In a wide-ranging and occasionally raucous debate Wednesday night, Boston’s two mayoral candidates offered starkly different assessments of the state of the city.
Mayor Marty Walsh and City Councilor Tito Jackson actually agreed on a lot during their hour-long tilt in Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall: Boston, they concurred, needs better schools, more affordable housing, and less crime in some neighborhoods.
They disagreed sharply, however, about how acute those needs are. On each of those fronts, Walsh said the city is making good progress — while Jackson warned that Boston is either stagnant or slipping backwards.
The audience was engaged from the get-go, and as the debate progressed, Jackson’s supporters in particular could be heard cheering for their candidate and vocally expressing their disapproval of the mayor.
At one point, the negative feedback from the crowd and his opponent seemed to ruffle Walsh, who protested, “This story in Boston is not all bad. If you’re listening, it sounds like there’s not a good story. We have a good story to tell in Boston.”
There were, it’s worth noting, some areas where agreement between Walsh and Jackson was nonexistent. Case in point: development. Walsh said it’s appropriate to use taxpayer-funded incentives to lure companies like GE — and now, possibly, Amazon — provided they make commitments to the city.
Jackson rejected that idea, saying that if Amazon does select Boston for its ballyhooed second headquarters, it should receive nothing but a “pat on the back.”
The Boston Police Department’s use of body cameras, or the lack thereof, was another point of friction.
“When moderator Adrian Walker asked Walsh if he'll make BPD body cameras permanent following a recent trial, Walsh said he'll decide soon, but then added: “What's important here is not just about a device on somebody's shoulder. It's about, How do we build trust in our communities? And that's what we do every single day, working with our communities to build trust.”
In contrast, Jackson said body cameras could help close a trust deficit.
“We simply should have adopted body cameras,” Jackson said, condemning Walsh’s decision to conduct a trial before making a commitment. “The Boston Police department does not even have cameras in their vehicles.
Throughout the campaign, Walsh has called Boston one of America's safest cities, while Jackson has said violent crime is far too common in some neighborhoods.
The subject of race also received significant attention. When Walker asked if “black Boston” has the power it should have, Walsh said, in effect: it’s getting there.
“In the last five years, we’ve seen a change,” Walsh said. “We’ve seen a lot of leaders come out of the black community, communities of color. … On the City Council, certainly, we have more representation of people of color than any other period in our city.”
But Jackson, who’s seeking to become Boston’s first African-American mayor, drew cheers when he replied: “On Tuesday, November 7, we have a great opportunity to ensure that there is power for people of color in the city of Boston.”
As Jackson seeks to become Boston’s first mayoral challenger to win an election since 1949, he’s treating virtually every aspect of Walsh’s tenure to date as a negative. When Walsh said he’s committed to helping cars, cyclists, and drivers coexist, for example, Jackson accused the city of under-investing in bike infrastructure.
And when Walsh touted new development in Roxbury, describing a proposed tower “that’s going to bring wealth to this community,” Jackson warned that longtime residents were being pushed out.
“What we've seen, as the housing policy in the city of Boston, is gentrification and displacement,” Jackson said. “We've seen people being pushed out of their neighborhoods and communities.”
The candidates’ next scheduled debate is October 24 at WGBH.