RCC forum lets at-large candidates talk CORI, schools

Victor Kakulu | 9/16/2009, 4:03 a.m.

A number of the candidates vying for an at-large seat on Boston’s City Council gathered for a forum at Roxbury Community College’s Media Arts Center last Wednesday evening, aiming to address a host of issues before next Tuesday’s preliminary election.

Ten of the 15 at-large candidates appeared at the forum — Felix G. Arroyo, Ego Ezedi, Robert Fortes, Tomas Gonzalez, Andrew Kenneally, Hiep Nguyen, Sean Ryan, Jean-Claude Sanon, Bill Trabucco and Scotland Willis. Incumbent City Councilor-at-Large Stephen Murphy was not in attendance, while fellow at-large councilor John Connolly appeared, but left to attend another event.

Candidates Tito Jackson and Doug Bennett did not attend, while Ayanna Pressley arrived near the end of the forum.

While the event, hosted by Open Media Boston, was sparsely attended, the audience did include a mixture of residents comprised of educators, elderly citizens and students.

 Reggie Alouidor, a 22-year-old Roslindale resident and Northeastern University senior, was one of them.

 “I missed the mayoral debate last week, so it was important to make it here tonight for this,” said Alouidor, who is majoring in accounting and finance. “I’m interested in what the candidates have to say on things like CORI.”

The state’s CORI, or Criminal Offender Record Information, law has long been a controversial issue.

The law was enacted in 1972 to consolidate information on criminal offenders and make it easier for law enforcement to access that information. Over the years, with the intent of safeguarding the public from potentially dangerous ex-offenders, state agencies, school administrators, housing authorities and employers have gained access to the records.

However, critics argue that such broad access to CORI reports presents a serious impediment to ex-offenders — including those without criminal convictions — who are looking to take care of themselves and their families.

“We must understand that the impact of people coming out of prison without a re-entry opportunity has a prolonged effect on our community,” said Willis, who proposed creating a City Council committee devoted specifically to CORI reform.

While Willis’ suggestion elicited nods of agreement from many in attendance, it was Haitian American candidate Sanon’s charge that CORI laws are “unjust” that prompted an outburst of applause.

 “CORI has become a destructible unit in our society that causes us more pain than anything else,” said Sanon, who stressed the need for the city’s laws to be created “from the heart.”

“It is not enough to be tough on crime,” Sanon added. “We must be smarter in our approach.”

In the area of education, by far the most heavily discussed topic at the forum, attendee Aaliyah Turner, a parent and a former teacher in the Boston Public Schools (BPS), argued that the BPS system lacks teachers that represent the cultures of its students.

“How do we break in teachers that represent the dynamic yet changing landscape of Boston?” Turner asked the gathered candidates.

In his answer, Gonzalez, former aide to Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said that 60 percent of BPS teachers live outside of Boston — a figure he said needed to change.