ensures vibrant, diverse, and accessible communities. Our communities should reflect the socio-economic diversity of our city, which is the best way to create stable and sustainable neighborhoods.
- Transit-Oriented: Developments within walking distance of public transportation should be encouraged to reduce the number of automobile trips generated, and the subsequent impact on the community and the environment. On the City Council, I led the effort to bring a shared bike system to Boston. .
- Green/Sustainable: All development, no matter what type should have a minimal impact on the environment and be as energy efficient as possible. .
As for affordable housing, our priority must be to protect existing affordable units that are scheduled to revert to market-rate under expiring contracts. I will work with city and state agencies, community development corporations, and financial institutions to preserve these units. If we do not protect our existing affordable housing stock, then our efforts to add new units will be rendered moot.
When it comes to development in Jamaica Plain specifically, what are your top three priorities?
My three development priorities for JP have been and will continue to be promoting mixed-use/mixed-income housing, retaining small businesses, and preserving green and open spaces.
During my first term, I have been an active supporter of a number of affordable housing initiatives including Urban Edge’s proposal to redevelop 82 units of housing in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. I have also supported projects such as the relocation of Bella Luna/Milky Way to the new Amory site because supporting locally-owned small businesses is vital to the stability of the neighborhood. In fact, my office spoke in support of this project at a number of meetings. Finally, I have worked and will continue to work to maintain green and open spaces in JP. We must protect our great jewels, such as Jamaica Pond and Franklin Park, as well as all of our parks, tot lots, and playgrounds from encroachment by overdevelopment. Places to relax and play sustain a livable, healthy and vibrant community.
Environment and Energy
If you are elected, what are three specific actions you would propose for the City of Boston to promote energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and improve the local environment?
As Chair of the Environment and Health Committee, I filed the Council’s first Green Agenda aimed at pushing Boston to be the greenest, most environmentally friendly city in the world. I secured a commitment from the administration to triple the number of hybrid vehicles to be added to the city fleet and shepherded over $6 million in environmental stimulus money through the Council that will be used for weatherization and solar expansion. If reelected I will continue to push my Green Agenda that includes: a call for an Environmental Science Academy in BPS, a school focused on educating environmentally responsible citizens prepared for the expanding green economy; a carbon neutral neighborhood pilot program, and a shared-bike program. I will continue also to hold neighborhood environmental summits like those that I held in Dorchester and Charlestown aimed at getting neighbors to work together to reduce their carbon footprints. These summits were inspired by a JP based BCAN Global Warming Café that I attended in early 2008. Finally, I will continue to push for green buildings, especially municipal buildings and schools like the Agassiz in JP where I convened a hearing in JP to address serious environmental health issues that are impacting all who spend time in that school.
- Given the resurgence of youth violence in the city, what specific steps would you take to ensure the safety of youth in our city?
- What is your positive vision for youth in the City of Boston, and what do we need to do to get there?
Youth violence is the single most important issue facing Boston. When a child dies on our streets, there is no greater tragedy or failing for Boston. Stopping youth violence is partly a matter of will, and partly a matter of strategy and resources. We need a citywide commitment/will to stop violence and see every child as our own. Every citizen and every neighborhood must be committed to stopping youth violence. Strategically, real community policy that links officers walking our streets with neighborhood crime watches and youth workers who reach out to at-risk youth is a proven success. Additionally, we need the resources to supplement will and strategy with an emphasis on early intervention. As a former teacher, I understand the importance of education in reducing youth violence. I recently introduced an innovative program to address Boston’s truancy problem which is a high predictor for children who will ultimately be involved in youth violence within our city. The program focuses on familyt engagement, parental responsibility, and early intervention. A proactive program such as this, which focuses on all of the needs of the student and the family as a whole, is the most effective way to reduce truancy and its strong association with future youth violence.
What are the top three specific improvements you would suggest to improve accountability and transparency in city government?
We have made some improvements with respect to accountability and transparency, but more needs to be done. First, the City Council recently passed legislation regarding financial disclosures of City Council members. I authored the successful amendment to the ordinance that required a penalty mechanism to ensure compliance. I also secured an executive order that effectively expands this ordinance to all city officials with policy making power. I was the cosponsor of the City Council’s proposed transliteration ordinance that fosters ballot access and open elections by enabling Asian, Latino, and Haitian voters to receive transliterated ballots. In terms of three specific improvements, the City needs” (1) a line-item budget so it can easily be reviewed, (2) to commit to transliterated ballots in all elections, and finally (3) all City Council meetings and hearings should be broadcast live via streaming video and audio and available on the BNN’s primary channel.
- There will be a debate in Boston over the next few years about whether and how to revise the school’s transportation plan. What will be your priorities when approaching this topic?
- What do you believe are the primary causes of the achievement gap in the Boston Public School system, and what is your plan for closing this gap?
- What specific actions would you take to improve the failing schools in Boston?
As a former teacher in urban schools, I know urban schools can work because I taught in an urban school that worked. Improving Boston’s schools and closing the achievement gap requires a commitment to building successful schools where principals, teachers, and parents build a school at the grassroots level that meets the needs and offers the education that is best for that individual schools’ students. This visions requires a commitment to programming and teacher training so that every school offers not only the best in math, science, and ELA, but also in arts, music, foreign languages, and humanities as well as robust afterschool options. We learn more every day that tells us that the achievement gap starts long before a child enters kindergarten. We can end the achievement gap with a steadfast commitment to extended learning time, afterschool programming, and the development of a culture of early learning and literacy.
In terms of reforming student transportation, we should simultaneously revise the transportation plan to create smaller zones and more community based schools while also being committed to a real plan to create quality schools across Boston by taking all savings from student transportation reform and dedicating that money to improvement plans and expanded programming options in our underperforming schools. To view my full thoughts on this issue and my whole education proposal, please visit the “Our Schools” section of www.connollyforboston.com.
Boston’s Human Service and Public Health agencies are struggling with rising costs and shrinking budgets. If you could put $10 million just into those agencies, how would you invest it?
We need to invest in research of diseases that carry a heavy public health burden. Recently the government has increased funding for research of pathogens like anthrax, but it has decreased funding for research of diseases that both carry a heavy public health burden and disproportionately affect low-income populations, such as HIV, Lyme disease, and tuberculosis.
We also need to invest in removing the barriers that are preventing non-English speaking Bostonian’s access to health care and improve communication between clinicians and patients. Future reductions in the cost of care will offset the cost of this investment and we will better serve a growing population in our city.
State level transportation agencies have been reformed and combined, but still carry some of the highest debt load of any transportation system in the country. In light of this, if elected what would your priorities be for improving the overall transportation system in Boston?
We must increase our use of alternative and sustainable transportation. I have led the way on the City Council to bring a shared bike program to Boston and I will continue to fight to expand and connect our bike paths and bike lanes throughout the city. We also need to push for a rebirth for our aging public transportation system and encourage its use by making it easier for residents to take their bikes on buses and subway trains, and access the internet while underground. Finally, every citizen of every neighborhood of Boston must have equal access to all neighborhoods and I am particularly proud to have helped lead the fight to preserve service of the “JP Loop” bus.
Jobs and Labor
Most job growth in Metro Boston has occurred in Boston suburbs, while minority populations have been growing in the central city. Black and Latino residents have faced unemployment rates 3 times the rate of white residents, and Asian residents twice that of whites. What single policy would you support that would have the greatest impact on unemployment and job disparities in Boston?
Many of Boston’s future jobs will come from the expanding green job market. We must train our residents, no matter what their socio-economic background, to be scientists, lab technicians, home weatherization specialists, and electricians; and the best way to do so is the creation of a K-12, public Environmental Science Academy – a school that will set a national standard for how best to prepare our children to compete in the green economy and to live a sustainable and environmentally responsible lifestyle. This school should be open to all students and offer a rigorous math and science curriculum and paths of study for students interested in building or utility trades. The building itself should be a model of energy efficiency and sustainable building practices that should be a LEED platinum certified, zero net energy campus powered by on-site alternative energy sources such as wind turbines that can also serve as a learning opportunity for students.
Race and Diversity
Affirmative action policies have recently been watered down by court decisions at the federal level. Were the City of Boston to be forced to dismantle affirmative action policies as a result, what are three steps you would take to ensure and increase access to opportunities within city government agencies? What are some creative policies other than affirmative action that the city could implement that would support and retain diversity within its workforce?
- Actively recruit potential city employees from the non-profit sector and from community organizations, which tend to be more diverse and often have vast experience working on issues of great importance to the city.
- Establish hiring targets by neighborhood to ensure that each neighborhood in the city is adequately represented within our workforce.
- Convene job fairs and aggressively recruit at our public high schools and community colleges, which reflect the great diversity of the city. Moreover, such efforts will provide career opportunities for students who may not have the opportunity to pursue a degree at a four-year college.
- The city of Boston is very limited in the ways in which it can raise revenue. Given that, what changes, if any, would you propose to make city revenue policy more progressive?
- If you were given the power to substantially reduce the budget of two city departments and increase the budget of two others by that same amount, what departments would you cut from, and which would you add to?
We need the ability to share savings across the capital and operating budgets so that we can incentivize the city to invest in energy-efficient longterm solutions that will help reduce our operating expenditures as well as utilizing better use of technology to sve money and deliver better, more responsive city services. On the revenue side, a consistent, better push for PILOT Agreements with our larger institutions is the best way for the City to increase revenue. At the same time, the City is overly-reliant on the property tax, and I would favor a home rule petition that would enable the city to create new revenue streams and local options that would open the door to a more progressive tax structure within the City.
I would provide additional funding to expand recycling and to better fund our schools. For our schools, I would dedicate the lion’s share of any additional funds to our schools, but I would insist that such funds be used for specific improvement plans to upgrade programming, and physical plant, particularly at our under-performing schools. In terms of recycling, I would expand what is recyclable curbside as well as expanding access for recycling of non-curbside materials including certain hazardous materials and CFLs. I would also expand single stream recycling not just to all residents, but for business districts for whom I would also create composting accessibility.