Ominous clouds above Dudley Square moved aside for the sunlight as Tito Jackson announced his candidacy for mayor of Boston last week. In front of a crowd of more than 250 onlookers by the Haley House Bakery Cafe, with a media gaggle packing in everyone from broadcast outlets to community newspapers, the Roxbury city councilor confirmed what many long assumed to be the case—that he’s taking on incumbent Martin Walsh, whose tenure has not been without some serious controversies.
Jackson centered his speech around four key issues:
- The public sentiment toward the expensive Boston 2024 Olympic bid
- The millions in tax incentives and direct aid pledged to corporate scofflaw General Electric
- The scourge of charter schools
- The lower-income community’s concerns that Walsh’s policies disregard them
Jackson, 41, represents the 71,000-plus residents of District 7 in Back Bay, Roxbury, and parts of the South End and Dorchester. He was initially elected to the Boston City Council in March 2011 during a special election after serving as the political director for Governor Deval Patrick’s campaign and as a director for the Office of Housing and Economic Development. Facing two challengers in 2013, Jackson won the district for a second time with 75 percent of the vote.
The councilor has made his life story an integral part of his campaigns, this latest effort being no exception. At Haley House, his mother Rosa Jackson introduced the candidate along with social worker Marilyn Anderson Chase, who helped the family adopt Tito as an infant (Rosa and Herb Jackson fostered more than 50 children and adopted seven, and still live in the house that the councilor lives in today). In a similar vein, his announcement video begins with his childhood and covers life in his community.
The fledgling campaign has yet to hire a communications director and has an upcoming announcement about staffing. The Jackson front has only $65,000 in the bank right now, according to a December Office of Campaign and Political Finance report, which is approximately one-third of the $180,000 Walsh had on hand in the same period, not counting the incumbent mayor’s labor Super PAC largesse. Asked about this wide discrepancy, the Jackson campaign told DigBoston, “$65,000 is the official word, but yes, there’s a lot more,” and noted that former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio campaign manager Bill Hyers was involved in the production of the launch video.
The campaign will announce official platforms in the coming weeks, but existing knowledge of the councilor’s priorities on education, community, and crime should offer inquisitive readers an educated guess on what those might be. Let’s take a look…
In his announcement last week, Jackson referred to recent violence in his district, mentioning five shootings across Boston the night before, whereas the Boston Police Department reported three nonfatal shootings for the same night. In a later interview with the Dig, Jackson clarified the “important” difference in calculation. He includes “shots fired” in his count, explaining that “people are just as traumatized” when guns go off and no one is hit. Jackson also refuted the BPD’s data in general by citing how the homicide number shifted at the end of last year from prior estimates and by acknowledging that “there are Boston homicides the State Police have taken point on that the BPD has not included.”
Jackson would like to see “comprehensive trauma response,” in communities as well as in Boston Public Schools. He would also like more “violence interrupters,” or trained community members who diffuse gang-related escalations. For those who are incarcerated, Jackson proposed an Office of Reentry, which he believes would reduce recidivism. Speaking with the Dig, he recalled some of the testimonies he has heard at the Suffolk County House of Corrections. “They said they need help with housing, identification, getting a license, getting work, and finding healthcare. It’s incumbent on the City of Boston and persons who might recommit crimes that we put resources [together] as they reenter the community.”
Jackson acknowledges that Walsh has done some work on this front. His opponent established Operation Exit, a program that helps people with criminal backgrounds catch up on skills needed to enter an apprenticeship program. Walsh also proposed expanding the program in 2015, after it placed 26 residents “into careers,” according to a city press release. The proposed program would spend $300,000 to assist 3,000 inmates who return to Boston after release from federal and state facilities. As of November 2016, 90 percent of the 49 trainees who had graduated were in apprenticeships in building trades. Nevertheless, Jackson believes that more needs to be done, with an entire office dedicated to inmate reentry.
Police would likely face more scrutiny on transparency issues in a Jackson administration. “The BPD should fully adopt the body cams and deal with issues of accountability,” the councilor said. He cited controversial incidents where body cams would have been useful, like the death of Terrence Coleman, a South End resident with mental health issues who died under lethal force from police department responders in October. Officers were called to his apartment by his mother to do a wellness check on Coleman, who suffered from schizophrenia.
The City of Boston has thus far activated a six-month $500,000 pilot program that outfits 100 officers with body cameras. Despite initial backlash from the department and an injunction filed by the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the program is now in its fifth month. According to BPD spokesman Michael McCarthy, 1,472 hours of video had been captured by mid-December. For Jackson, that’s not enough.
“I want to ensure the BPD has all the resources they need to be successful,” the councilor said in an interview. “[Some people get to] say, ‘Stuff like this doesn’t happen on our street or neighborhood.’ Everyone should feel like that.”
Jackson talks about education programs and public school improvements as key tools for cutting off crime. He actively campaigned against expanding charter schools during the No on 2 effort—which defeated a ballot initiative put forth by charter school proponents 62 to 38 percent. The initiative would have allowed 12 new charter schools a year, or enrollment expansions of existing charter schools, increasing a cap amended in 2015.
A Jackson campaign spokesman told DigBoston, “he believes that expanding new charter schools hurt everybody. Competition shouldn’t be the basis of educational policy.” Charter aggravation hasn’t been the only major pillar of Jackson’s ed direction. He and Walsh were not on the same page when thousands of BPS students walked out of classrooms last March (and again in May) to protest budget cuts proposed by Walsh. Cuts included reductions in library and nursing staff, as well as an 8 percent reduction in programming for autistic students. While cuts occurred, Walsh did invest in early childhood education. The major concern most councilors had was the small school budget increase of 1.8 percent ($18 million) when the city gained almost $115 million in new revenue for 2016.
The city budget was approved on June 30 at $2.98 billion with four city councilors, including Jackson, voting against its passage. The Roxbury councilor cited a study by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which released a report in 2015 that estimated the underfunding of primary and secondary education in Massachusetts to be $1.13 billion. Jackson sent Walsh a letter requesting complete funding for the BPS, an additional $10.7 million for the summer jobs program, and $5 million for a housing program for homeless families of BPS students.
Jackson wants to reinstate the programs that were cut, including those at early learning centers. He also wants to increase resources for the city’s summer jobs program for youth. He said that several thousand applicants to the program didn’t make it in last summer, telling the Dig, “I believe that all of the young people should receive a summer youth job. It would mean they have something to do, money in their pocket, and they would be learning many of the skills necessary to work.” Numbers from 2015 from the Mayor’s Summer Job Program site show that 3,000 students were placed with over 300 Boston-based businesses.
In his turn, Jackson has tried to push youth issues to the forefront by interacting with many who are too young to vote for him. He spent part of last weekend at the Orchard Gardens K-8 pilot school for a #NoBooksNoBall basketball game—a program structured to increase high school graduation rates by encouraging student basketball players to strive toward attending college. Jackson also partnered with BPS students in a debate about the Question 2 campaign.
Roslindale resident Liz Hughes, a single mother with a daughter in BPS, voted for Walsh in 2013, but is already backing Jackson this time around. Hughes told DigBoston, “My primary disappointment with Mayor Walsh is how he has dealt with BPS—budgets, school closings, relationships with parents and students. I believe Tito Jackson is more likely to put education front and center as mayor and is more willing to devote the resources needed to make every BPS school a successful school—he has already demonstrated that by supporting the BPS walkout students and by showing up at school committee meetings to support students and families and by demanding that Mayor Walsh put more money into the BPS budget.”
The most contentious question is whether a significant and specific demographic feels like the current mayor isn’t listening. Jackson’s mention of the Olympics bid and General Electric incentives stirred his campaign announcement crowd more than any other comments. All things considered, it appears there are some sore points for residents of Roxbury, as well as for low-income earners across the city.
Bringing it home, Jackson told the crowd that his first job was on an ice cream truck, joking that he ate more ice cream than he sold. On a more serious note, the councilor spoke of the Boston of his childhood, “We weren’t all top professionals, and we weren’t all wealthy, but we were together.” He described a Hub at a crossroads, where the middle class “stands at a balance,” and referred to Boston’s ranking as the number one American city for income inequality. To his constituents, Jackson added, “Roxbury and Dudley Square is the epicenter of the city, but unemployment here is at 17 percent … The struggle is real.”
Closing out, Jackson ripped the city and state’s plans to build a helipad for General Electric as part of the deal to bring the company’s headquarters here. The corporation has already been promised $125 million worth of incentives—$25 million in tax breaks and $100 million for the reconstruction of the Old North Avenue Bridge. Walsh and the president of the Boston Society of Architects awarded $15,000 to multiple winners of a citywide design contest to replace the 109-year-old bridge. Shoveling public money at a huge transnational corporation with a long track record of screwing Bay State working families, according to Jackson.
Then there are the little things. For some at the rally, satisfaction could come from something as small as waiving a fine. Doris Dennis is an 86-year-old resident of Dorchester who was perched along one of the benches outside Haley House watching Jackson. She said, “The city wants to charge two, three hundred dollars if you don’t shovel. Then they block your driveway … People don’t listen to what senior citizens need or work closely with them.” Dennis thinks Jackson will listen, as the councilor just last week put forth a proposal to exempt any Boston resident older than 60, or with a disability, from shoveling the sidewalks by their property after a blizzard. Thousands of tickets were issued last year, according to Jackson.
Jackson said he wants to go further than proposed policy and employ students to shovel out the seniors, keeping in mind that regardless of ticketing, the hazardous ice will still be on the sidewalk. “It would be an opportunity for young people to build relationships with seniors, earn money, and learn about the accountability that comes with working.”
“They are the people that vote, us seniors,” Dennis said. “You gotta pay attention.”
Sarah is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal.