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In seeking a fifth term in 2009, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is facing the most crowded field of challengers since he first won the job in 1993. Three other candidates are vying for the post: City Councilors Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon, and South End businessman Kevin McCrea.
Early in the race, WBUR invited each of the candidates into our studios to discuss their campaigns and the issues they care about.
Kevin McCrea is the only candidate who's not an elected official. He's 41-years-old, a building contractor whose blog is well known for its critiques of city government. McCrea ran unsuccessfully for Boston City Council in 2005.
What do you want to change about the city of Boston?
KEVIN McCREA: The No. 1 thing we need to change is the culture at City Hall. We need to bring transparency and accountability to government, so that we can find out where the waste and fraud is, and we can prioritize what's important to the citizens of Boston.
Well, you're assuming that there is waste and fraud. Are you convinced of it?
McCREA: Absolutely. I believe that every bill, every document, every contract, all income coming in, all income going out, should all be accessible to all the citizens online. That way we can all be part of the overseeing of city government.
Let's talk about the budget. Grade the mayor, if you will, on how you think he's handling the current budget crisis in the city of Boston — specifically asking city worker' and teachers' unions for wage freezes.
McCREA: I think the mayor's been very disingenuous right from the beginning. Back in December, the mayor was saying we were going to need $140 million in cuts to the city government.
I wrote, back in January, that we weren't going to have any cuts to the police or to the firefighters. But the mayor — who has all the information in front of him — was saying we're going to lay off 200 police officers, 900 people in the education department.
He knows that we're not going to have to cut that many people.
Just so we're clear on this: You're saying there's enough money available in the city of Boston coffers to avoid all layoffs?
McCREA: No, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is, is that there's enough money in the city government this year to not lay off any police officers, and not lay off any teachers.
The Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a watchdog agency that keeps an eye on Boston, recently reported that the city's entering a turbulent financial time with a personnel level it cannot sustain. Do you agree with that? Do we need to cut personnel on the city level?
McCREA: We do need to pare payroll, and we do need to cut city jobs. What we don't need to do is get rid of the core important functions: education and public safety.
Let's move to education. You've said, if elected, you would spend one day a week in public schools. What would that accomplish?
McCREA: What I want to do is, I want to talk to the teachers, the parents, the students — find out what's going right, find out what's going wrong. And, even doing little things like that, I think are part of a holistic attitude that's going to promote education for the city of Boston.
Before they can go to college, they have to graduate. The graduation rate over four years in the city of Boston is only about 50 percent. What would you do as mayor to improve the graduation rate?
McCREA: There are about 400 students that drop out of the schools every year. We need to assign people — maybe ask teachers, maybe specific people — to go to those 400 and encourage them, find out what's going wrong, to bring them back into the school system.
A task force has reviewed whether tax-exempt organizations — such as universities, colleges, hospitals — should have to make payments in lieu of taxes, which some of them do now. What do you think about that? Do these organizations owe the city of Boston more than they're paying now, if they're making payments?
McCREA: Absolutely. It's called the PILOT payment, PILOT stands for Payment In Leiu Of Taxes, and the proposed number for nonprofits is 25 percent of what they would pay otherwise. And right now we have an incredibly unfair system. What we need to do is have an equitable system where all the nonprofits pay into the system on an equal level.
One of the issues Mayor Menino — and other municipal leaders from around the state -- have been pushing up on Beacon Hill is getting legislative permission to impose local options meal taxes, a bill that would allow the city to assess perhaps a two-cent meals tax at Boston restaurants. How do you feel about it?
McCREA: Well, to coin a phrase, I'm for reform before revenue. I would only be for a meals tax increase if that meals tax increase went to directly offset residential real-estate taxes in the city.
The incumbent mayor, Tom Menino, at last check had $1.4 million in his campaign account. You had, as I understand it, somewhere around $9,100. In a recent public opinion poll, Menino's approval ratings were at somewhere around 70 percent. You and the other Menino challengers are clearly underdogs in this race, but how will you raise enough money and gain enough recognition to overcome these leads?
McCREA: Well, I think we're going to outwork the mayor. We need to bring this message of transparency, accountability. It's certainly a large mountain to climb, but I wouldn't be in it if I didn't think we could do it.
This program aired on May 4, 2009.
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