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State Senate candidates speak at Chinatown forum

Affordable housing, immigrant issues take center stage in coalition-run forum

Sandra Larson | 3/23/2016, 10:10 a.m.
A new coalition of Boston Asian-American organizations hosted a forum March 16 to introduce candidates in the First Suffolk and ...
First Suffolk and Middlesex District Senate seat candidates Lydia Edwards, Joseph Boncore, Paul Rogers, Diana Hwang, Jay Livingstone and Steven Morabito share the stage at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. Photo by Sandra Larson

A new coalition of Boston Asian-American organizations hosted a forum March 16 to introduce candidates in the First Suffolk and Middlesex State Senate race to a Chinatown audience.

Less than a month remains before the April 12 primary election that will determine which one of seven Democratic hopefuls will advance to the May 8 special election necessitated by the recent resignation of Sen. Anthony Petruccelli. The district covers a diverse set of towns and neighborhoods, including part of Cambridge, East Boston, Revere and Winthrop, the North End, Beacon Hill, Bay Village and Chinatown. Chinatown is new to the district, having moved from the First Suffolk district represented by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz in the state’s 2011 redistricting plan.

Last week’s forum at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School (JQES) was organized by the Asian and Pacific Islanders Civic Action Network, known as APIs CAN! Co-sponsors included Asian American Civic Association, Asian Community Development Corporation, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC), the Chinatown Resident Association, the Chinese Progressive Association, Chinese Progressive Political Action, MassVOTE and South Cove Community Health Center. Simultaneous translation was offered in Mandarin and Cantonese, and many attendees used it.

Suzanne Lee, former Quincy School principal, two-time city council candidate and longtime Chinatown community leader mingled with residents and organizers outside the auditorium before the forum.

Lee said she’d be listening for how accessible candidates will be to Chinatown constituents.

“If they’re going to represent our voice, I want to know how they’re going to connect with voters,” she said.

Six candidates show

Participating candidates were Joseph Boncore; Lydia Edwards; Diana Hwang; Jay Livingstone; Steven Morabito; and Paul Rogers. A seventh candidate, former Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, was not present. The moderator was Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass-Boston.

In their self-introductions and in response to a question on addressing language barriers for immigrant residents accessing government services, several candidates brought up their own immigrant ties.

Livingstone, currently a state representative for the 8th Suffolk District covering Beacon Hill, Back Bay, West End and parts of Cambridge, said he is the grandson of immigrants and that he has worked on legislation to increase cultural competence in the health care system. Edwards emphasized her work as a Greater Boston Legal Services attorney representing immigrant workers, many of whom do not speak English and face difficulties in the court system. She said if elected, she would support additional funding for English Language Learner programs in schools.

Boncore, an attorney and chair of Winthrop Housing Authority, said he sees immigrants daily and would seek increased funding for interpretation services and incentives for police and firefighters to take language classes. Morabito, a Revere city councilor, is the son of Italian immigrants and has served constituents who speak Khmer, Vietnamese and Arabic. Rogers, an East Boston small business owner, said he was both the son and husband of non-native English speakers. Hwang spoke of her parents, who emigrated from Taiwan 30 years ago and often felt isolated in the U.S., and of her experience starting a political leadership organization for Asian American women.