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Boston's At-Large Council Candidates Take Aim At Opioid And Housing Crises During Debate03:12
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All eight candidates for the four at-large seats on the Boston City Council participate in a debate on WBUR’s "Radio Boston." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
All eight candidates for the four at-large seats on the Boston City Council participate in a debate on WBUR’s "Radio Boston." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Eight candidates competing for four at-large seats on the Boston City Council faced off Tuesday, tackling transportation, addiction and policing, housing and education in a wide-ranging debate.

Moderators Tiziana Dearing of WBUR's Radio Boston and Adrian Walker of The Boston Globe covered many topics during the 90-minute event, held at WBUR's CitySpace.

While there were areas of agreement among the candidates, several offered different plans to address issues like housing.

Julia Mejia, a first-time candidate and education advocate from Dorchester, said she would require 50% of housing units in new developments to be affordable, a figure beyond the 13% Boston currently requires.

"We can no longer afford to push for incremental change,” Mejia said. "If we asked for a 50%, we might get 30. But if we are only asking for 20, we're lucky if we get 15 or 18, so I think that we have an opportunity to negotiate."

Incumbent Althea Garrison of Dorchester said rent control is at the top of her agenda. Rent control is banned under state law.

"The city council is going to have to reconsider rent control ... get it on the ballot and let the people decide for their own selves,” Garrison said.

A large part of the debate focused on the opioid crisis, including the future of the Long Island treatment facility, the status of the area around Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue, and how to get communities outside of Boston to share the burden of treatment and recovery.

Councilor Michelle Wu of Roslindale, who finished first among the eight candidates in last month’s preliminary election, took aim at the city’s plans to rebuild on Long Island, noting that the projected cost to rebuild a bridge to the location has swelled to an estimated $92 million.

"Even if we were able to get permits tomorrow, it would still be a three- to five-year process to rebuild the bridge,” Wu said. "Not to mention the funding for new buildings and where … services would actually be provided on the island. I have deep concerns about whether this is the the most effective and immediate way to address the opiate crisis.”

Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George said a key issue in the fight against opioid addiction is getting more recovery beds in Boston and across the state.

"The work to rebuild the Long Island [facility] will bring additional recovery services, including about 500 recovery beds to that campus,” she said. "Boston can lead the way and will continue to lead the way in this work."

Asked about Operation Clean Sweep, a Boston police action against transients in the "Mass and Cass" area, Dorchester-based Erin Murphy said she was glad the city finally took action.

“This has been a problem for a long time, it's been bubbling up,” said Murphy, a veteran Boston Public Schools teacher. "So I think this was a good example of the city reacting to something that had been an issue.”

David Halbert, who also lives in Dorchester, said he supports the idea of supervised consumption sites, which are prohibited under federal law.

“Every time I take my daughter to a park, one of my grievous concerns is that she's going to prick herself on a needle and it's going to change our lives,” Halbert said. "No parent in the city of Boston should ever have to live under that kind of fear.”

Incumbent Michael Flaherty, of South Boston, said the burden of responding to the opioid epidemic can’t only land on Boston.

“Let’s put something in Wellesley, let’s put something in Westwood, let’s put something in Lexington — treatment facilities, halfway houses, three-quarters houses, detox facilities. You get crickets from our suburban counterparts. Yet it’s their kids, their constituents that are down at Mass and Cass," he said.

Alejandra St. Guillen, who lives with her wife in West Roxbury, said there needs to be a balance between the needs of those seeking recovery and the right of residents and businesses in the neighborhood to live in peace.

"Everyone deserves to be able to go out on their stoop and not have someone doing drugs or defecating in their lawn,” St. Guillen said. "So I think that there is a tension there. But if we bring the stakeholders to the table ... and we invest more in services ... we can get there."

The debate was organized by WBUR, the Globe and the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston. The election is Nov. 5.

This segment aired on October 23, 2019.

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