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Turner, Henriquez hit airwaves for D7 debate

Dan Devine

The two men widely seen as the leading candidates to represent District 7 on Boston’s City Council squared off in an hour-long radio debate on Monday morning. The key question was which trait voters will value more: experience or energy.

Incumbent Chuck Turner and challenger Carlos Henriquez went live on Grove Hall community radio station TOUCH 106.1 FM for Monday’s “Great Debate at 8,” a 60-minute showdown that featured live call-in questions and inquiries submitted by each candidate.

The other two candidates who will appear on the ballot in the Sept. 22 preliminary election, Dorchester pastor Roy Owens and former state Rep. Althea Garrison, did not take part, although Garrison did call in to critique Turner’s tenure and suggest Henriquez couldn’t defeat Turner.

That was true in 2007, when Turner steamrolled Henriquez in both the September preliminary election and the November municipal balloting. The longtime councilor took 75 percent of the vote in September, then upped his total to more than 81 percent in November. Henriquez, then a legislative aide to City Councilor-at-Large Michael F. Flaherty, netted 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

The landscape is different two years later, however. Change has become a dominant theme in political discourse, and voters have shown increasing interest in young, vibrant candidates — an interest that Henriquez appeared keen to engage.

“I’m going to bring something different to the office — a new energy, a new vision,” said Henriquez, president of the board of directors of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.

Throughout the debate, Henriquez spoke of his “new” approach, while Turner talked about his legislative experience and his bona fides as a coalition-builder.

“I think on the legislative front, on the organizing front, on the advocacy front, I’ve been a very effective councilor,” Turner said, later adding: “In a time that’s as difficult as we are now facing … we need a leadership that knows how to bring us together.”

In the debate, Henriquez took aim at quality-of-life issues that he argues have grown prevalent during Turner’s stewardship of District 7 — which includes Roxbury and parts of the Fenway, the South End and Dorchester — including dirty streets, disheveled parks and a litany of ills plaguing Blue Hill Avenue, ranging from public drinking to prostitution.

While Henriquez cited the problems as evidence that Turner has failed to steer city resources to district needs, the councilor said funds were drying up around the city and that the district was in no greater a state of disrepair than any other in Boston.

Other issues raised included the candidates’ approaches to escalating youth violence, ways to increase employment opportunities for people of color, methods for spurring voter turnout — and, of course, the elephant in the room: Turner’s November 2008 arrest on charges that he took a $1,000 bribe from an undercover agent.

Regarding the surveillance photo of Turner distributed by federal agents after his arrest, Henriquez said, “I will say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but this is not a campaign issue.”

Turner — who maintains his innocence and mounted a spirited self-defense in the months following his arrest — said he’d leave the issue in the hands of the voters.

“I’ve got a long history of working for the community,” he said. “Voters are going to have to decide whether they believe [former] U.S. Attorney [Michael] Sullivan, who just opened an office with [former Attorney General] John Ashcroft, or whether they believe Chuck Turner.”