Mayor Walsh On Focusing Boston's Amazon Bid On Eastie — And On Housing, Race And Education

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Ahead of the November election, we're hosting both Boston mayoral candidates for hour-long discussions on housing, race and education.

And Amazon. Mayor Marty Walsh joined us to talk about his track record and what he hopes to do in a second term, and he revealed that the city's bid for Amazon is focused on East Boston, and will be released on Friday. (More on that news here.)

Missed the interview? The full transcript is below, or you can listen to it atop this post, or watch it via Facebook Live. (Tito Jackson joins us Thursday.)


Marty Walsh, mayor of Boston since 2014. He tweets @marty_walsh.

Interview Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Meghna Chakrabarti: We're going to talk about three big issues over the course of the hour, education, race and housing, Mr. Mayor. But first of all, I want to ask you about something that kind of links into all three of those things. And here it comes: You gonna tell us about Boston's Amazon bid?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Amazon. You know, the bid obviously'll be going in tomorrow. We have it finalized. I just signed the letter today, the final letter that we did to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of the company. The main structure of our document is focused around one location ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: And what location is that?

Mayor Marty Walsh: And that's East Boston. And we have other locations in there. So we don't have much around incentives in there because we didn't have to. We talked about where we are in Boston — our quality of life, we talk a lot a lot of different things in the package. We'll see what happens.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Specifically where in East Boston?

Mayor Marty Walsh: We'll wait for the bid to come out.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK. All right.

Mayor Marty Walsh: You know, not too far from the airport.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I got it. OK.

Mayor Marty Walsh: I think I just broke some story (laughs). I think I'm in trouble.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Everyone hear that? Not too far from the airport in East Boston.

Mayor Marty Walsh: And you know, I feel the thing about Amazon is, we're talking about 50,000 jobs in roughly a 10- to 15-year period — jobs of all different educational levels, which is economic levels. It's going to have some significant growth in the neighborhood, it's going to allow us to build housing.

We've launched a housing plan ... in October of 2014 to create 53,000 units of new housing, so we have a plan for that. We have a plan for education, we have smart people here in our city, we're working on our high schools — in redesigning our high schools — in Boston, so we can tie that right into the Amazon workforce. So there's a lot of good things.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Tax incentives of any kind?

Mayor Marty Walsh: No, we didn't put any tax incentives in this piece right now. I mean, some cities said, there was one in Massachusetts that put a $500 million incentive.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Worcester.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yeah. It's too early in the process. You just don't know what exactly it is that you're building yet. You don't know what type of campus they want. The RFP, it was kind of open-ended so we filled what we needed to, but we're not sure — so we'll get a chance now if we get to the next round, to see which cities were chosen, what their bids were like, and to see really what we're up against.

Meghna Chakrabarti: East Boston. This is really interesting because East Boston is already a housing market that's changing tremendously.

Mayor Marty Walsh: It is.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I mean, we've got prices going up by double digits a year there. People feel like they're getting kicked out already because of rents going up.

Mayor Marty Walsh: But when you think Amazon ... you have to think regionally. You can't think in an area of Boston. So let's hypothetically say for a moment, we got chosen for the Amazon headquarters. The housing stock and the housing market is going to be fed from all over Greater Boston. It's not all going to be in within the city Boston limits. You just can't do it. I mean that could happen I suppose, but it's just not going to happen.

So when we think about whether it's economic development-wise, it's regional, we think about housing, it's regional. We have to start getting more regional when it comes to approaching companies like Amazon and bringing other industry to our state

Meghna Chakrabarti: Yes. So the housing picture here is even more pressing because we've already got major housing needs. And so as you said, even if it's localized or regional, nevertheless I think if Amazon were to come, it would just amplify the need for affordable housing. And just give me a second here Mr. Mayor, because just yesterday actually, we spoke with a couple of longtime journalists from Seattle in terms of how much the housing market has changed in Seattle in the past seven years that Amazon's been undergoing some incredible growth.

So is there anything in the Boston bid for Amazon that sort of accounts for that? And are you asking Amazon for anything to support Boston building housing?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Not yet. I mean again, we're in the very beginning stages. If it's a baseball analogy, we're in the first inning and the first step is to put in the bid and the documents, which we did today.

In 2014, we responded to a housing shortage. One of the things that we realized in our city is that we have people moving into our city and we didn't have the ability to — we didn't have the housing that was needed. We've launched a plan in 2014, and that plan was to create 53,000 units of new housing. This is all income levels, all across the board. Part of it was college housing, on-campus housing, to free up housing stock in neighborhoods. Part of it was senior housing. Part of it was low-income housing, part of it was workforce housing.

So in response to that plan, since 2014, we have 22,000 units of housing that's been permitted in the city of Boston. Of those 22,000, 9,000 are moderate-low-income units. What do I mean by that? People who are in between $0 and say $120,000 per family, which is the middle class.

So we've never built that much housing. The issue that's happening at the same time is even though we're building all this housing, our population has grown by about over 30,000 people in the last three years. So as quickly as we're building this housing, more people are coming.

So what we really have to do is think about — and we've been talking about this — is trying to increase housing production but also looking at areas of the city of Boston to rezone. So that's where the growth zone idea came out of . We looked at Jamaica Plain and we looked at South Boston, looking at Dorchester, and looking at any area that we could potentially use for mixed use, multi-use property — some jobs, some manufacturing, possibly economic development jobs, but also housing incorporated and sprinkled into that mix and looking at different areas.

Also in our "Imagine Boston 2030" plan, we look at areas like the Fairmount line and opportunities for housing stock, but also economic growth. And how do you mix use these areas that have good public transportation?

And that's really what we need. So what Seattle came across was, Amazon came, they loved it, but it became a city dominated by Amazon. Boston, if Amazon decided to come in tomorrow, we're not going to be a city dominated by Amazon. We have so many other businesses and so many other opportunities in our city of Boston.

Our work force has grown in Boston in the last 3.5 years by 60,000 jobs of all kinds.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Yeah, I mean, I get your point, like we've already got a great diverse base here. But Amazon would have an enormous footprint.

Mayor Marty Walsh: It would. But you're talking 15 years for it to come in too. It's not going to happen overnight and it's a slow build-up and it's a slow process getting to that point. It's not like they're going to say OK, we're going to come to a city and in the next day, 50,000 cars are pulling up down the street. It's not going to be the case ...

Caller Julia from East Boston: I'm assuming that you're alluding to the Suffolk Downs site for Amazon, which is actually an exciting prospect for me personally as an Eastie resident, much better than a casino in my opinion. So that's my first comment.

Meghna Chakrabarti: She's assuming, meaning she's right, right? The mayor just winked.

Mayor Marty Walsh: No, it's something in my eye.

Meghna Chakrabarti: We're just fact-checking. The mayor when you said assuming it's Suffolk Downs, he winked.

Caller Julia from East Boston: I'm speculating here. I've been a resident of Eastie for about 12 years now. And myself and many of the community members are concerned by the lack of a master plan for East Boston and the overwhelming amount of development that we seem to be inundated with ... I just want to know where the mayor stands with the community in terms of historic preservation and a master plan for smart urban planning and development ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Thank you for your question. I mean I think that the changes we have made at the Boston Planning and Development Agency has been about smart urban planning and growth in the community, also preservation of a community.

I fought to make sure that the Community Preservation Act passed in 2016 and part of that is a fund that would go to historic preservation in the city of Boston. We really don't have a fund. We haven't had a fund in the past that would help keep some of our historic sites in the city of Boston.

So I think that Eastie is going through a very interesting time. When I was running for mayor four years ago, people in East Boston were concerned because it hadn't taken off and a lot of these proposals were on the table. But they didn't quite start. Four years later, it’s one of the hottest areas in the city of Boston and people are saying we want to slow down development and we're starting to take a look at some of the proposals in the community.

People want to be in East Boston and people are moving into East Boston from all over ... East Boston's not the only community to understand that feel. It's happening in Dorchester, it's happening in Roxbury, it's happening throughout this entire city.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I wanted to ask you a little bit more about affordability and all the housing that you have built so far. Because as you said a little bit earlier, you're really looking at especially incomes between $0 and $125,000 a year and you know that people when they hear that range, a lot of folks say well, we can't say that a household earning $125,000 needs "affordable" or low-income housing.

What do you think of [Tito Jackson's plan as laid out in the RoxVote debate]?

Mayor Marty Walsh: First of all, public lands for private use is difficult to do. What we've been doing under the last three years here with the Department of Neighborhood Development is use public land for building homes for first-time home buyers. We've been able to build 250 of them; We have more coming. I think if we use public lands to build housing, we should be using it to build workforce housing, low-income housing and possibly some artist housing as well around the city. That's what we're looking to do.

And some of the money from inclusionary development, which we raised to 18 percent. We were able to get some significant money from that as well as the Community Preservation Act for next year. So we've made those investments.

The 25 percent affordable on a 10-unit house is not going to work. People aren't going to build a house. They're not going to build the property. And I think that we're up to 18 percent offsite.

Meghna Chakrabarti: They're not going to build it because they can't recoup their costs?

Mayor Marty Walsh: We can't. It's not affordable. You're not going to be able to do it.

Meghna Chakrabarti: For the developers.

Mayor Marty Walsh: No city or town has 25 percent. I think at one point, Cambridge went to 20 — I think they reduced the number down. Some of the high-end housing that we’re building in Boston is actually paying for low-end housing. We've been able to recoup $57 million last year from inclusionary development because we made the change from 13 to 18 percent .... The Community Preservation Act money that we're getting is great. We're supposed to get a dollar for dollar match from the state but it's 17 cents on the dollar.

Meghna Chakrabarti: What about Councilor Jackson's other proposal that he's made a couple of times in the course of this campaign season about redefining what affordable means? I know right now the city uses guidelines put out by HUD for example, but Councilor Jackson has said that he wants affordability to be based on what the median income in a particular neighborhood is — not all over Boston because we've got such inequality in Boston, the median may seem artificially high.

Mayor Marty Walsh: I think when you look at families in the city of Boston, you mentioned earlier, when I talked about a family earning $120,000 a year. In some ways, that's awful hard to raise a family, depending on the kids. And in some cases, not a lot of money depending on the rent and depending on the mortgage you have and the repairs your house needs.

I think that as far as redefining, we have a pretty good definition of what low-income is in the city of Boston and we have a pretty good definition of what median income is in the city of Boston.

We do use the HUD guidelines for some of the housing issues. Bu I think when we think about the city we shouldn't be building all of our low-income housing either in areas that would be so-called labeled low-income. I think we have to look at diversifying that across the board, giving people opportunities to live in different neighborhoods. So I mean, I don't know if the councilor's proposal would work. I mean I think, he's started talking about this in the last six months so I guess I'd have to look into it more.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I want to dig into a couple of little details here, about you know, we shouldn't be building low-income housing in neighborhoods we currently would define as.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Neighborhoods don't want it.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But of the thousands of units that you said you've already built, we were looking at the numbers — only 350 of the units were constructed or approved in Mattapan. Don't they need more housing as much as anyone else?

Mayor Marty Walsh: No, they do. But I think in a lot of cases, we have CDCs (community development corporations) that are there trying to build low-income housing — I see at the community meetings where people push back on it. A lot of them want workforce housing and they want opportunities for employment in neighborhoods. I'm not saying that we shouldn't build there. But I think that you don't want to continue to ... Mattapan is probably a bad example. Mattapan has high homeownership properties there. I think 80 percent of the people that live in the neighborhood own their own home.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK, so what about this though. I mean, about how we define median income. Because Boston does have such wide extremes. I think it's worth kind of going through the numbers a bit. Some of the HUD numbers for a four person household for Boston area median income, they say is $103,000. But we were looking at some area median incomes for neighborhoods in particular and this is from the American Community Survey. Charlestown, $83,000.

Mayor Marty Walsh: This is family of four?

Meghna Chakrabarti: Yes I believe. Allston-Brighton $52,000, Dorchester $45,000, Roxbury $30,000 dollars. And this is the area median income for neighborhoods.

Mayor Marty Walsh: And the housing stock in those last three areas, Brighton, Dorchester, and Roxbury are all going up. And it's about creating an opportunity, more supply on the market.

... And we have again a perfect storm, where we have millennials that want to stay in the city of Boston that are going to school here. And we have baby boomers wanting to move back. And we're building housing, but not to the rate that it needs to keep up with the population increase.

We thought when we launched this housing plan we'd have 700,000 people living in Boston by the year 2030. We're probably gonna have 700,000 people in Boston by the year 2020. Now the reason I bring that up is not to switch subjects ... we need to build more to bring the demand down. We need to put more supply on the market ...

We saw last year stabilization in rents at 4 percent in certain parts of the city of Boston. But again, that's because we put a lot of supply on the market, but that supply is going quickly.

Meghna Chakrabarti: As you probably know, we released a poll earlier this month and 76 percent of the folks that we polled are either dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the cost of housing. So it's the number one issue in the city ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: It's the number one issue in the country too, by the way, when you go to urban America and you look at cities around America. People are moving back into the cities at record numbers. In the [19]80s it was a flight to the suburbs. And now in 2017, it's a flight back into the cities.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Let's take another call here. Nicolasa is calling from Quincy.

Caller Nicolasa from Quincy: I have lived in the city of Boston for almost 30 years ... housing is so high, the range so high I couldn't find a 2-bedroom for $2,000 apartment so I can move in. So now I have to be relocated to Quincy. And I hear you talking about this is an issue that's going around the country. But what about the people that been living for so long and now need to out of the city ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Well, if you're working for the city of Boston and you live in Quincy, and unless you have worked in the city for 10 years, you can't do that. I mean, if you're covered by a union, but forget that for a minute.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Well actually, I think she told our producer ... you work for Boston Public Schools?

Caller Nicolasa from Quincy: Yes.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Again, in 2014, we took office and quickly found out that we had a housing shortage in the city of Boston. We should have had a more accurate plan to build more housing to understand the influx of people coming into the city of Boston.

We launched that plan in October of 2014, nine months after I became mayor of the city of Boston and we've been producing a lot of housing in the city  -- almost 10,000 units of moderate low-income housing and some of it's high-end housing. And we're continuing that process right now as we talk.

I mean, we approve projects every month and we're constantly approving opportunities to build more housing. And Boston is one of the hottest cities in America where people want to live. And again, it's important that we continue to build this housing and to keep up with the demand that we have in the communities. And you, unfortunately, are one of the folks that I'm not sure what neighborhood you lived in?

Meghna Chakrabarti: Dorchester, she said.

Mayor Marty Walsh: That story is happening all over the place. I mean, I grew up on Taft Street in Dorchester, talk about this story all the time, and all three families on my street that I grew up with. My mother still lives there and I'm watching these houses one at a time turn around to condominiums. And I'm watching these young people come in and buy them where you know, 50 years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago, people were buying three families to help pay for the mortgage of the house.

Now, we're breaking them into condos. And it's driving the cost up. I mean, it's not my place to say if it's right or wrong, that is happening, but it is my place as mayor to try and create more opportunities to keep people in the city and also to keep up with the growth of our city.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Is there anything the city can do to bring the cost of development or the cost of building the new housing down?

Mayor Marty Walsh: That's not an issue right now though.

I mean, that hasn't been the issue. I think that in some cases, depending on where they're being built ... We're trying to use city-owned land to bring the cost down. We're obviously using inclusionary development money and we're going to be using Community Preservation Act money pretty soon to build more housing.

We have the Office of Housing Stability that we've been able to keep a thousand people in their home that were being displaced. We filed legislation at the State House to keep people in their home that if a bank ... now there's not as many foreclosures in Boston as people would think — but we're trying to keep people, if there's a foreclosure, keep the tenants in the house.

Our home buying program. You know 60 percent of the folks that have used our home buying program and work to get mortgages through, have been people of color? Yet 10 percent of the people out of the private banks are people of color, last year. So there's some issues there around lending as well. So we have to work on those. That's access to capital.

So there's a whole host of issues that that we're working on, on all different fronts to tackle the issue of housing. So it's not as simple — I mean somebody coming here tomorrow and talking about, 'I would do this, 25 percent affordable.' We're raising money from inclusionary development — we're raising $57 million. A third, a third, a third are private property. We're building housing on private property for the first-time home buyer programs. Those are all programs that we're doing today.

Meghna Chakrabarti: We're going to take a quick break here. We're speaking with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh he's with us for the whole hour ... And by the way the mayor said at the top of the hour that when he submits the city's bid for Amazon tomorrow, East Boston and Suffolk Downs are going to be the spot that he's putting forward for Boston for Amazon's consideration. And by the way Mr. Mayor one quick question, since the Amazon bid is due tomorrow, will you make the whole thing public after that?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yeah I believe, at some point it's going to be public.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Some point, like ... ?

Mayor Marty Walsh: In the near future.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Like October 20th, 21st?

Mayor Marty Walsh: I'm not sure. When we come back from break, I'll have the answer.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Welcome back to Radio Boston. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is with us for the full hour ... Let's talk a little bit about ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Before we do, Amazon bid Friday.

Meghna Chakrabarti: You're going to make it public on Friday.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Friday.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK. Set it on the record folks ... I'll wait for the e-mail from your office ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: We'll put it online.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So let's talk about race and policing in Boston. Also a very important issue because obviously, the city itself is majority minority. And I mentioned that WBUR poll from October in the previous segment. In that same poll, we found that 54 percent of potential Boston voters were dissatisfied with the state of race relations in the city. Forty-one percent said they were satisfied. So pretty split, but I mean, even the fact that there's 54 percent of the folks who are dissatisfied with race relations, does that concern you?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yeah, systemic racism is a problem in our city and it's a problem in America. And it's an issue that we have continually dealt with and worked on for years as an administration. It's one of the first issues that I tackled as mayor.

We had a town hall conversation on race — the first time a mayor in Boston's ever done that. You know, when I was a candidate for mayor in 2013, I was at a town hall meeting and a woman questioned me the state of race in Boston. And I answered the question in a way that didn't satisfy her and that got me concerned that I didn't have a really full understanding or an answer to talk about race and racism in Boston. So we went back as a campaign and we came up with some platforms and talked about that we were going to deal with — and when I say deal with, talk about race — and finally tackled the issue of race and racism. Which in some ways, is two different issues combined together.

So we started by hiring a resiliency officer, Dr. Atyia Martin. We we applied for the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities ... we got awarded a grant.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Your opponent says that he doesn't feel that it's meaningful enough because it's not really funded well enough.

Mayor Marty Walsh: That's OK, he can say what he wants. We've been working on this issue for a long time and we're also working...

Meghna Chakrabarti: But I mean, you disagree with him? You think it has adequate funding?

Mayor Marty Walsh: I completely disagree with him. And he's had an opportunity as city councilor for the last four years to honestly, if he felt it wasn't actually funded, why didn't he bring it up in the budget in 2014, which he voted for? Or the budget in 2015, which he voted for? Or 2016, or 2017? He didn't vote for those two. I mean, there's plenty of opportunity during his career to bring up these issues and for the last four years we've talked about these issues and the last four years we've been involved with My Brother's Keeper.

My opponent also hit me saying that I vetoed a program for black and brown boys that he passed through the council. Well, first of all, we didn't move forward with that because we had My Brother's Keeper that President Obama asked Boston to be part of, which we did. And then when the councilor got the Commission for black and brown boys, he held one hearing. So let's talk about the hearing. If you're going to have a commission, how come you only hold one hearing? So I think there's more work to be done. To go back to the ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: The knives are starting to come out between you.

Mayor Marty Walsh: No, I'm going to keep it off the air. That's all, I'm done talking bad now.

So we started the 100 Resilient Cities — we've been having dialogues around the city of Boston and we're in the process right now. We worked with the Hynes Foundation. They awarded us some more money to be able to continue to facilitate a training to have race dialogues around the city of Boston, so that's one piece we're working on.

The second piece is obviously we had the issues around Latin School last year which were concerning, two years ago I should say now. Last year, the school kids were remarkable in dealing with the issues around race in that school and then were able to hire the first person of color ever to run Latin school. Rachel Skerritt which, she's going to start in a couple of weeks. So our three exam schools are run by people of color. The diversity of the city, of the departments and the police department — those are all important aspects as well, that we need to work on -- the command staff, the police department ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: Let me just jump in there on that point because again, at the Roxbury debate ... Councilor Jackson said he had an issue with what he believes is a lack of diversity ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Again, unfortunately, those numbers are just wrong. In the class that's in right now, we have I think 160 officers in the class of recruits and roughly 50 percent of those are officers of color that are in the new cadet class... We started the cadet program with 69 percent or 70 percent ... people of color.

The command staff at the police department, before I was mayor, it wasn't 50 percent people of color in the command staff and we reached that goal. And you know, that goal's fluctuating a little bit because we've had a couple of retirements and so we have a few more appointments to do there, but we're constantly working to make sure that that happens. We hired the first Muslim captain to run a district — Captain Hussein in B-3. We have a Latino officer in Jamaica Plain.

Meghna Chakrabarti: These are all laudable things. But on the other hand ... you know that when you have an incident like when Boston Police Officer Joseph DeAngelo was put on leave because he had made this viral video ... they had a tag line in the video saying "This summer black people have met their match." He was put on leave, not fired. And that also resonates in the community saying, why did Mayor Marty Walsh not fire Officer DeAngelo?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Let's take this a step further. Commissioner Evans met with clergy, met with community leaders in having this investigation of this incident — the NAACP was at the table, the Urban League was at the table — came up with the understanding of using this as a learning experience. And they, with Commissioner Evans, along with the community, came up with the punishment for this particular case.

And again, I think that wasn't talked about the other night. And that's something — making sure that there's an understanding and a dialogue in the community. And what Officer DeAngelo's done since then is sitting down with different organizations, different groups of people, to talk about his wrong. And I think that some of these instances, you take as an opportunity for learning.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So is that an opportunity also for deeper learning across BPD?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Absolutely. We've done it. Lisa Holmes has done it at the Academy, as Superintendent of Training. She's taken the way we train officers and changed it around racial training, racial bias, also working with homelessness, and addiction and young people. So she's completely changed the mindset of the way she trains police officers.

And I think that people always pick the side of the police that's the wrong stuff. But there's a lot of good things happening in our city with our police department. Our arrests are down 44 percent. A lot of that is working with the community — building relationships, building trust.

If you did a poll tomorrow and talked about the popularity of the police department and Commissioner Evans inside the communities of Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan?  I'd be willing to bet the numbers are off the chart.

Caller Sarah from Jamaica Plain: I've been a resident of both Roslindale and Jamaica Plain and I'm calling specifically about the way that police officers have responded in my community of Jamaica Plain that borders on Mission Hill in particular ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: My first question would be, did she experience this herself or is this hearsay. I mean, certainly that bothers me.

The majority of the police officers that work for the police department are very vested in their community and in the areas that they work in. And I think that hearing something like that bothers me — that a police officer would make an assumption, something to that effect that you live in a dangerous neighborhood.

Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, from what I understand, I don't see it as a high crime-ridden community that's out there. And I don't certainly don't see any police officer say in any neighborhood in the city of Boston, nor would I hope they'd ever say that they live in a high crime area ...

Certainly one thing that the police department does very well through community policing is accessibility through the civic associations and through the communities. Any event I've been to in Jamaica Plain or Roslindale, the police are there. And if there's an issue out there, with response times or things like that, I would expect people to go to the police officers and say to them, you know, how come? What's going on with your response times?

I was at a meeting the other night, the Wharf District Council, which was in downtown, the harbor district, down by the Rose Wharf area. And the people down there were asking for walking beats. And quite honestly, I said at the time that the crime in the area doesn't warrant walking beats. But certainly I would love to see more walking beats in certain parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury ...

Bowdoin Geneva — where I used to represent as a state rep or adjacent to it — people up there want to see a walking beat. And over the last couple years, we've had walking beats up there and we've seen the homicide rate go from 4, 5, 6 a year to zero. And it's about, how do you use the resources properly?

I think what Sarah might've been talking about too, that a lot of the resources might be in the Mission Hill area and not in Jamaica Plain. There's a happy medium there that you have to work in, to make sure both neighborhoods are paid attention to.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I don't know if she she knows exactly where BPD can or should be putting its resources. But she was saying that when people call stuff in ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yeah, but that's kind of a broad statement. I want to ask, does she hear that herself? And Sarah, I would appreciate if you would call my city hall office.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Actually, I think we still have her. Sarah, if your cell line's holding, you heard the mayor's question?

Caller Sarah from Jamaica Plain: Yeah, no I definitely did. And I appreciate that. I've actually called these in myself at different points ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Sarah, if you don't mind, if you would stay on the line and let the engineer here get your number, because I'd love to talk to you about that situation off line. Because that is not what I hear on an ordinary day. I don't hear that everyday. I think that the response times to a car break-in might be slow. I mean, I'll be honest with you, that's not the top priority for the city now, for the police department, but it still should be a response. And it should be a contact with the police department. But I would love to talk to you more specifically on this to see if there's something that needs to be done.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But since we're on this issue of policing. Mr. Mayor, we have another question that came through online from Alex who asks, "Why haven't you responded yet to the policing questionnaire put out by the ACLU digital fourth and other civil liberties organizations."

Mayor Marty Walsh: I have no idea. I'll have to check and see.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Your campaign manager sent a letter back to the ACLU saying that you wouldn't respond.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Oh, I don't even know. I don't even know about that. It might have been based on, let me think ... I'll comment after the break.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Let's take a break now so you can find that out ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: This is Radio Boston. We're spending the hour with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So before the break, Mr. Mayor, you were saying that you're finding out why it is your campaign didn't answer the [ACLU] questionnaire.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Part of it was the questions were slanted all towards our policies, what we're doing in the city of Boston.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Slanted towards them?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yeah, we're working on all the issues. We're working on the co-op board. We're working on the body camera issue. We're working on a whole bunch of different issues.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Some of them are yes no questions. I've got some of them right here. Do you want to answer them?

Mayor Marty Walsh: No, I'm not going to answer right now.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Why not?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Because there's other questionnaires we didn't do.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But why? They're yes no questions about policing.

Mayor Marty Walsh: OK, give them to me.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK, they're not hard. If re-elected mayor of Boston will you prevent the Boston Police Department from obtaining military weaponry such as machine guns armored vehicles drones bayonets or grenade launchers from the U.S. military?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yes. We've been very clear on that all along. I actually made a public statement against that and I thought that I criticized other police departments around the country for doing that.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK. If elected or in your case, if re-elected mayor of Boston, will you enact a policy requiring independent impartial investigations whenever the BPD uses deadly force?

Mayor Marty Walsh: We pretty much have that now. We have this investigation if that happens and then the district attorney takes over.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK, so here's the co-op one. If re-elected mayor of Boston, will you support replacing the co-op with an independent community-based complaint review board with the power to subpoena investigate discipline and fire police officers?

Mayor Marty Walsh: What we've done is we've strengthened the co-op board to add the members from three to five. This is a recommendation for the co-op board. And we've increased their cases up to 20 percent that they're going to review. And when you look at the police complaints in the police department against police officers, it's down from 361 to 199, excessive force complaints are down from 40 to 18, over the last five years

Meghna Chakrabarti: If re-elected mayor of Boston, will you actively support the repeal of all drug mandatory minimums this legislative session?

Mayor Marty Walsh: I'm going to look at all the bells they're talking about. But when I was a state rep, most of the bills to reduce mandatory minimums were mine.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK. So that's some of the questions, not all of them. There were some more sort of essay-type questions as well, which I'm sure the ACLU and other advocates would love if you actually didn't respond to. But we've got about nine minutes left and we've got to talk about schools, because it's a huge issue in the city of Boston. So let's go straight to a caller who's got a question about that.

Caller Martis from Hyde Park: I've been a resident in Hyde Park for 13 years and I was a BPS parent for six of those years. And my question to the mayor is basically, what are some of the improvements in terms of academics and also enrichment that he would make to the system ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: Let me just start by saying in 2013, we had one of the shorter school days in the country — 2017, we don't any longer. All of our kids in grammar schools are getting about 120 hours more a year of instruction in the classrooms. So I think that that's that's an important piece.

We have 46 schools that are high performing schools in the city, highest performing in the Commonwealth. We've identified I think about 16 or 17 Level 3 schools that we've increased funding to this year through the budget — that is $16 million and we're going to continue to make those investments. Those are schools that if you go to Level 4, you get additional funding. If you stay at Level 3, you're in that kind of area of either improving with what you have, or getting worse. So we're making investments there.

We've increased the school budget in the last four years by $154 million, even though I get criticized for cutting budgets, which we haven't. We inherited a structural deficit inside the school department which we're working through. We've also worked on increasing special education funding by 21 percent in the city of Boston over the last three years and we're working on a program called Build BPS which is going to make $1 billion investment in our schools.

Two-thirds of our schools were built before World War II or during World War II. So we have some structural issues that we're working on in our schools ... We've created a program, [BPS Superintendent] Tommy Chang's Excellence for All, which is a program of increasing the curriculum across all school districts ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: So a lot of programs

Mayor Marty Walsh: Good, strong, new programs.

Meghna Chakrabarti: New programs. But just to go back to the budget question a little bit, because it's a point of contention obviously in this race. And honestly, it's a point of contention every year with BPS. Help me understand something, because we were looking at numbers from BPS itself — general fund totals for the 125 schools. And according to our analysis, 53 of 125 schools in the city had negative change in their budgets from 2017 to 2018.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yes, because they had no change in their enrollments.

Meghna Chakrabarti: No change, so their overall budgets go down.

Mayor Marty Walsh: For the most part, the money follows the kid. So when kids leave schools and go to other schools, the money for the most part follows the kid to the school.

So when you think about schools, I mean, if the school loses 30 kids, we're not going to continue to give them the money when they don't have kids in the classroom.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So it's an enrollment change, you're saying.

Mayor Marty Walsh: It's an enrollment change. And this all happened 2012-2013 where the city made the changes. This goes with the autonomy of a school to allow principals to make decisions on hiring.

So what we did ... is move the hiring up to April, so as school budgets are being put together, teachers are able to plan out their year better. And when they have additional kids coming into the school, they have to make preparations and quite honestly, they make the decision on whether to lay teachers off and when they have under-enrollment.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK. So is that what explains the 12 percent cut to Brighton High, for example?

Mayor Marty Walsh:  That would be part of it, but Brighton High went to Level 4 so this year, they got additional money.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK. Now on Monday, you said you had -- speaking of high schools — that you had real concerns about the city's high schools.

Mayor Marty Walsh: I was asked the question at the [Boston] Globe editorial board about what areas of schools am I concerned most about. We've talked about the gains we made and I talked about the Level 1 and Level 2 schools — I talked about all of the great things happening in our schools — and I said the high schools, they concern me in a lot of ways.

We have a 72 percent graduation rate, which is the highest in the history of the city. We've been able to increase that graduation rate by six points over the last few years. But we still have 28-27 percent of our kids not graduating high school. That number scares me when I think about that — the amount of kids that we're putting on the street that aren't graduating high school, they're dropping out or leaving, and they don't have an education behind them. And there's very few options for them to turn to.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Now BPS represents 35 percent of the city's budget. Just about?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Right about that, which is the largest chunk. It's $1,093,000,000 this year.

Meghna Chakrabarti: And state spending though for Boston Public Schools ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: It's gone down ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: Or at least flatlined...

Mayor Marty Walsh: It's gone down, and the charter school reimbursements ... both line have gone down.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So I mean, are Boston Public Schools adequately funded and can the city keep making up the difference?

Mayor Marty Walsh: Right now, the city's making up the difference. So we're funding them where they need to be funded and we're making the changes that need to be made and we're making the investments that need to be made.

But what's happening — every year's getting more and more difficult, because something on the city side is going to lose out ... These last three years, it's been great. We have great revenue coming in and we have great growth in the city. But let's assume over the course of the next five years that growth stops or slows down. That will start to take away a road from city programs, because you have to continue to fund education. I mean, you can't cut back on education, you can't lay people off.

Education is the lifeline of the city of Boston in a lot of ways, as far as preparing and educating young people for the future. So when we think about that — I would love to have the $25 million dollar investment we made up to close the gap on charter schools. I'd love to make that investment in a different part of the school system if we could.

The money that we're trying to adjust on transportation, I would love to, if we can save money in transportation — that's not going to be a savings, that's going to come into the general fund, that's going to be reinvested in the school. What I mean by that is we have buses in Boston ... we have 22 different start times in the city of Boston. So trying to get that under control and trying to get better bus routes that are more efficient bus routes so when people look and see a bus down the street with three kids on a big long bus they're like, well how come it's not full? It's not full in a lot of ways because of our start times.

Meghna Chakrabarti: And some of those kids have to spend like an hour, hour and half on the bus.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yeah, you have kids that go from say Hyde Park to Brighton. That's a long day for those kids.

Meghna Chakrabarti:I want to get one more call in the last two minutes that we have.

Caller Erin from West Roxbury: I was just wondering about the schools and how the formula is planned for who gets into schools and how we can diversify the schools in our neighborhood ...

Mayor Marty Walsh: I don't understand the diversity piece you're talking about because 87 percent of the kids in the school department are kids of color ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: I think she's talking about but you have some schools that have many more white kids than the other schools in West Roxbury.

Mayor Marty Walsh: Yeah, but the population's of West Roxbury's predominately white. So I think that that's how that chooses. If you talk about neighborhood schools, what we're working towards is having neighborhood schools throughout the city of Boston.

... There are good, strong grammar schools all over the city of Boston. And I think that a lot of parents would prefer to send their kid to a school that's in their neighborhood, if they have one within walking distance, than putting their kid on a bus. That's part of our Build BPS plan. And there's a formula ... You pick the rankings of where you want to go, put your kids into school, and what the demand is, and if there's seats available, they're able to place them there.

This article was originally published on October 13, 2017.

This segment aired on October 18, 2017.


Headshot of Alison Bruzek

Alison Bruzek Associate Producer, Radio Boston
Alison Bruzek was a producer for Radio Boston.


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Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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