City Councilor Tito Jackson On Affordable Housing, More Debates And Reducing Mayoral Power

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Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson fist bumps with a campaigner outside of the Holgate Apartments in Dorchester shortly after voting on Sept. 26. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson fist bumps with a campaigner outside of the Holgate Apartments in Dorchester shortly after voting on Sept. 26. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson joined us Thursday to discuss affordable housing, race and education in Boston, ahead of his November election challenge against Mayor Marty Walsh. (Walsh joined us on Wednesday.)

Jackson said he'll be releasing his 2019 budget for the city next week and reiterated that he challenges Walsh "to have more than one more debate."

"This is voter suppression," he said. "It is suppression for the mayor to not debate. The engagement — and I have to say this — the engagement that is needed for people in the city of Boston — I believe has [been] suppressed."

Referring to the primary municipal election, Jackson said, "It's the reason why we only saw 50,000 people come out in a major American city."

When asked about his plan to define affordable housing by neighborhood, rather than by federal Housing and Urban Development area median income standards, Jackson replied that he would be willing to talk to the federal players. "If I need to go to D.C. and have a conversation with [U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development] Ben Carson ... we should have that," he said.

The councilor also said he would increase the power of the Boston City Council and replace the current Boston Planning and Development Agency with a "professional, human-centered, planning agency that is run by the city" with more transparency, accountability and democracy.

He added that the move would "weaken the mayorship," but he supports it.

You can listen to the full interview atop this post, or you can watch it via Facebook.


Tito Jackson, Boston city councilor. He tweets @titojackson.


This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Today for the full hour, we're going to be talking with Boston City Councilor and Mayoral candidate Tito Jackson.

Yesterday, we spoke with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh ... Councilor Tito Jackson is with us in the studio. Councilor, welcome back to the show.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Thank you so much, Meghna. It's wonderful to be here.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Great to have you.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: And it's just cool to be on Radio Boston.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I appreciate the compliment, but it's not going to get you far. You're going to get the full Radio Boston treatment.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Trust me, I know. I absolutely know.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I'd like to actually start exactly where I started yesterday with the mayor and that's with the Amazon bid. Because you know, economic development ties a lot of the big issues that Boston faces together. Mayor Walsh told us yesterday that he's putting forth East Boston and Suffolk Downs as his primary proposal for Amazon. What do you make of that?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: I think Amazon is a very profitable company. I believe that they should want to come to the city of Boston — it's the best economic environment. Understand, I did bids such as this under Governor Patrick when I worked for him — I did economic development, in particular in tech. I helped to bring Google and Microsoft here and increase their presence here. But what we didn't do, is we didn't give $25 million golden handshakes under Governor Patrick.

It is critical that economic development occurs, but we need to sell Boston from a qualitative perspective and not from how much we're going to hand to a multi-billion dollar company. And so again, Amazon, it would be lovely to have them here. We do need to think about the imprint that they're going to make — I understand 8 million square feet is what they want to build. I'm not that good with what square feet look like — that's about ten John Hancock buildings that we're talking about.

And we need to think about what it's going to mean for gentrification, displacement, and in the housing market — which we need to look at — what's happening in Seattle. And there's huge upward pressures there. And so we need to put that into context.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Let me jump in here, because you mentioned the word "golden handshake" — you're referring to GE?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Yes I'm referring to GE.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Because yesterday, the mayor said to us that in his first proposal here for Amazon, there are no incentives in there. He didn't necessarily say that there wouldn't be going forward, but at least in this first sort of go around, he's not offering any tax incentives.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: So first off, the proof is in the pudding. The mayor has stated that he signed documents in the past that he didn't read, such as the Olympic joinder. So I think it's really critical that we think about what's happening. What we saw with the Olympics was a $9 billion bid. And then I was the only one on the city council who stepped forward and made them show us the bid.

[Governor] Charlie Baker showed us that it was $12 billion, not $9 billion. So the proof is in the pudding. And I look forward to seeing the actual transparent bid. We need to make sure that the people of the city of Boston know what the mayor is promising and I look forward to having that bid put on.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So you haven't seen it?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: I haven't seen it. There was a meeting today which I was unable to attend, but I look forward to it being public.

Meghna Chakrabarti: A meeting with other city councilors?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: I believe elected officials.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK, and you weren't able to be there.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: No.

Meghna Chakrabarti: The mayor has said that he's going to release the bid tomorrow so everyone will see here. But I mean, the reason why we started with Amazon yesterday with Mayor Walsh had actually a lot to do with housing. Because let's say for a second that Amazon did come — it says 50,000 extra jobs would come along with it. And you mentioned Seattle and in the past couple of years in Seattle, apartment rents for example -- we did a segment about this -- going up more than 60 percent. And Boston already has a major housing issue.

But can you see the potential for actually a positive benefit to the housing problem if Amazon were to come? Because maybe you could get them to be a great corporate citizen and help with the housing.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Well, my issue is simply this: This is where a mayor actually needs to lead and not follow. And what we've seen with this mayor is an unwillingness and a timidness to actually step forward and actually lead in the space.

I have put forward an agenda that would require 25 percent affordable housing if you're building over 10 units. Yeah, you know, what if we had that type of push, if we had another push on land that the city owns, that would require a third-a third-a third market — a third middle income and or workforce housing, and a third low income — then we could see some transformative things. But what we've seen from Mayor Walsh is an inability to negotiate thoroughly with companies and in fact, giving away the whole farm.

I think there's an opportunity here, but we need to be very thoughtful about what this could mean for the marketplace here. Fifty percent of people in Boston make $35,000 or less.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Individuals.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Individuals. And I know folks would say the median income is $50,000.

What we are also talking about is a Boston Public Schools that does not teach kindergarten through 12th grade computer science. Remember, Amazon used to be called Amazon dot com. Right? It is a tech company. So if we are not training our young people to be part of the technology sector, then we are doing most of this for naught when it comes to actually having the pipeline and actually uplifting people who are here in Boston, versus those who are not here. Because we have a a shortage of people who have these tech skills.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Let me just jump back to housing specifically. Because you mentioned just briefly what has been one of the centerpieces of your housing proposals. And let's go over it in a little bit of detail because you said if there's a Jackson Administration, that you would call for 25 percent affordable housing requirements for developments of 10 units or over. And if you build on land that's owned by the city, on public land, you'd have that one third low-income, one third market rate, one third middle-income development.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Yes.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK, so pretty straightforward there and looks very attractive. But I got to let you know that yesterday we asked Mayor Walsh for his response to your plan ... and here's what Mayor Marty Walsh said ...

So what's your response to that? He's just saying it's not economically possible.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Well actually, he misstated that. So there is a city next to us that has 20 percent, which is called Cambridge. And Cambridge has a 20 percent [affordable] requirement on building over 10 units.

It is critical that we — this actually means leadership ... The mayorship in the city of Boston by the way, is much stronger than the mayorship of Cambridge. Understand in the city of Boston when we vote as a city council, we only vote yes or no on a budget. Right? We are only allowed to lower a line item. We are not statutorily allowed to increase it.

Again, if you're going to take all of the credit, you have to take responsibility for doing things for the people who still live in the city of Boston. But before we even go to this component, my job will be to change the structures that have caused these disparities. And one of the ways that I will do that is I will abolish the Boston Redevelopment Authority which is doing business as the BPDA [Boston Planning and Development Agency].

Meghna Chakrabarti: But Councilor Jackson, if I could, just before we get into what used to be the BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority], I do want to get into the specifics of your proposal. Because again, like I asked Mayor Walsh about it, I'm asking you about it, because it does seem rather bold. And I've had a lot of people ask me ... how are you going to pay for it? How are you going to make it affordable to have these you know one-third, one-third buckets? I mean the mayor says it's not even possible — no one's going to build if you have to have 25 percent?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: So first off, let's go with the one-third, one-third buckets. There's something that's called Tent City, which is right next to Back Bay station and that actually has a 25 percent low-income, 50 percent middle-income, and 25 percent market. So I'm not pulling this out of the sky. That is a very large development and we've shown time and time again in the city of Boston, as well as other states, that this can be done.

These mixed income opportunities are happening in D.C. and many other places. So I'm not pulling out of the sky. In addition, the voucher program that I've talked about, which would be a $5 million, which would get us 400 subsidized vouchers — that's happening right now in Washington D.C.

And so Mayor Walsh is willing to use parts of other models, which right now he is liquidating the BHA housing — it's being sold — that's public-private partnerships that are occurring right now. So Corcoran Jennison is going to get the housing over in Charlestown. What we need to be thinking about is, what did they do in places like what used to be called Columbia Point, which is now Harbor Point? Most of the people who used to live there no longer live there.

So we need to be thinking about how we actually lead in this space — that we are advocating for the people who are still here, who are being gentrified and displaced out of the city of Boston every day. And so the mayor, if he's unwilling to lead, then I think he should be willing to move aside. We need to be thoughtful.

I personally have, in my district, negotiated an over 20 percent affordable deal at the Douglas apartments, right next to the piano factory in the lower Roxbury area. It can work. And we have to have a city that's going to advocate for the people who are in the city of Boston.

Meghna Chakrabarti: But the mayor would say that he has led. Yesterday he did. He brought up a lot of examples, one of them which is for example the Office of Housing Stability that's trying to take a look at some of those same structural issues that you were talking about in terms of cost, rent, tenancy. I mean, they're even trying to get Home-Rule petitions passed so they can change laws here in the city.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Yes. So leadership and analysis are two different things. This mayor has been willing to do paralysis by analysis over and over again.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I'm going to push back on you there if I could. Because part of the problem is that for a long time, we haven't had accurate housing data in Boston to know what the rents are really, who's being affected and precisely how. I think anyone who wants to make big changes would say you've got to have accurate data in order to know how to make the changes.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Yes, we do need accurate data but I'm a district councilor — I face people on a day to day basis, about 60 families who are coming to my office every single week, who are getting pushed out. And by the way, looking at the courts, there are 5,000 evictions that happened last year. Right? So as we are analyzing, people are getting pushed out. As we are cutting the data, folks are falling behind in their rents. There are empty outs — people are purchasing buildings and pushing folks out of our city. So the city of Boston, we must move swiftly.

When I was a kid, 8 of us grew up in a house with a driveway in our backyard — that was normal on my street. Families are fighting and families at every economic level are having a tough time. So we need to have urgency. This mayor has been in office for 3.5  years and in that time, most of the housing that is being built — 87 percent of it — is slated to be built for people over 20 percent.

If he said they are already doing 18 percent — I am someone who I believe visionary and courageous leadership, means we need to push and uplift and ensure that we're going higher than we have done before. And that's what the people of Boston deserve. And that actually is what the city of Boston deserves.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Tell me more about your numbers though, because we got numbers from the city's housing department and they say that of the housing that's already been constructed or permitted under the Walsh Administration, that 8,900 of those units are accessible to low- and middle-income folks, both deed-restricted and naturally occurring price points at lower and middle income.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: I've been doing it by year. So let's also note that 2014-2017, the data that I have is about 20 percent has actually been affordable. Again, why aren't we going up, right?

So because of the huge economic up-tick and the cost of housing currently, why aren't we riding that wave — a market-based wave — to build more affordable? And understand Meghna, the issue that we also have is the definition of affordable and I like to say, tongue in cheek — affordable, it's kind of like the word love, it means different things to different people.

Currently in Boston, we use the area median income [AMI] so that's not only Boston, that's Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, all of these other places. So that means the current definition of affordable in Boston is about $70,000 to $120,000 in Boston. Go to Copley or go to Melnea Cass and Mass. Ave. — look at what homelessness looks like in the city.

And I'm chair of Education — three and a half years ago when I took over, there were 1,500 students in the Boston Public Schools who were homeless that we knew of. Today, that number is over 4,000 homeless students in the Boston Public Schools. We are moving backwards and not forward on these issues. And if we don't take aggressive leadership — and again, you can't take all of the kudos and not take the responsibility for leading in this space.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So I'm glad you brought up this question of median income and how that maps on affordability because that's something you've also talked about a lot. And I actually asked Mayor Walsh about this yesterday as well. Because you know we were looking at the area median income figures provided by HUD for for Boston and I said you know, for a 4-person household, HUD says it's $100,000 is the area median income.

And I reminded him that you have been saying that you want median income to be done or analyzed by neighborhood, right? Saying that that should be the guideline, not the sort of aggregate Boston numbers. And we reflected some of those neighborhood numbers and again Charlestown, area median income, and this is from slightly older data from 2009, but $83,000 in Charlestown for a household of four, $42,000 in Mattapan, $30,000 in Roxbury. Those are the numbers I reflected back to him.

Now my question for you though is you're right — obviously this is a city of high income inequality, so median income is going to vary incredibly from neighborhood to neighborhood. But what I want to know is, when you're talking about constructing affordable housing, when you're talking about constructing low- and middle-income housing, there are a lot of players involved — a lot of organizations, lot of institutions HUD being one of them, lots of financial institutions, for example. If you start saying we're going to use this set of numbers for neighborhood median income, but everyone else is using HUD numbers, how is that going to work? How are you going to get people to talk to each other about that?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Well I think we have to have conversations that are realistic, right? So understand, in Grove Hall, which is the neighborhood I live in, the average income for that family is $25,000. So when you're building a unit and you call it affordable and you're branded an affordable unit and it's for someone who makes $70,000-$75,000, that is three times that person's or family's income. So we are not actually meeting the problem. This is actually called what government is supposed to do.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Are you going to go to [U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development] Ben Carson and you're going to say, actually what I want you to do HUD is, say in Roxbury, we're going to redefine it to $30,000?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: We need to be innovating. And if I need to go to D.C. and have a conversation with Ben Carson, who says he lived in Boston, then we should have that conversation. In addition, I also will support what Denise Provost, who's a state representative, has put forward, which is another plan that has actually been happening since 1980 in Washington D.C.

And essentially, there's a first right of refusal in a building that's going to be purchased that's occupied by tenants. It allows for that building to be turned into a co-op, purchased by a CDC [community development corporation], purchased by the city or purchased by the individuals who actually live in that housing. That is an innovative program that would actually lend to exactly what we're talking about. And as you would note here is, it would have to be deed-restricted if it were turned into a co-op. That is the type of innovation — we can't only have an innovation economy, we need to have innovation in housing in the city of Boston to make sure we are meeting these needs.

Meghna Chakrabarti: We're talking with city councilor Tito Jackson ... We've been talking about housing because it's possibly one of the most important issues, well we know it's one of the most important issues.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: We didn't talk about the BRA.

Meghna Chakrabarti: We will in a second, but I actually just want to let some of your potential constituents have their chance to ask you their questions so, Paige is calling from Dorchester.

Caller Paige from Dorchester: I'm wondering what if anything would be your approach for addressing sky-rocketing rent prices for current units. You've talked a lot about new units. Any approach for current unit?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Yes. So one of the things, Paige, that I did have was the plan that I just put forward. We are seeing a lot of developers purchase whole houses, in particular 3-deckers, 6-deckers and emptying them out. I believe that the people who are renting should have first right of refusal and the ability to buy them.

In addition, I believe that we should put forward flexible city-funded vouchers that could actually be used to deal with the delta between what is being currently charged and how rents are actually going up. And I believe that we could do that first with an experiment of $5 million to put forward 400 vouchers to begin to deal with that.

In addition, yes we do need to build more units. The only issue though is if we only do a trickle-down economic approach and just continue to build units at the rate we're building them and only let the market play in this, we will continue to push people out of the city of Boston.

Meghna Chakrabarti: All right so now you did, Councilor Jackson, you did mention the the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: $600,000 to change that name.

Meghna Chakrabarti: You said you were going to abolish it. What would you put in its place?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: First, again it cost $600,000 to add one extra letter to an acronym.

What I would put in its place is a professional, human-centered, planning agency that is run by the city, that has transparency, accountability and democracy attached to it.

Understand right now, the Boston Redevelopment Authority doing business as the Boston Planning and Development Authority is not transparent and it is only beholden to the mayor. It is only beholden to their board, which is wholly appointed by the mayor and has in many ways, been the way in which people have been removed, displaced and overrun in their neighborhoods and communities.

And so it is critical now that we step forward and weaken the mayorship. And I want to be honest and transparent. This would actually weaken the membership, because this actually means there would be transparency and planning. Because right now we don't technically plan I don't believe. I believe we develop and then we back-end planning based on where developers want to actually build. And then on the development side, that development should be transparent. It should be accountable to the people of the city of Boston. And the dollars attached to this agency should be able to be seen by people through city government.

In addition, I would increase the power of the Boston City Council. The Boston City Council should be involved and should have to take a stand on issues relative to development by vote.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I take your point on this, that making things transparent, democratic etc., you know, in a perfect world is great. I mean look, I am a member of the press, of course I want things to be more transparent. But one could also say that the way that the Office of the Mayor has historically been set up in Boston has its downsides, but also has its upsides. That maybe you want the powerful mayor model because for a lot of the things that you're envisioning, a lot of the things that you're championing, that maybe you couldn't do if you made it an overly democratic process? And I say that with all seriousness.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Democracy in that regard, we are only serving the powerful and we are not serving the people. It is my objective and yes the objective I believe, to return the power to the people in the city of Boston and democratize city government.

Just because we've always done it this way — these structures are what lead to lack of transparency, lack of accountability, but it's also what leads to what we currently have is two individuals who are charged and indicted with extortion. And by the way, they are being paid a quarter of a million dollars a year over the past year and a half. So much of city money is going out the door.

We have to change the actual structures to add democracy and add sunshine on what's actually going on in the city of Boston. It's not OK.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Speaking of sunshine, I do have a question for you, because you have promised throughout this campaign that you would release a budget proposal ...

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Yes, I'm excited.

Meghna Chakrabarti: ... So that voters could look at it. You're excited for this?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Because it's coming next week

Meghna Chakrabarti: It's coming, OK, because you had promised to release it in September and here we are on October 19th.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: I'm a little bit tardy on my budget proposal. Mayor Walsh, he actually was supposed to do a disparity study from day one -- we're 3.5  years through.

I will be releasing my FY19 budget proposal next week and you will see the priorities that I believe in. And the fact that we can fully fund the Boston Public Schools, that we can actually deal with many of these issues of housing, and that we can begin to get our arms around issues that we are facing in the Melnea Cass and Mass Ave. area around opioid use — based on something that Mayor Walsh and his administration did, which is the closure of the Long Island shelter and the closure of the bridge, which has exacerbated what has occurred in the city of Boston. So you will get that next week.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Next week, OK. Councilor Jackson, with all due respect, I mean sure you're being transparent by releasing it next week, but that would just be two weeks before the election? Is that fair to voters? You promised it back in September.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Well first, unlike Mayor Walsh, I don't have 17,000 people working for me on this. We are a grassroots campaign. But I will and in addition, I actually did an open town hall last night. We have several more coming up. And as mayor, they will have an opportunity to hear prior to my swearing in, what my objectives and goals are relative to that. And again I look forward to actually releasing that.

Meghna Chakrabarti: We look forward to getting it. All right let's take a quick break here ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: We're spending the hour with Boston City Councilor and Mayoral candidate Tito Jackson ... We do have a lot to talk about regarding race and policing and education. But I do want to give folks a chance to ask their question of you so Joe is calling from Hyde Park.

Caller Joe from Hyde Park: A quick question on property tax. The middle class seem to be footing the bill for property tax in the city for a long time. We got a lot of institutions, colleges that are not paying anything. Why don't we charge these people something like 1 percent. We can raise some revenue for the city and also busing, the cost versus the value still.

Thank you very much Joe. This issue of colleges and universities, which is called payment in lieu of tax ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: Right, those pilot payments.

Pilot payments. And what we've seen sadly, is that we've seen those come down. Right? So there was a study done and a couple of years ago they were much higher than they are right now.

I believe that we should look at pilot payments on an annual basis. We should have to have an annual reporting of the pilot payments and we also need to know — and Joe brings up a really good fact — half of these pilot payments are able to be done in-kind, which means that it may not have a dollar value attached to it. So I think that's a critical component.

One of the other components that we should look at with pilot payments, is that we should look at procurement and under my administration, we will have an anchor institution, Procurement and Employment Office, where we are looking at the spend of actual colleges and universities. Are they working with Boston based businesses? A school like Boston University spends $2.1 billion on an annual basis in their operating budget — how much of that goes to Boston businesses? How much of that goes to businesses owned by people of color? And how much of that goes to women-owned businesses and veteran-owned businesses? That is a way to make Boston an even stickier place to do business. And we have a bunch of colleges and universities and hospitals.

So if we look at their spend and if we say — and I would say 10 percent. I was able to negotiate with Northeastern University a 15 percent requirement in their institutional master plan. Why does this matter? Because schools like University of Pennsylvania actually track their spend in Philly. They spend about $268 million and then they look department by department on their actual spend and their hiring.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Do they have to do that because it's the University of Pennsylvania. I mean how would you do that with ...

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Well actually, what I would do here is, each school has to do an institutional master plan every 10 years. They have to say what they want to build and they have to cut a deal with the city to be able to build it. This should be part of their institutional management.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So you would introduce it as that.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: I would definitely introduce and I used this model with Northeastern University. In addition, we required them to build, to use 30 percent of their minority business enterprise to build buildings and 10 percent for women.  And also we got a $1.5 billion Revolving Loan Fund for working capital. So these are the types of deals that are over and above pilot.

He also brings up something really important around property tax. We should definitely be thinking about ways so that people are not saddled, and in particular, elders. I met an elder in South Boston who had $11,000 a year property tax bill. But he made $22,000 a year. We want to make sure that elders are able to age in place and that that tax burden doesn't push people out of their homes.

Meghna Chakrabarti: All right, so let's talk about race in Boston. Because of course, this is a majority minority city, it's a city of people of color.

And when we hosted you Councilor Jackson at our mayoral forum at UMass a couple of months ago, you were very passionate about your criticism of the Walsh Administration on a number of points regarding race. I mean you criticized the administration for what you called the underfunding of the city's chief resilience officer. You basically said it's funded from one position. We should note though that that is because it's been funded by a two year grant from the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the grant is written that the money is for that one position.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: But other cities have matched that funding. And so again, how does the mayor take credit for something that they got a grant for. Right? That's not on the city budget and a budget is a value statement. And so if no city money is going into it, how is it that Mayor Walsh can take credit? And again. Atyia Martin is one of the most talented individuals that I've ever met in that space. But she's one person and she's done yeowoman's work in that role. We need to give her a functional budget. And by the way, her impetus and push is around race. And so with a city with such a storied history, she needs a robust staff and funding to be able to do that work.

Meghna Chakrabarti: So I asked Mayor Walsh about this yesterday and he had quite a pointed response to your criticism of him and the funding for the resilience office or office in the city. And here's what he said.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: It's really interesting because there's not a commission [on black and brown boys]. And so Mayor Walsh is misstating what actually occurred. So let's understand what happened.

I put forward legislation to create a Black and Latino Men's commission. This is actually prior to My Brother's Keeper being announced. And in Philadelphia there is a commission and several other cities there are these commissions. We engaged over 700 people to have this conversation and it passed the Boston City Council 13 to 0. 13 to zero. And Mayor Walsh vetoed it. So if you really care about — and we also knew that President Obama wasn't going to be in office forever. What this was modeled after is the Women's Commission, which has been successful in the city of Boston in closing many of the gaps around pay as well as equitable treatment of women. And it's a standing commission. And so that is one of the reasons why I put that forward.

In addition, Mayor Walsh has been unwilling to deal with systemic racism in City Hall. And one point around this is Chantal Charles, who was awarded by a jury, $10.9 million dollars she's worked for City Hall for over 20 years. She's had the same title since 1986. The jury gave her a judgment for discrimination and retaliation. And the mayor appealed it and it was upheld on appeal for $4.5 million. And they are appealing again. In addition ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: But it sounds like in that case the specific ... Councilor Jackson, I mean you're heaping that all on Mayor Walsh. She's had the same title since 1986 — there was another mayor in charge there during most of that time.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: There was and it is our job — and this is the issue — 'systemic.' There's a system here. Right? It's not about an individual. We're not talking about 'racist.' We are talking about 'racism.' Which is a system. And so it is critical that we do right.

And what Mayor Walsh didn't do is that there was no — nothing was done, no repercussions for the person who was the manager there. Right? So that is what you need to actually change.

In addition, the disparity study, which Mayor Walsh promised as a candidate, allows us to have goals for purchasing — for women, people of color, veterans and the like. And interestingly, Charlie Baker, the Republican governor, has done two while he has been in office. Mayor Walsh has done zero. A goose egg. The reason why this is significant is a disparity study takes at least two years to do.

Mayor Walsh, the day before the debate, which he finally was willing to figure out how to speak to the people — and I would say I believe ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: Well, in a debate format, specifically ...

City Councilor Tito Jackson: But this is voter suppression. And I want to be ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: Suppression?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: It is suppression.

Meghna Chakrabarti: That's a ... how is it voter suppression for there ...

City Councilor Tito Jackson: For the Mayor to not ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: That's not suppression.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: ... To not debate, the engagement — and I have to say this — the engagement that is needed for people in the city of Boston, I believe has [been] suppressed. And it's the reason why we only saw 50,000 people come out in a major American city on [municipal primary election day] September 26. That's real. And I believe having more debates is the way that engagement actually happens.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK, but Councilor Jackson please, it's because — I have to ask you more about this. Because you used the word suppression. That is very different than engagement. Suppression makes it sound like you're insinuating that the Welsh campaign is out there keeping people away from the poll.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: But they are ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: There's no — they're not doing anything of the sort.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: ... They're keeping people away from the conversation, which leads to keeping people away from the polls.

Let's look at voter turnout in 1983. Let's go back to Mel King and Ray Flynn each of them. They both actually got the same amount that I got — 29 percent. Each of them got 48,000 votes. And so what I would say to you again if we're talking about transformative leadership, that means you sit down, you have the conversation and you engage people. If not, people check out and they're not able to actually engage in the conversation.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I think, Councilor Jackson, with all due respect, shouldn't you also be putting some of the impetus on the voters of the city of Boston? Like in order for a democracy to work, they have to want to be engaged.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: Well, they have to want to be engaged. And I would also say to my friends in the media, right? ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: You're sitting here with me today! The Mayor was sitting here with me yesterday!

City Councilor Tito Jackson: But you're not making us sit together. And I want to be very, very real here, right? We've now had two separate conversations. And you're stellar in your ability to interview people. But it does mean something when we are having separate conversations and we are not having a debate. There's a couple of chairs here.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Well, there was going to be a debate on WBZ but because of a union conflict, both you and the mayor agreed to not have that debate. You also signed off on that.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: But there was going to be a debate at WBUR and my campaign manager went to a walkthrough for that, was actually pulled, based on the fact that Mayor Walsh did not want to do it.

So what I'm saying here is that this issue of engagement, this issue of people being able to understand what is on offer, that is our job. And I would simply say to the people, if someone is not willing to stand up for their job and to fight for their job, are they going to be willing to stand up for you?Are they going to be willing to stand up for that single mom who's struggling? Or their grandparent who is taking care of their grandchild? Is that person willing to stand up for the city of Boston?

We are a city of fighters and we are a city that fights hard for everything that's out there. And that's what we deserve in a mayor. And as mayor of the city of Boston, I will be fighting for you and I'm willing to sit down and have the conversation.

And again I challenge Mayor Walsh to have more than one more debate in this election cycle. It is critical for the people of the city of Boston to hear us.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I'm going to move on here in just a second, but I have to be clear on something. I have to ask you to be clear. Are you genuinely saying that the lack of debates is equivalent or leading to suppression? Because there is a very specific definition. There's a legal standard for that.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: What I would say is simply this — and I don't use it in jest — I believe that this lack of engagement, unwilling and recalcitrance, and not being willing to have this conversation, has led to lower voter turnout, lower engagement and less attention paid to the most important position in the state of Massachusetts, which is the mayorship of the city of Boston.

It is unacceptable. It has to stop. And I look forward to folks, my friends in the press, but also in the advocacy community, holding the Mayor accountable for not being willing to come to the table.

Meghna Chakrabarti: OK. Let's move on because we got a little bit away from the issue of race in particular. But I want to ask you, because you've been talking about how you have said that you don't feel that very specific and important representatives of the city police and fire in particular, represent Bostonians themselves. So let me ask you, I mean the mayor would disagree, he does disagree. He says that the incoming cadet classroom in the Police Academy for example, is very diverse. But how would you actively increase or further diversity?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: OK, so first, it is interesting that we're pointing to only this one class because he's actually not pointing to the classes prior and the record is very clear. And we've heard on the record from MAMLEO [Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers] and the Vulcans [Boston Society of Vulcans of Massachusetts] about the diversity or lack thereof. Under Mayor Walsh, 75 percent of the police officers hired in his Administration have been white and 90 percent of the firefighters hired have been white.

This is a city that is disjointed and not connected with the demographics of the city of Boston. And I think it's really critical that we look at recruitment. Much of the recruitment of veterans — and how is it that we are not recruiting veterans who are from a diverse background in the city of Boston with jobs that actually pay pretty well?

Again, I want to thank the men and women who do both of these jobs on a day-to-day basis — our police officers who go to go to work every single day to keep us safe as well as our firefighters who do that work. But it is critical that we do a better job in that space.

One of the ways we also make it better is that we shouldn't have discriminatory policies in the police department. One of them is a hair test that gives false positives for short curly hair. And there have been officers of color who've been fired and had to go through lawsuits to get back on the case. This hair test, they've actually stop using it at the TSA and the city of Boston has spent over $1.5 million defending this hair test. And there have been several recent rulings by the court about the testing that the Boston Police Department has used, that has shown that they have used testing that discriminates against specific groups of people.

And on top of that, you have an individual who made a video of one of his counterparts and said something very racist in the video. And instead of taking a leadership role here and ensuring that this individual was no longer in city service and on the police force because this was ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: This is Officer [Joseph] DeAngelo you're talking about.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: ... conduct unbecoming of an officer. Mayor Menino had something that happened somewhat in the same vein and he actually exercised his authority to make sure that that individual was no longer on the police.

Meghna Chakrabarti: I asked [Mayor Walsh] about this specific case yesterday and he said that Commissioner Evans and leaders of the church community, pastors, they worked on a solution to this problem together.

City Councilor Tito Jackson: This is called leadership. And it's called having standards. That in the city of Boston, actions such as this are unacceptable.

In addition, this is also a mayor who has chosen to study body cams. To study body cameras, instead of implementing body cameras.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Well he got a lot of resistance from the unions on that, but this is a good question ... But how would you how would you break down resistance in the Boston police union so that all officers wear them for that transparency and accountability you're talking about? How would you do that?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: The issue here is that we have to have a conversation. The Boston Police Department has been sued for $38 million in the past seven years. This is real money that has gone out the door. And so we also need to say to our police officers, this is not only an accountability for you, it's also an accountability for the public and it's a transparency and democracy tool. It will I believe, keep officers safe and safer. I also believe it will keep the community safe and safer and it is a win-win in our city.

We don't have dash cams. There was a whole show called 'Cops' that was on for over 20 years. It's now canceled. We still don't have dash cams in the city of Boston. We should be making this leap into body cams for all of our police officers and that should happen right away.

Meghna Chakrabarti: ... When we come back let's talk a little bit about Boston public schools.

Meghna Chakrabarti: We're spending the hour with Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson. He is running for mayor of the city of Boston ... Let's get a call from Mike, he's calling from Dorchester.

Caller Mike from Dorchester: Thank you Tito for your leadership on education. I've been an educational activist for decades. School closings are very damaging to our children in our communities and disproportionately in Boston, school closings have taken place in communities of color. The city of Boston is planning to close schools in the next few years. If you're mayor, would you close any schools? And if you do, what would be the criteria?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: The thing that I always say when it comes to being an a hole is to stop digging. The Boston Public Schools — and we have a mayor who operated for two years as if we had thousands of extra seats — the Boston Public Schools actually do not have enough seats. There's 4,000 young people who are waiting to get into early education seats.

And I think we need to be thinking about how we build new schools. Two thirds of our schools are built before 1945, but even before we do that I think it's really critical that we fully fund the schools that we have.

We have a mayor who has underfunded the Boston Public Schools by $140 million. In every school should be a nurse. We should have art and music and fully funded vocational technical education, libraries — and in my administration, we will have a kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum in computer science.

So before we think about that, we should be looking at where young people live and how we can actually build equitable opportunities for education in every single neighborhood.

Meghna Chakrabarti: Councilor Jackson let me just jump in here ... This question of school funding has come up over and over and over again in this race. Just yesterday, the mayor told us that he's increased the school budget in the last four years by $154 million. So where do you guys get your numbers from?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: I get my numbers from the superintendents and I will post them and show where he's actually cut funding to the Boston Public Schools — and those are from his superintendents.

And with that said, I would have an elected school committee. It is critical that we democratize education. Of the of the 351 cities and towns in the state of Massachusetts, Boston is the only one that does not have an elected school committee.

In addition, we need to have free bus passes for all of our high school students. Some kids can't even afford to actually get on the bus and get to school. So that is absolutely critical. And I believe the school should be a community hub. They should actually be the center of every single community and everything from prenatal care to adult education, vocational technical education, should happen in our schools. These are thoughtful solutions. And again, we will fully fund the Boston Public Schools in my budget that I'm putting out next week I will show where we will get those dollars ...

Meghna Chakrabarti: Can you give us a hint? A preview?

City Councilor Tito Jackson: We can give you a preview on paper. And I would love to come back in and run through the budget. It is a critical component because understand, policy without a line item is not real. $11 million was cut out of 49 public schools. You don't have to ask me. How about you ask the 3,500 young people who walked out of their Boston Public Schools because Mayor Walsh underfunded their schools two years ago, and their parents who actually protested in front of his State of the City address?

I will fully fund the Boston Public Schools. It is a value of mine and our young people are 100 percent of our future. And what are we doing, if we're not funding our public schools.

This article was originally published on October 13, 2017.

This segment aired on October 19, 2017.


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Jamie Bologna Senior Producer/Director, Radio Boston
Jamie Bologna was senior producer and director of Radio Boston.


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



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