Charles Clemons On Closing The Achievement Gap And Revamping The BRA 07:34

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Charles Clemons at WBUR (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Charles Clemons at WBUR (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Back when he was a teen growing up in Boston, Charles Clemons would organize block parties to bring his neighbors together. Now, he's running for mayor of the city.

Clemons is a former owner of a limousine service and founder of the unlicensed radio station Touch 106.1 FM.

As part of our series of conversations with the candidates, we sat down with Clemons to talk about his campaign for mayor of Boston.

Charles Clemons: When I was a police officer, the residents would make the phone call to the police when there was something wrong. That doesn't happen anymore because you don't have police officers who are culturally sensitive, who are not from the community, who do not speak the language of the community, who don't worship in the community, who don't do business in the community. You have to have a familiar face and we need to bridge that relationship again.

Bob Oakes: Would you force officers to live in the neighborhoods where they work?

Well, it's not a matter of forcing officers. It's making sure that when you do your recruiting you extend and you focus on those officers that are from the community. We have a plethora of talented individuals that want to serve and protect our community.

Do you think racism exists inside the city police department?

Absolutely it does, of course racism exists and we need to stop acting like it doesn't exist. The lack of diversity, you know, you have captains that are over districts, the majority of them are black residents. Think what that does to the residents when they have to go to a white captain. It would inspire someone, it would make them feel good if they dealt with folks that looked like them, just like in the Boston Public Schools.

On education you opposed lifting the cap on charter schools. Why, when so many parents want more charter schools?

Well we want more charter schools because we've turned our backs on the Boston Public Schools. We've been fighting for equal access, closing the achievement gap with Boston Public Schools since the 1700s with Prince Hall. And it hasn't gotten any better. I say, as a graduate of Madison Park High School where Mayor Menino clearly said two and a half years ago that Madison Park High School was gonna be this premier vocational school, it has not happened. Did you know at Madison Park High School there is no headmaster? They have to make Xerox copies for books. When children go to plug something in for electronic shop they get electrocuted. It's not right and it's not fair.

You said the city should have a teaching force that reflects the diversity of the city. Are you saying that the teacher work force should be majority minority?And how would you get the school department to affect that change?

Well first of all I don't use the word minority, because the U.S. Census came out in 2010 and simply said that people of color are now 54 percent of the population. You need teachers who love students, but who also look like the students. Students want to look up to a teacher and say, "I wanna be like that teacher."

You said the city needs to devote more resources to bringing economic development into communities of people of color. Give me an example of something you might consider to be a glaring shortcoming right now?

Let's just start off with the Boston residents job policy, that came into effect 30 years ago. It simply said the work force: 50 percent Boston residents, 25 percent people of color, 10 percent women. Well that's not being enforced at all. That 25 percent needs to be 54 percent. But also, we have to remember that in the city, the majority of the head of households are females, so that 10 percent needs to revamped. They need to be hit with fines, those developers, those construction companies...

Who don't hire city residents you mean?

Absolutely, and who do not meet the quota that they're supposed to meet.

What's your vision to increase affordable housing in Boston?

The working class is the foundation. We have to have a livable wage, but also, Mayor Menino stated that there's supposed to be, I think, 30,000 affordable housing by the year 2020, I believe it is.

Under the mayor's new plan?

Yeah under the mayor's new plan. We have to deal with affordable housing now and taking people off the streets. So as mayor of the city of Boston I will focus on listening to the community because the community simply said the the [Boston Redevelopment Authority] is not accountable to our communities, and I support revamping the BRA to include an elected community residence committee where they will sit at the table to negotiate the workforce goals because we can't forget about that.

I know you don't like to talk about your private life, but I just want to ask a question about it. You've had some other issues in terms of not paying child support or excise taxes and yet here we are...

You know that happens, that happens in the city. See when you get caught up in the system, and again it goes to the lack of jobs, it goes to poverty. When you have a system that works against the families — you understand what I'm saying — works against the families, then those things are going to happen. Yes, the economy is bad, yes, Charles Clemons has fallen back on some financial obligations, but who hasn't? Who hasn't that happened to?

So you're saying you got caught up in the same problems that many of your constituents have.

Absolutely. And I'm from the community and I understand the pain and the suffering that goes on in our community.

Don't you worry though that your candidacy and your credibility might be undermined by this?

No, see my word is bond. I don't have broken promises. I mean we have families that have to decide do I pay my rent or do I send my child to a private school? That's not how people should live but that's how we live. You know we have families that have to work two and three jobs because they can't get their child into a tier one school. Do you know there are residents that don't even know that they're sending their children to a tier four school? Do you understand what I'm saying? That we are setting our children up to fail. I believe that my brother's and sister's problems are my problems. Because I was late on certain payments, that's not my character. My character is OK, I've fallen behind, fix it, and let's move forward.

Alright let me ask you to move forward then in this way right now. Tell us what your proudest accomplishment is, either in your life or for the city of Boston?

Raising seven beautiful children. And I'm so proud of my children. And that's our future, and we need to invest in our children. All of the children are our children.

This article was originally published on September 17, 2013.

This program aired on September 17, 2013.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.