Questions and Answers with State Representative Candidates

October 30, 2014
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On Tuesday, November 4 incumbent State Representative Carlo Basile (D-East Boston) will square off against challenger    Celeste Myers (I-East Boston) for the First Suffolk District seat, which covers the 14 precincts in East Boston.

This week the East Boston Times submitted a Q&A to both candidates on some of the major issues facing the neighborhood.

East Boston Times (EBT): In your opinion what are the most pressing issues today in East Boston and how do you plan to address them?

Rep. Carlo Basile (RCB): Having grown up in East Boston, I have seen many issues affect this community at different times, from the addition of a new runway at Logan Airport, to the impact of the Central Artery Project. Today, East Boston’s popularity is at an all time high because of our proximity to downtown, the relative affordability of housing, our award winning parks, and the diversity of the cultures that make up this great neighborhood of ours. I am proud to have had the confidence of the people of East Boston over the past seven years and the opportunity to represent your interests on Beacon Hill. I am even more proud to live in this neighborhood, raising my two sons, Carlo and Christian. I fully share our commitment to keep East Boston desirable and inviting. Having a balanced approach to housing, economic development, and quality education will keep new people interested in our community, while making sure those who already live here and want to remain here are able to do so. There are many pressing issues that our community faces, including development, transportation, elder care, public safety and the environment. However, one issue that I feel is often overlooked is access to quality care and treatment for those battling substance abuse and addiction. It is certainly one of the most important issues facing our community, as each and every one of us is impacted in some way. It is the reason why I successfully fought to have an increase in the minimum number of days that insurance companies must cover those seeking treatment and recovery. As a community we need to do more to raise awareness of the resources available to those seeking recovery, and I will continue to make this as a top priority.

EBT: In past debates, each candidate has expressed different views on how to best work with agencies like Massport. If elected how do you plan on working with the Port Authority to ensure East Boston continues to be mitigated for the impacts of Logan Airport?

RCB: As the operator of one of the nation’s busiest international airports, one word that has best described East Boston’s historic relationship with Massport has been “fight.” If not for the fights that occurred in years past, we may not have the community we have today. I am thankful for the efforts of people like George DiLorenzo, Anna DeFronzo, Alice Christopher, and so many others who taught me the importance of remaining vigilant when it comes to Massport. But as I have said, Massport is not going anywhere and neither is the airport, one of the largest employers for our community. As a State Representative, it is critical to have a working relationship with all state agencies, especially those that operate in our neighborhood. Fighting Massport helped stop further expansion into the neighborhood, but by working with Massport our community has gained some wonderful things. For example, we now enjoy acres of award-winning park space, maintained and secured by Massport, which have reconnected the neighborhoods of East Boston. Working with Massport has resulted in millions of dollars in grants to local community non-profits, including organizations like the YMCA, Zumix, Girls Softball, the East Boston Artists Group, HarborArts and so many more. Working with Massport means that when residents identify a particular concern or need in our community, we can ask Massport to assist, as they did with their commitment to fund and build East Boston’s first dog park. Working with Massport ensures that there remains a framework for dialogue and discussion concerning future projects that Massport may propose. Working with Massport does not mean they get a free pass – it means that we have a seat at the table and are part of the discussion, which was not the case when Wood Island Park was taken from this community. I am proud to have a good working relationship with Massport and will continue to advocate for what’s right for East Boston.

EBT: Since the 1980s, East Boston residents have watched as the waterfronts of the North End, Charlestown and South Boston transformed into prosperous business and residential districts. Now that is East Boston’s turn some have suggested putting the brakes on waterfront development that has been in the planning stages for over a decade. Do you feel the community process was ample? Is so can you point to reasons why? If not can you explain?

RCB: Our waterfront has been one of the last gems to be discovered in the City. But that does not mean its planning and future have not had ample input or process. Countless hours have been spent by the community, City and State planning agencies, and developers to map out a framework for the future of East Boston’s waterfront. There are numerous projects that provide a balance of mixed-use, affordable, luxury, and middle income housing which will bring a new and diverse influx of people to this community. East Boston has waited years for its “renaissance” to begin and with uncertainties in the market, we were always the last in line. Today, developers are ready and willing to proceed and we should be encouraging them to move forward – not sending the message that there is more uncertainty to follow. During this exciting time, we also need to encourage more quality commercial development for this neighborhood. Attracting people to consider making East Boston their home is already happening – providing enough amenities to ensure that they remain here is the next challenge. For instance, while some might disagree with the recent proposal to convert Oscar’s Woodworking to a mixed-use restaurant, yoga studio and residential housing, I think this represents a great example of the variety of uses the community wants and needs on this side of the tunnel.

EBT: With woman’s rights coming under attack in several states, Gov. Deval Patrick over the summer signed a buffer zone bill preserving protesters’ right to free speech while still creating safeguards that protect patients and employees from physical and verbal harassment at reproductive health care facilities such as abortion clinics. Are you pro-choice, pro-life and do you agree with the law singed by the governor?

RCB: As a State Representative, I am proud to be on record as being pro-choice and a strong advocate of protecting a woman’s right to choose, as well as a woman’s right to access and privacy when it comes to issues of reproductive health. It is why I am the only candidate who has been endorsed by both Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts and NARAL, the two leading special interest groups whose mission is to advocate on behalf of women’s reproductive rights.  I was disappointed when I learned that the buffer zone around health care facilities had been struck down, as I believed it provided a reasonable accommodation for protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights while providing appropriate protection for women accessing such facilities. I would support the reestablishment of appropriate buffer zones and am confident that a reasonable solution can be achieved, providing the protections women deserve.

EBT: Is there anything else you would like to add addressing the voters of East Boston?

RCB: I am pleased to have had the confidence of the East Boston community to serve as an elected official and to represent your interests on Beacon Hill. Being a State Representative is no easy task and it is impossible to have agreement with everyone on every issue. Having the confidence of the electorate to represent the community on the many issues it faces – not just one – is how success should be measured. Overall, working alongside Councilor Salvatore LaMattina and Senator Anthony Petruccelli on your behalf, I think many will agree that East Boston is a better place today than it was when I took office seven years ago. However, we are only a small part of that success and there is so much more we can do if we continue to work together. The success of this community is not measured by the recent boom in home sales or the vote on a particular issue. Rather, it is the countless hours contributed by people who get involved and care about the neighborhood and its future. Whether you support me or not, I have a great deal of respect for those who speak up and advocate for a better community. With your support, I look forward to continuing this work for our neighborhood, and more importantly, I look forward to continuing to represent and defend its interests.

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East Boston Times (EBT): In your opinion what are the most pressing issues today in East Boston and how do you plan to address them?

Celeste Myers (CM): From my own observation and conversations with residents, I’ve identified jobs, crime and development as the three most pressing issues facing East Boston today.

Jobs – I’ll work to continue East Boston’s innovative tradition by working to bring new industries in technology, manufacturing and professional opportunities to East Boston. We have some incredible business owners and entrepreneurs with visions of capitalizing on East Boston’s history of innovation while benefiting all of us. We need a wide array of opportunities to breathe new life into East Boston while bringing opportunities and possibilities for residents and folks with a host of skill sets. When I am in office, I will work with the Chamber of Commerce and the various community centers to host a series of employment workshops in East Boston; work on finding a location for at least one more small business incubator in the vein of Maverick Marketplace.

Crime – Crime is an increasing concern here in East Boston. In addition to ensuring that Station 7 is adequately staffed and funded and the lines of communication are enhanced between the department and Eastie residents, I will continue to participate in the public dialog and work to improve the communication/community awareness system to keep residents informed and engaged.  As part of my 100-day plan, I will host a Youth Summit, the focus of which in part will be do discuss youth crime, gang and other negative concerns. I will work with Station 7 and others in our public safety network to gain an understanding of what is driving the crime in our community as well as do all I can to ensure we have resources we need and the necessary steps taken to address crime in our community.

Development – Development is of key importance to the successful future of East Boston, yet the word inspires a variety of feelings. Many residents feel left out of the process and are anxious that they will have little or no say in the planning process. Even worse, many residents feel that even if they continue to be engaged in the process and voice their point of view, their elected representatives don’t stand up for them.  At the same time, developers become frustrated at, after feeling as though are accommodating to community concerns. The key to addressing concerns is revisiting the master plan, which hasn’t been updated since 2000.

EBT: In past debates, each candidate has expressed different views on how to best work with agencies like Massport. If elected how do you plan on working with the Port Authority to ensure East Boston continues to be mitigated for the impacts of Logan Airport?

CM: Massport is our neighbor, and at times they’ve been a better neighbor than other times. The fruits of mitigation agreements forged decades ago with Massport have finally started to be realized, but we must not allow a few parks to cloud our vision of our neighbor. We must be vigilant in ensuring that the agreements Massport has made with the neighborhood are upheld, whether it’s a 2001 blast fence agreement the agency routinely violates or a health impact study that pales in comparison to the rigorous study Sen. Anthony Petruccelli called for in 2000. I pledge to be a watchful eye on Massport for the people of East Boston.

That said, I want to be crystal clear about something: I will work with Massport to help it meet its agreements and lessen its impacts on our neighborhood. I will be firm and vigilant, but I will not be antagonistic. Open dialogue and transparency is a two-way street, and I pledge to engage in healthy cooperation with Massport for the betterment of all residents.

EBT: Since the 1980s, East Boston residents have watched as the waterfronts of the North End, Charlestown and South Boston transform into prosperous business and residential districts. Now that is East Boston’s turn some have suggested putting the breaks on waterfront development that has been in the planning stages for over a decade. Do you feel the community process was ample? Is so can you point to reasons why? If not can you explain?

CM: Eastie is Boston’s “next big neighborhood,” but it has to do with more than just the promise of waterfront development and the views. East Boston’s residents are what make it special. Whether you’ve lived here your whole life, like me, or have arrived in the last decade, nearly everyone speaks to the sense of neighborliness here, the can-do, hard-working spirit, and the cultural diversity we enjoy. These residents must be at the table for conversations around how East Boston develops.

I have attended dozens of community meetings where the recurring topic is development on all scales.  Increasingly, I hear frustration from all sides — developers, residents and property owners — which stems from a process where there is lack of a shared vision and understanding of expectations. I hear from longtime renters – and 70 percent of residents are renters – who are afraid they won’t be able to afford to stay in East Boston because of the ever-rising rents, and $4,8000 rents along the waterfront threaten to raise rents even higher. I want to bring residents back to the conversation, dust off our 14-year-old neighborhood master plan, and make sure all the projects slated for construction fit with an inclusive, equitable vision for East Boston. If that means pressing pause on some developments, then so be it. But our future is worth it, because getting it wrong means living with the consequences for another half-century or more.

EBT: With woman’s rights coming under attack in several states, Gov. Deval Patrick over the summer signed a buffer zone billpreserving protesters’ right to free speech while still creating safeguards that protect patients and employees from physical and verbal harassment at reproductive health care facilities such as abortion clinics. Are you pro-choice, pro-life and do you agree with the law singed by the governor?

CM: Abortion should be legal, safe and rare. I gave birth to my daughter at 19 and was grateful for the opportunity to choose that outcome. Massachusetts leads the nation in reproductive rights, and I intend to work to keep it that way.

I support a buffer zone between protestors and patients outside reproductive health facilities. For one, women visit these facilities for a host of medical reasons, abortion being only a small percentage of the procedures performed. Second, women’s reproductive healthcare is such a sensitive, personal issue, and no woman – absolutely no one – should have to fight a crowd of protestors to visit her doctor.

EBT: Is there anything else you would like to add addressing the voters of East Boston?

CM: Our democratic system was designed so that elected officials would periodically be subject to reviews of their performance by their bosses, which is us. That’s what elections are for. The system is most fair and representative when it works this way. Sadly, few East Boston elections in recent memory have been contested, and we’re out of practice in terms of holding our elected officials accountable for how well they represent us.

It was a difficult choice challenging my friend, Rep. Basile, but I decided to enter the race because I firmly believe East Boston deserves better representation at the State House. I initially broke with the Representative on the issue of a casino a Suffolk Downs, which he supported, and was further disappointed when he and our other elected officials failed to fully defend the neighborhood’s “no” vote after last November’s referendum. But looking closer at Rep. Basile’s record, I found that going back even further than that, he has too often sided with developers to fast-track potentially harmful development along the waterfront and elsewhere, and has at times not held Massport accountable for fulfilling its agreements with the neighborhood. (while taking campaign donations from its CEO and employees’ union PAC)

I will put our community first – not corporate lobbyists.

What’s more, I will work to make sure East Boston has the best educational options for all our children, and not just those who know how to navigate the charter or private school process. Along with residents from every part of the neighborhood, I will take a look at development in East Boston and ensure that it is a good fit for the neighborhood as it exists now, and not as developers want it to look a decade from now. We must ensure that longtime residents, including our elderly, can afford to stay here if they so choose. I will dig into the issue of youth violence and crime, looking for ways to ensure that we not only have enough police on our streets, but that every young person in Eastie has mentoring relationships, healthy recreational options, and meaningful employment. These are the building blocks for the rest of their lives.

East Boston is changing at such a rapid pace. Demographically, this is not the same neighborhood it was 10, let alone 30, years ago. Reflecting the previous arrivals of Russian Jews, Irish, and Italian immigrants of the last two centuries, waves of immigrants from Central and South America, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as young professionals and families, are now calling East Boston home. Resisting this change, or worse — pretending it isn’t happening – is a recipe for disaster, threatening the sense of neighborliness and inclusiveness Eastie has always enjoyed. Elected officials haven’t always accounted for these changes in the way they engage the community. Everywhere I go in the neighborhood, those who are newer to Eastie scratch their heads at the way politics is done here and lament that they often don’t feel represented or listened to by our officials. I will be a different kind of official, safeguarding the welcoming, inclusive atmosphere for which Eastie has gotten a reputation and ensuring that the policies I author or approve benefit all my neighbors – and not just a few “connecteds or electeds.”

This campaign has been the toughest, most rewarding job interview I’ve ever experienced. But I fully realize that the campaign is only the beginning of the job, and that it is a job that only lasts two years. With my robust 100-day plan, I will get to work on day one for you, digging into the legislation that is in process as well as neighborhood issues like development, youth crime, and education. We have an opportunity to forge a different path this Nov. 4, and I humbly ask you to hire me as your next State Representative. Thank you!