District 7 City Council Race: 2 Candidates, 2 Styles Of Politics

Download Audio

As ousted former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner prepares for prison, voters in Roxbury and parts of Dorchester and the South End will be selecting his replacement Tuesday. The campaign pits the 30-something sons of two prominent figures in Roxbury and two different styles of politics.

The Candidates: Cornell Mills

You’re Cornell Mills and you’re running for the Boston City Council. But your competitor won 67 percent of the vote in the primary and you won — 9 percent.

"I feel like I'm running against an incumbent, even though it's a vacant seat. Relationships have played a big part in this race," Mills said.

You’re Cornell Mills. You’re 36, handsome, a self-described family man, business owner and foreclosure prevention officer. But your big, baby-faced opponent, Tito Jackson, at 35, has money, machinery and organizational "big mo." He even has his own R&B campaign song:

Tito Jackson, what a young man destined for history, vote for Tito Jackson, vote for Tito Jackson.

You’re Cornell Mills. You’ve been endorsed by your mother, former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, and she's gone to prison.

The Candidates: Tito Jackson

Tito Jackson ’s endorsed by the last city councilor from District 7, Chuck Turner. Turner's going to prison, too.

But Jackson has endorsements from the city’s dailies, its weeklies, its teachers, custodians, teamsters and motormen's unions. Even the Sierra Club, and the wife of Gov. Deval Patrick, too.

Think the governor is neutral? Jackson helped run his reelection campaign:

"These are friends and family in the network that I've been able to build running citywide and also working on a statewide campaign with Gov. Patrick as his political director," Jackson said.

Jackson's affable: well-liked and well-connected. The fact that most of his money comes from outside the district has Mills and Mills' supporters suggesting he'll be too accommodating to outside interests that community activists often call "the power structure."

But Jackson says, "Advocacy is great. We need access. Because advocacy can get us in the door. But we need to sit down at the table."

Mills pledges to take on what he calls outside forces.

"I'm the people's candidate. I'm looking to find a way to advocate for the people, for the little guy," Mills said.

Mills doesn't come across as a firebrand, but in portraying himself as taking on the power structure, he may have made this race a referendum in Roxbury and parts of Dorchester on whether to relegate the era of confrontation politics — the era of Chuck — to the past.

"Unless we are willing to fight, unless we are willing to speak out against the mayor, the governor, whoever is in power, the primary focus has to be this community," Mills said at a candidates forum in Roxbury.

If there's any chance to reverse Jackson's landslide victory in the primary, Mills will need a groundswell of voters who share the attitude expressed in this question by Minister Rodney Mohammed:

"You know what happened to Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. You know what happened to City Councilor Chuck Turner. Then if you have to stand up to the mayor or any other rotten politicians in City Hall, are you willing to fight for the people in our neighborhood that has no voice at all?

"Minister Rodney, you are right, we have lost two iconic leaders. Two folks I grew up looking up to," Jackson answers.

And then he moved on. Jackson, a former state economic development coordinator, talks of creating jobs.

"And that is my objective. Fighting is very important, but as it relates to what our community needs. What's most important is that we're fighting and actually get jobs," he said.

Jackson's parentage is important. His late father, Herb Kwaku Zulu Jackson, battled the city's unions over minority hiring in order to win jobs for Roxbury. That his son Tito is now endorsed by unions across the city may say volumes about political change that has occurred in both Boston and District 7.

So, on Election Day, you're Cornell Mills: smart, well-spoken, but you may be counting on a swell that's already gone out to sea.


This program aired on March 14, 2011.

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live