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Pols make pitches at Rox candidate forum

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO

Candidates in the Boston mayoral race presented capsule versions of their campaign platforms and answered questions for an audience of more than 150 at a forum held Monday night in Dudley Square.

City Councilors-at-Large Michael F. Flaherty and Sam Yoon and construction business owner Kevin McCrea — the three challengers to Mayor Thomas M. Menino in the Sept. 22 preliminary election — shared the stage at the Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall with 18 City Council hopefuls. The event was sponsored by the National Black College Alliance (NBCA) as part of its “Greatest MINDS” series of networking, career and civic engagement discussions for black professionals.

Menino was unable to attend, organizers said.

Host George R. “Chip” Greenidge Jr., founder and president of NBCA, emphasized the goal of informing people about the candidates in order to help them become more involved in the political process.

“We need to pick a candidate and support them,” he said. “That’s the role we need to take. These kids here tonight are going to be watching us.”

He lauded the large number of candidates crowded together at a long table on the stage. Twelve of the 15 certified candidates for at-large slots on the City Council attended the NBCA event along with candidates running in Districts 1, 4, 7 and 8.

The mayoral candidates sought to establish themselves as people with strong Boston roots who understand inner-city problems.

“Some say nobody talks about jobs. Well, I talk about jobs,” said McCrea. “I’d like to talk about the Ferdinand building, right here in Dudley Square.

“Four years ago, the mayor promised us he was going to build that building. Here we are, four years later, it’s still boarded up. That’s not delivering what he promised,” he said.

McCrea said the Boston Jobs Policy, which requires that 50 percent of jobs on large construction projects go to Boston residents, is not being enforced. He said he had learned through Freedom of Information Act requests that only 33 percent of the jobs on the Ferdinand project were done by city residents.

“The reason we don’t have jobs here in the inner city is because we’re not training our kids to do those jobs, and we’re not hiring them,” he said. “As mayor, I’m going to enforce that jobs policy. I’m going to take the $40 million that [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] just gave to the mayor, that he’s going to give to three developers downtown, and I’m going to hire people from the inner city to clean up our streets, clean up our parks.

For his part, Flaherty talked about the need for quality education before turning his focus to crime prevention and employment.

“I got my start just down the street here in Roxbury District Court as a former assistant district attorney,” he said. “I learned then that we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem.”

He said the city needs to do a better job of making sure “wraparound” services are there, improving education and creating jobs for people in the neighborhoods.

The loudest applause for Flaherty came in response to his comments on jobs and the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system.

“I want to make sure CORI reform actually means something,” he said. “I haven’t met anyone that’s against CORI reform, but we haven’t seen leadership around getting our largest employers in Boston to start employing people.”

Yoon struck an inspirational tone, discussing his roots as an immigrant whose parents moved to the U.S. so he could have a good education. He got it, attending Princeton University and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he said, but he also spent time teaching in troubled schools.

“I saw that in this country we have two systems of education — one that works and one that is broken — and there is something fundamentally wrong with that,” Yoon said. “It breaks America’s promise of opportunity. And I wanted to do something about it.”

Yoon said he believes change must begin with grassroots movements, but noted that government action is also necessary.

“America is moving in the right direction with new leadership,” Yoon said. “We have a federal government who wants to invest in cities, and I don’t want Boston to be left behind. We cannot afford another four years.”

Some of the evening’s lighter moments came from at-large candidates.

After the moderator had to ask Andrew Kenneally to repeat the pronunciation of his last name, Felix G. Arroyo — whose father, former at-large councilor Felix D. Arroyo, lost his seat in 2007 — said, “It’s good to be in a room where my name is pronounced correctly and Andrew’s is not. That doesn’t happen very often.”

Fellow candidate Tito Jackson said, “I am a strong, proud, handsome black man who would like to serve you on the City Council.” That prompted an audience member to respond, “Are you single?” The crowd erupted in laughter and cheers.

Before the forum, Jackson highlighted his roots in Grove Hall, a community where he said “you have more than one mom and dad, and several hundred cousins.” At the podium, he mentioned that at a recent gathering, several women came up to him and made a point of saying they had changed his diapers.

District 4 City Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who is running unopposed in September, said the level of enthusiasm Monday bodes well for Boston.

“The future of the city is at stake,” he said after the event, adding that the forum was a “great introduction,” but he still wants to hear more.

“What are we going to do to ensure the future of our young people?” he wondered. “[The candidates] need to articulate their vision for the next generation.”