^ Chris Conroy ; Dorchester kid, Elmore Street candidate

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Chris Conroy is running for one of the four at-Large (city wide) Council seats to be chosen in November. He has a classic City Councilor candidate background : born on Dorchester’s Tuttle Street, near the Kit Clark House, and grew up a mile or two south, on on King Street in the Fields Corner part of Dorchester — Ward 16, Precinct 2, for those who know. He comes from a large family with extensive connections to Boston Public Schools and is related to the well-known Hughes family, also of Dorchester, and still politically active. One might expect to meet him at the Ledge or the Harp and Bard. That is the type.

The type would get it wrong, however. we meet Conroy at the Red Fez in the South End. He has arrived on foot, no less — walking. After our chat he walks again, with a backpack slung over his khaki-colored gabardine suit, across the park to the South End Business Alliance’s Mayor Forum at Calderwood Center. And he lives not in Dorchester but in Roxbury; until a year ago, on Fort Hill, whence he and his family moved to Elmore Street in Ward 11. Not today an address one sees on most city-wide Council abllots; but, as I point out to Conroy, it’s the street where John Collins, the legendary Mayor (1959 to 1967) who instituted the BRA and urban neighborhood clearance — controversial, but so was everything Collins was and did — lived as well. Controy says that he knew this — impressive; because Collins lived on Elmore Street several ages ago in Boston’s political saga.

Conroy is “new Boston” all the way. Soft spoken, an easy smile, walks to places, offers detailed answers — enormously detailed, thoughtful and often quite original — to the pressing questions of now. If a deeply pensive school reformer is wanted on the Council — a Horace Mann for this decade, and yes, Mann was a Boston politician too — Conroy may well be it.

We were first introduced to Conroy as a city council candidate with charter school experience; correct we were, but misled. Conroy does not favor “lifting the cap” in State law that limits the number of charters. “I don’t think there should be a greater concentreation on charter school,” he says.

“I don’t support lifting the cap, and any new charter school should go through a strict evaluation ptrocess. (Such) new application should have to be approved by refrerendum. Any charter school should work closely with the school district. (Yes,) ity’s a high bar for charter school creation.”

So how about his charter school experience ? Says Conroy: “I originally taught at the Gavin School (in South Boston) as part of an after school program : helping to monitor school performance. (that was all.)

The above discussion answered our usual Question 5. With that in mind, we now proceed to the other six questions that Here and Sphere (HnS) poses to Council candidates.

1. HnS : “what in your life makes you uniqurly or especially qualified to be an effective councillor ?

Conroy : “I’m relentless. When the City takes on complex issues, I insist on everyone who has a stake in that discussion (joining the discussion).”

2. HnS : What are your two top priorities to work on if you’re elected ?

Conroy : “We should have a City Council that is activist in fighting for home rule petitions ! For example, I support 100 per cent Councillor Pressley’s petition to allow the City to determine its own liquor license policy. (I want) A Council that is willing to bring all part8ies to the table. (with an0 emphasis on people process, morer than policy.”

3. HnS : Casino vote : citywide or East Boston only ?

Conroy : (the) casino vote should be city-wide because the issue affects the whole city. I want people to (use this issue to) think about Boston as a whole city, not as one neighborhood or another.”

“That said, a casino may provide stability for familyes in the area, ecept for restaurants, (but) a casino gives us public safety concerbns. Granted that the (Suffolk Downs) casino project has addressed the security issue in detail, there is also a public health concern that costs (the casino) money cut out of the (project’s) taxability. (But the) Union jobs (that it will provide) is my big plus.”

4.HnS ; School reform ? Longer school day — yes or no ? Do you favor any of the other reforms in John Connolly’s agenda ?

Conroy : (I’d talk about the economy.) “we have a different economy than we had in 1985. A volatile environment in which low-skill jobs can’t be kept, and that crerates instability in families and (in) neighborhoods.

“People need meaningful work, particularly youbg adyults. They leave — that bdcomees prpblematic .

“we need to provide pathways from schooln bto work. Not necessagoly four-year college. For eample, my grandfather had a deep knowledge from real life, which he was able to use for his career. Today we do not have that pathway to skilled jobs directly out of school. (so that’s the school reforms that we need.)

6.HnS : BRA ? Replace ? Reform — and if so, in what ways ? Should there be a separate board fior planning ?

Conroy : “No separate planning commission. (I) am for reform in the community input process, to stop projects that don’t have neighborhood input. You often see plans created by the developer privately without any community input.

“We need more modrrate housing badly. We don’t have that input with the BRA. We don’t have the power to sue a developer who doesn’t follow the rules.

“There is a difference between an affordable city and affordable neighborhoods. We should reverse that tend. We cannot afford to lose the ladder of social bettering, climbing higher. So, if the BRA can’t be forced to give neighborhood input — and we need to assure that, at the City Council — we can’t have the economic development process that includes the neighborhoods.

(Let me add this 🙂 we should have a local minimum wage ! I support Rep. Provost’ bill to raise it to S 11.00 to S 12.50.”

7.HnS : Marty Walsh says “there’s a heroin epidemic in the city now.” Do you agree ?

Conroy : “Drugs are a problem. Epidemic ? not sure. But they are a problem and one that we can’t arrest our way out of. It’s a costly way to fight. It’s costing us in a moral and c ommunity sense.

“We need basic city services available to families to fight this. Supportive families can pull people out of crisis. Interven(ing) very early (and) connected with (the) schools. police shouldn’t be just arresting, they should be directing.

“the life that addicts live : we need to figure it out. It is a disease, in common with mental health. Teaching (that it’s) to do with stress. We need to be attaching the best medical services, and we have them in this city, so that the very young have slomething to do and soemthing to look forward to.

“A major call to expand mentoring, both personally and professionally. (It’s) a really easy connection to create; it’s a natural fit. (I have to) credit Councillor Pressley on (her work to) creating healthy relationships (here). Unhrealhy relationships can create a mental health crisis and thus a public health crisis.”

Can such a thoughtful candidate, living in one of the City’s least politically potent Wards, make the November top four ? Can he make the “cut of eight” on Primary Day ? To do so, he will need all of the relentlessness he talks about, all of his long family history in the Boston Public Schools, and then some. But he speaks the language of new Boston, and has the look of new Boston; and today, new Boston is the city’s voting majority.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Charles Clemons, John Connolly, and felix Arroyo at SEBA Forum

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Last night’s Mayoral Forum at the Calderwood Center on Tremont Street asked the most pointed questions and addressed more topics than at any Forum we’ve observed so far. It being the South End, heart and stomach — excellent hors d’oeuvres were served in the foyer — of the “new Boston,” comprehensiveness was to be expected. Basic just won’t do for a locus of million-dollar condos.

Hosted by the South End Business Alliance — SEBA — the Forum gathered an audience of about 200. it was a well informed group, with definite preferences: favorable answers from the candidates drew approving cheers and applause; unfavorable ones were given the silent treatment. There was plenty of each.

That said, this Forum made clear what has portended for some time now : that the leading candidates, according to polls, are leading for good reason. They have greatest command of the issues — big and not so big — and of how to address them. Connolly, Walsh, and Arroyo made their points with specificity, each man inputting his own expertise and vision, each speaking his own language — and doing so with persuasive conviction. For Connolly, that meant the most modern of cities : zipcar, apple store, user-friendly, bicycles, lifestyle diversity — and biolab 4. For Arroyo, it meant a city in which pathways out of poverty are a priority. Marty Walsh saw a partnership city, between business and labor, the Mayor working in team with the City Council and with the Boston delegation to the state Legislature.


^ an audience informed and knowing what they want

The other candidates on stage — Charlotte Golar-Richie worked the foyer but did not sit in; Consalvo and Wyatt made no appearance at all — answered less strongly. Mike Ross, who has spoken eloquently at earlier Forums, seemed less in command here — perhaps it was the questions, which did not fit his vision of fun city — restaurants, liquor licenses, and neighborhood nightlife. His best answer fitted that slot : “Yes I am a supporter of food trucks (which SEBA’s restaurant members don’t like), but keep in mind that some good food trucks have stepped up to be bricks-and-mortar restaurants.”


^ Mike Ross : food trucks to restaurants


^ John Barros : seeing City hall from his neighborhood (Mike Ross to his right)

John Barros and Bill Walczak spoke from the viewpoint of their particular experience ; schools for Barros, the Codman square Health Center for Walczak. The tactic made their answers sound provincial. a Mayor should see the neighborhoods from City hall. Barros and Walczak did the reverse : looked at City hall from a neighborhood. And Walczak, as always, offered his “no casino” mantra.

Dan Conley stayed at the Forum only long enough to respond to a twenty-question round robin of “yes, no, or thinking about it” quickie answers to this or that one-word issue : casinos, liquor licenses, South Boston parade, audit the city, change the BRA, and such like. As for Charles Yancey and Charles Clemons, each made a couple of notable points — specific to their personal resumes — but both lacked preparation, and it showed.

Each candidate was asked what was his proudest moments, in public life and in his work. Marty Walsh answered thus : “protecting jobs. We passed legislation which has allowed technology companies to bring in new jobs that for he most part were in California. But hey, it wasn’t just about me. (It’s) working with a team. It’s not just you, it’s going to be working collaboratively.”

Then Felix Arroyo : “my proudest moment on the Council ? There was an attempt to close our city’s libraries. I was instrumental in stopping that. Before that, the work that I did in organizing janitors. They were making eight dollars an hour,. now they’re making fifteen.”

Connolly : “most important council work ? getting a strict energy efficient city code passed. as an attorney, my proudest moment wa represennting a client, pro bono, two guys here in the South End (who were victims) in a gay-bashing case.”

Another not so typical Forum question was then posed ; ‘have you started thinking about who you would include in your administration — in your cabinet — as Mayor ?” The strongest candidates gave the most intriguing and thoughtful answers.

Walsh : “a new superintendent of schools first…the hierarchy of the Police department should be revamped. Look at the Fire department too. Include all the city in my discussions and decisions.”


^ Marty Walsh : vows big changes at the Police department

Connolly : “new generation, new leadership. Superintendant of schools — how about one who is non-traditional ? A city-wide summit on public health. Begin overhauling city hall to be user-friendly.”

Arroyo : “A diverse cabinet that shares my values. A superintendant of schools who knows that you have to work with everyone.”


^ john Connolly and Felix Arroyo : will they work with the Council ? So they say…

Next came a question guaranteed to elicit an unreal answer: “how will you as Mayor work with the City Council ?”

Connolly : “We are better when we disagree. I want a council that is bold and independent. Disagreement makes us better.” (to which I comment : “sounds good, but that’s not how it plays out. The Mayor may let the council gripe, but he has the power and the Council doesn’t.”)

Arroyo — “The Council is there because the voters put them there. But more importantly” — and here he pointed to the Forum audience — “I want to work with YOU !” (to which I comment : “a slick way of ducking the question !”)

Walsh : “The city council is a partner. I would also include the Boston legislative delegation and also legislators from around the state. The mayor can’t do it alone, he’s not a dictator.” (to which I comment “no, but the Mayor often thinks he is.”)

By this time the Forum had shredded badly. Conley first, but then Ross, Barros, Clemons, even Connolly, one after the other, had to leave to attend other events. Only Arroyo and Walsh said they were here for the duration.

They all apologized, of course. But as the race is now well into crunch time, every candidate with any chance at all has more events on his or her daily schedule than could be attended in three days. And so it goes. rush, greet, rush, talk, rush, talk, greet, talk, rush. You want to keep up ? You will have to rush, rush too.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere