Friday, January 21, 2011

District 7 Forum 2 of 2

Last evening's forum of candidates for the open District 7 seat was promising in its civic involvement (full house) and big slate of six on ballot and one write-in so far. Here's a take on what the candidates said (plus my usual shallowness of appearance).

Part one on the forum is here.

The ballot order of qualified District 7 candidates (as provided by Gintautas Dumcium over at the Dorchester Reporter) is:
-- Natalie Carithers (former aide to ex-state Rep. Willie Mae Allen)
-- Danielle Renee Williams (Roxbury resident)
-- Cornell Mills (former foreclosure prevention specialist, son of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson)
-- Tito Jackson (former political aide to Gov. Deval Patrick)
-- Roy Owens (perennial candidate)
-- Althea Garrison (perennial candidate and former state representative)
In addition, activist, poet and children's book author Haywood Fennell Sr. is a write-in candidate.

Assuming that ousted Councilor Chuck Turner fails to push out the special-election process to replace him, with his suit to be reinstated to Council pending his 1/25 sentencing in federal court, the calendar is set. The last day to register to vote in the election is 1/26. The preliminary to reduce the field to two is 2/15. The final is 3/15. District 7 includes the neighborhoods of Lower Roxbury, Roxbury, and parts of Dorchester, the Fenway and the South End.

Body and Mouth

A glorious night of politics waslargely without insults but heavy on the oratory, at the Roxbury Y. The smallish meeting room was packed with 150 or more folk.

Note: I apologize for the expected low-quality pix. My digital camera's flash is no a match for low light beyond eight feet or so. Regardless, the following images give a sense of the candidates.

Althea Garrison was a no show. The other candidates presented a spectrum of demeanor, appearance and other personal traits. Specifically (links where shown are to known campaign sites):
  • Carithers — Prickly, funny, self-assured and with a powerful voice, she certainly appeals to those who like heroics and histrionics as well as to older voters. She is also entertainer with Touch radio (106.1 FM) She was one of two scolds up front, along with Williams. The community better get its act together to support her. She looked sharp and professional in a gray suit. She had the second strongest presence after Mills.
  • Fennell — With a quiet confidence, the poet is likely the brightest of the bunch, certainly the cleverest with words. In gray sweater and scarf, he had the look of an aged beatnik. His long, deep history as community activist and veterans rights advocate are as key features of him as his ready wit.
  • Jackson — The normally charismatic Tito did not bring his best game. He arrived late from a fund raiser and seemed tired. He was an oddly gracious team player, applauding and smiling at points by his competitors. He came on solid in his answers, got applause on par with Carithers' and almost as good as Mills. His large frame seemed diminished as he slouched and he looked like an assistant bank manager is his black suit with shimmering silver tie.
  • Mills — He came on strong. Although his primary emphasis was on street violence, he was personable and gave a powerful presentation. He has the physical attractiveness and presence of a seasoned politician or performer. He also managed to call many in the audience, particularly the questioners, by name, further showing is community connections. He was by far the snazziest dresser of the group, with a well tailored black suit, red tie and sharp shoes.
  • Owens — He stood out in several ways, from his deep red, wide lapel suit to his insistence that he was the only candidate with traditional family values and an anti-abortion position (a couple of other candidates raised brows and gave him the stink eye as he repeated that). He returned to those points often rather than answering most questions.
  • Williams — The only unsure candidate, she was uncomfortable holding the mic even though her voice was weak. She did not seem at ease speaking to the room. She was a scold, along with Carithers, repeatedly saying nothing a Councilor did would work if the voters didn't have the Councilor's back and didn't vote in large percentages. She seemed a bit thrown together with incredibly high boot heels under a dark skirt under a lumpy camel colored heavy top. She has a long history of community activism and must work better in small groups.
The forum met its primary purpose of letting the audience leave with a good sense of the candidates. Other than the absent Garrison, the would-be Councilors showed their stuff at close range. You want loud and proud? There were a couple of those. You want wry and spry? Got one of those. You want pious? Covered.

Praise to the civic groups who organized this, plus moderator Keith Chaney. A lot of coordination, adaption and planning went into it. Alas, the detailed scheduling and choreography of the event was overly optimisic (see first post), but it all worked in the end. Mirabile dictu! They ended up much closer to schedule than similar events in the past by anyone except for Suffolk's Rappaport Center (they're the gold standard of fora and one-shot conferences).

They Said It

The evening had many jolly moments and good theater. There was a lot of sincerity and considerable overlap in positions. However, each candidate stood out in one or more ways.

Roy Owens. It may be impossible to describe him without the phrase perennial candidate. It's true enough that in many city and state elections, he's run and almost always lost. Here he was again and, boys and girls, did he ever stand out.

It wasn't just the most daring outfit. Rather, he was there to tell us he was holy and fundamentalist. He was anti-abortion and claimed the real garments of family values. Doing so, he managed to annoy several other candidates with the unproven claim he was the only one with those positions. He didn't ask; he told.

Not surprisingly, he said the District should look to its religious leaders and institutions for solutions. As he put it, "(t)he strongest organization in the black community is the black church."

He also was the most racially oriented candidate by his remarks. Specifically, he returned again and again to dubious assertions that black residents of MA were dying at six times the rate of others and so forth. The biggest issue here was of abortion, which he said not only diminished the influence of African Americans, but by lessening the population growth, caused that loss of a U.S. House seat.

No matter what the topic, the resolution almost always was preventing abortion. The other candidates were off on street violence, schools and jobs.

His strongest showing was in response to questions about standing up to City Hall, specifically Mayor Menino. He seemed to have 1960s flashbacks and responded with, "If you're not willing to fight and die for what you want, you're' not ready to rule either." Heady stuff.

Haywood Fennell Sr. Another outlier, but in a far better received way was the writer/activist candidate. He was the only one talking veterans rights in addition to the core issues of employment, housing, violence and schools. He was also the one most of us would prefer to have dinner with among the group.

Many of his goals are higher level and centered on personal responsibility. For example, he would like to better the health of the District (think prostate and breast cancers, asthma and diabetes). He figures educating the community is the key.

He came up with several of the most memorable lines of the evening. For one, when someone asked the group if they would publicly stand up to Menino, he did all those who said yes one better with, "The mayor organized. Why can't we organize?"

He concluded with saying he didn't want people to applaud for him (as they had each candidate). "I want you to vote for me."

His best though was on redistricting. When several other candidates lamented that they would support a set-aside district for a black U.S. House member, he said that it would be "a good idea if he looks like us, but if they don't think like us, " that won't be any good. "Let's not play the skin game here. We got people who look like us now and what have they done? Don't smell the coffee. Drink the coffee."

Danielle Renee Williams. The candidate who seemed to enjoy the evening the least claims a long history of community activism too. Yet, she did not want to hold the mic, even when begged by audience.

She did have a central theme related to the District. She is enchanted with Turner's District office, which he supported with his money and time for the constituents. She held that residents turned to it for resources and help and would not have otherwise. She believes this central location outside of City Hall was crucial in supporting the District.

Another unique position was getting BPS high schools to add licensing programs. She holds that many jobs require licensing in their fields to start, and that getting this in school would be a great leg up to employment.

She was demanding of the audience as well. She decried low voter turnouts, saying that Councilors and legislators were at a considerable disadvantage if they went back to their bodies asking for things when their peers knew the constituents didn't vote heavily. "You have to have our back, " she said. "If you have no interest in us, you have no interest in yourself."

Tito Jackson. "That was my dad, Herb," he said, speaking of the late Herbert Kawku Zulu Jackson, who founded the Greater Roxbury Workers Association. The question from the audience was just about the elder Jackson's efforts to ensure compliance with mandates to include community and minority workers in government-funded projects.

Tito said having such watchdogs ensuring compliance was falling on the wayside and there won't be fair return to the community without it.

He also pledged to use his considerable contacts at the state and federal level that he met as an aide to Gov. Deval Patrick for the good of the District. Much as Ayanna Pressley said when she successfully ran for Council in drawing on those she knew from working for U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Jackson said he did not owe his connections favors, rather he could use them for the good of the neighborhoods.

He was also strong on the question of whether the pending redistricting should ensure a minority-majority Congressional seat, in effect a black one. He said there were too many backroom deals in redistricting efforts already. He called for non-political sorts, numbers people, to be involved to avoid such skewing of the district as has happened for so long.

Cornell Mills. He had the best response of the evening, judged by the cheers and applause. He either brought a cadre of supporters or made them in the two hours.

Oddly on the face of it, he is primarily a one issue guy — violence. That is understandable as he used to be a homicide investigator for the BPD. Yet he managed to go from that base to its links to education and employment. He hit a lot of resonating chords with the audience.

He spoke of dealing with youth were they are — street corners, schools, detention centers. He also figures that calling on entrepreneurs to join in the Hope Line and similar youth employment efforts will be the way to expand the base of such jobs.

He claimed that if elected he'd come in not owing anything to anyone.

His biggest crowd pleaser was a rejoinder to Jackson's job watchdog call. He drew applause and cheers when he said just monitoring job sites wouldn't work. Instead, the community needs to be in on the planning and specification of projects. "If we're talking about monitoring job sites, you've already lost."

Natalie Carithers. She was in fine form. She used her voice and hands to best effect and made the strongest statements. She was a crowd favorite.

Catithers is not big and beefy like a couple of the guys, but don't question her resolve. She quickly and repeated claimed to be the best in a scuffle. As she put it early, "If there's a fight, I'll be there. I'll call on you to get my back, because I'm going in." The audience hooted its appreciation.

Among the several candidates citing the need for better education, she alone called for a return to an elected (as she said accountable) school board. Several pointed to the disproportionate number of public schools closing in this district.

She was quickest to say she would not be afraid to call out Menino if she felt the District was getting short shrift in the budget or elsewhere. She said she would public confront him. "He didn't elect me. You did."

Envelope Please

Fun and clarifying, certainly, but the forum brings up the who-wins question immediately, even with over three weeks to the preliminary on February 15th. First, watch your papers, stations and blogs. There will be more debate-like events.

For me, I left feeling sure four of seven were out. Jostling for the two final slots should be Carithers, Jackson and Mills. Each is a good talker, each has strong positions that differentiate from the others, and each has support in the community and beyond.

To stay at the top, Jackson needs to be on for every appearance. He needs to be more competitive and ego-oriented as well. It's nice to appreciate your competitor's positions, but don't lose track that it is a race.

For Mills, he might be able to get to the final with a violence-prevent theme. He should expand his thinking and solutions to appeal to those skeptical of any quick and deep impact here.

Carithers seems on auto-pilot and that's not bad in her case. She's a powerful presence, with a considerable record of constituent services working for Rep. Willie Mae Allen. She may just need to be everywhere with her attitude and proposals.

Any pair of these three would go into March for the seat. If I had to bet, it would include that Jackson comes on strong as he did so many times for the governor and that it ends up being him and Mills for the final.

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1 comment:

POPS said...

good coverage and analysis