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Yancey On Charter Schools, Casinos, Public Transit And Jobs

Charles Yancey (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Charles Yancey (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

BOSTON — Thirty years ago, both Thomas Menino and Charles Yancey were first elected to the Boston City Council. Menino went on to become the next mayor, while Yancey has held onto his council seat ever since.

But with Menino now retiring, Yancey is among a dozen mayoral contenders competing to succeed him.

Ahead of the preliminary election on Sept. 24, which will narrow the field to two candidates, WBUR’s Morning Edition, Radio Boston and All Things Considered will speak about the city and issues with all the mayoral candidates.

Yancey joined Morning Edition to discuss charter schools caps, Suffolk Downs’ casino plan for East Boston, public transportation improvements, tech sector jobs and his proudest moment as a city councilor.

Charles Yancey: The problem with raising the cap [on charter schools] is the fact that every student that goes to charter school, rather than Boston Public Schools, those resources are actually are taken away from the Boston Public Schools. I have nothing against charters; I think some of them do very well. But I am totally committed to investing as much resources as we can to make Boston’s public school system the best school system in the United States of America. So the question has to be asked: Well, if we keep increasing the cap on charter schools, and fewer parents and their children to the Boston Public Schools, then we’re on the downward spiral in terms of the resources for our schools.

Bob Oakes: We expect in the city of Boston that there will be a moment at some point this fall when voters — whether they be citywide or just in East Boston — will go to the ballot box to decide on whether or not there should be a casino a the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston. If registered Boston voter Charles Yancey were voting today on this casino, would it be thumbs up or thumbs down?

Well, I recognize that the people in East Boston are likely to be subjected to most of the negative physical impacts of a Suffolk Downs location for a casino. The entire city has to foot the bill. So I would favor a vote which gives East Boston residents greater weight than the rest of the city, but I think the rest of the city should be engaged as well.

“I would favor a vote which gives East Boston residents greater weight than the rest of the city.”
– Charles Yancey on Suffolk Downs' plan for a casino in East Boston

I do have some concerns about casinos in the city of Boston. I think there’s a lot of negatives associated with every casino around the country, but there are some positives as well. I think it can serve as an added stimulus to economic development and does present opportunities for employment. And because of those factors and the reality that if it’s not in the city of Boston, it may be just over the border in Everett, for example, so we would still be faced with many of the costs of a casino with very few of the benefits. So with that context, I would say yes, I would vote for a casino.

You’ve said you favor expanding public transportation. Give me a specific example of how to serve what is a specific, unmet need right now.

Well, within the corridor of what used to be known as Midlands Branch Railroad, which runs from Hyde Park to South Station — when I was first elected to the City Council 30 years ago, none of the areas I represented were able to access that particular commuter line.

Because we built a coalition, we did manage to establish a stop on Morton Street and Uphams Corner. And more recently we’re very successful in establishing four additional stops along that line. So while I celebrate the fact that we now have six stops on a line where trains used to sail through the communities of Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury, the service is not adequate. There’s not evening service; there’s no weekend service. Number one, I will work with the MBTA to ensure that have evening and weekend service — so that would be the first project.

Secondly, I believe we should more consideration to our students and our senior citizens, so I will work with the MBTA to see if we can make some adjustments in the fares so that people on fixed income or very low income will not be straddled with higher costs for public transportation.

Jobs and the economy — how would a Mayor Yancey make Boston a more vibrant tech hub than it already is so that it would not only provide jobs for people who commute into Boston but provide jobs for people who live inside Boston as well?

Boston is really blessed — not just with the major educational institutions that are known around the world, but we’re also blessed with very intelligent people. We should encourage entrepreneurship, particularly our young people and particularly those who are involved in very sophisticated software applications. And we should provide incentives for those individuals by establishing a special office within the city of Boston that would provide technical assistance for those types of businesses that may need help with regards to management, money and of course marketing.

And I believe a model has in fact existed; when I graduated from Tufts University, I went to work with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, a specialized unit they called the Urban Finance Division, which no longer exists unfortunately, where we did in fact provide a type of technical assistance and did promote the growth of a number of startups and expanded some of the existing businesses. I think we can use that model in the city of Boston as well.

What’s your proudest accomplishment as Boston city councilor?

There are many. But this may catch a lot of people off guard. Back in 1984, I submitted legislation that resulted in the disinvestment of $12.5 million from businesses supporting the very racist, authoritarian, Nazi-like regime in South Africa. Now, Boston has such a prominent position in the minds of people all around the country — and I will say all around the world — that that little act, the ordinance that I got passed, which actually resulted in the withdrawal of $12.5 million from businesses supporting South Africa, I believe we made a very small contribution to the democratization of that country ten thousand miles away, known as South Africa, so that when Nelson Mandela was released from jail, he had major decisions to make in terms of which countries he would visit, and he selected the city of Boston precisely because of the strong anti-apartheid movement that emanated from Boston, not the least of which was the fact that we passed an ordinance that was copied all around the country. So I did spend a very proud day with Nelson Mandela; I believe it was June 6, 1990. We spent the entire day traveling throughout the city of Boston, ending up on the Esplanade. I was very proud of that.

– We also asked Yancey a question posed from a WBUR Facebook follower. Listen to it here:

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