By John Lynds
Last Wednesday night at the Salesian Boys & Girls Club, the Harbor View Neighborhood Association (HVNA) hosted a candidates forum featuring the three District 1 City Council Candidates. Candidates Lydia Edwards, of East Boston, Margaret Farmer, also of East Boston and Stephen Passacantilli, of the North End all provided opening statements and then spent the night fielding questions from the HVNA board and residents of the Harbor View neighborhood on a wide array of topics like development, environmental issues and gentrification.
Edwards was up first during opening statements followed by Farmer and finally Passcantilli.
In her opening statement, Edwards said she was running for the City Council seat because she wants to preserve the sense of community in the neighborhood.
“I chose this community because it is a neighborhood and Boston is a city of neighborhoods,” said Edwards. “My friends, my church and my future are in East Boston. I’m running to be a voice for this wonderful community and all its diversity.”
Since moving to Eastie, Edwards said she was always searching for ways to give back.
“I chose a path of service and that service includes many different things but most importantly it is helping at the Community Soup Kitchen in East Boston where we feed 100 to 125 people a week, providing legal services for folks here in East Boston in cases that involve domestic violence, providing assistance to people trying to start a business and advocating for people dealing with landlord and tenant issues which are all, to me, community services.”
Edwards said she wanted to take her community service to the next level and is running on her record of service and advocacy.
Farmer was next up and pointed to her volunteerism and community involvement since moving to Eastie 15 years ago.
“It seems like a blink of an eye that I moved here 15 years ago,” said Farmer. “When I first moved here, I wanted to meet my neighbors and be involved in my community.”
After living in Eastie for nine years, Farmer’s neighbors in Jeffries Point elected her to serve as the neighborhood association’s president.
“Proud to say that we became one of the strongest most transparent neighborhood associations across all of East Boston,” she said. “I then joined the Chamber of Commerce board to support the small diverse business community we have in East Boston and ensure it remains strong and vibrant.”
Farmer also pointed to her work on Eastie Farm as well as work with the Park’s Department to establish the Rockies Urban Orchard as accomplishments in the community.
“I want to do more because I see our neighborhood changing and change is a natural thing but i think we need to plan for these changes and how they affect every single person,” she said. “Your city government should make your life better every single day and I want to strive every single day to make the lives better for the people who currently live here.”
Last up was Passacantilli who said his past struggles with substance abuse drove him into a life of public service. That coupled with being a lifelong Boston resident, father of two public school students and former City Hall employee as reasons he was most qualified for the job.
“I’m running for a lot of reasons,” said Passacantilli. “I love this city. I was born and raised here. It is a city I’m proud to call my home. And it is the city that I want to raise my children in. I have a passion for public service and the reason why I do was a little over 13 years ago my life wasn’t wrapped as tight as it is now. I did not have my life in order. I was an alcoholic and had a drug addiction and I was pretty hopeless. But because I had a loving family and a loving community I was able turned my life around. That time in my life showed me that there are always people out there who are vulnerable and need help. It drove me to public service.”
Passacantilli said after getting clean and sober he went on to work for City Councilor Sal LaMattina doing constituent services. He left there to work on Mayor Martin Walsh’s campaign in 2013.
“Luckily for me he won,” said Passacantilli. “He was someone that was very influential in my early recovery and I was appointed director of operations at the Transportation Department. I’m here because I know what it is like to be down and out and need help and that is what this job is about–helping people.”
After opening statements the candidates took turns fielding questions from HVNA board members and residents.
While the candidates pretty much agreed more needed to be done to address issues like development, Eastie coexisting with Logan Airport and displacement of renters with each offering a slightly different take on how to tackle the issue, the issue of traffic in Eastie was hot-button topic.
“Traffic is part of a bigger issue we are dealing with in East Boston and Boston as a whole and that is a lack of planning,” said Edwards. “Lack of coordination of our major projects and lack of community involvement in what should be happening in our communities in a problem. I live on London Street and I have 45 minutes in the morning were my street is jammed. It’s a shame because it not only affects the quality of life on my street but every other side street around the tunnel. So I wonder who was at the table when making the decisions (for this project)? Where is the traffic feasibility study? Finally, was the neighborhood at all at the table? Traffic congestions is the lack of coordination of our projects. On one side you have the tunnel project and on the other you have the large Central Square project. So when I think about this I think we simply need to better coordinated these projects and plan better.”
Farmer added that it is no secret traffic is getting worse in Eastie.
“I live in fear that soon I will be living in a parking lot,” said Farmer. “We are a car society and we simply need to start thinking about how we move people and not cars. I am huge proponent of the harbor ferry which will connect us to the Red Line, to the Seaport, to Charlestown and make it so that a lot of people wouldn’t need their cars. I think if you live in a transient orientated developed that is close to a MBTA stop you shouldn’t be able to get a resident permit parking sticker. I also think we need to invest better in our rapid transit infrastructure. I don’t know how many times I sit at the station and have to let four or five trains go by until I can get on. This gets people back in their cars because there’s no guarantee that the MBTA is going to get them to work on time.”
Passacantilli said that it is safe to say that traffic is the number one quality of life issue that he hears when out campaigning and knocking on doors whether here in Eastie or in Charlestown or the North End.
“Quite frankly I agree with both Lydia (Edwards) and Margaret (Farmer) and we are not planning and building infrastructure at the same pace as development,” said Passacantilli. “Especially in Eastie, I think development is completely out of control and I’m amazed at the number of units being built and the rate at which they are being built.”
Passacantilli said there are certain traffic calming measures that seemed to improve gridlock during his time at BTD.
“I’m a huge fan of ‘Don’t Block the Box’,” said Passacantilli of the measure that strictly enforces encroachment into intersections during rush hour traffic. “In downtown, in City Square in Charlestown, along the (Rose Kennedy) Greenway people block the grid during morning traffic as the traffic light changes. There are city’s that do ‘Don’t Block the Box’ and its been very successful and we’ve done it in some parts of Boston but we do a poor job of enforcing it. I also believe we should be using smart traffic signal technology that re-calibrates traffic signals in real time based on traffic in a particular street or intersection.”