By John Lynds
Following September’s Preliminary Election, the field of candidates vying for the District 1 City Council seat was narrowed down from three to two with East Boston’s Lydia Edwards and the North End’s Stephen Passacantilli heading into the General Election set for Tuesday, November 7.
At Monday night’s Orient Heights Neighborhood Council, the two candidates took part in a candidate’s forum and fielded questions from voters in the neighborhood.
Edwards started off the night explaining that she wants to be a city councilor that focuses on ‘community-led’ development where the community has more input and say in what is being constructed in the neighborhood, while Passacantilli feels what makes Boston great is that it is a city of neighborhoods, but strong neighborhoods start with strong public schools.
While Edwards wants residents to be steering the ship and deciding the future of their neighborhood, Passacantilli is hoping, if elected, to shore up neighborhood schools, and make every school in the district a school that parents want their child to attend.
The first question from the audience was on sanctuary cities, and both candidates said they support police focusing on crime and not the legal status of people who may be living in District 1. Passacantilli said he just wants people to be safe no matter what their immigration status is, and they should feel comfortable to call the police and report a crime when one does occur without fear of deportation. Edwards said that she was excited to represent ‘all’ residents in District 1 and agreed that police should be concentrating on criminals.
On recreational marijuana Edwards said that while citizens of Massachusetts made a decision to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use, those same citizens have reservations about a marijuana shop opening in their neighborhood. Like her stance on community led development, Edwards said marijuana facilities were no different and should be left up to the residents of a particular neighborhood to steer the conversation and decision.
Passacantilli on the other hand said he was a ‘hard no’ on recreational marijuana shops. As someone in recovery for 13 years, Passacantilli said marijuana was gateway drug for him, he voted no on the ballot question to legalize it, and doesn’t see the value of retail marijuana shops in the district.
On limiting the Zoning Board of Appeals purview of development, Passacantilli said it was unacceptable when the community stands up, and does not support a project, yet it gets approved by the ZBA. Passacantilli said he would like to see more community involvement and more community appointments on the ZBA so all neighborhoods are better represented, a higher turnover on the board to avoid entrenched institutional board members and better transparency.
Edwards on the other hand said the saddest thing to her is when a community organizes against something, but are disrespected by agencies like the ZBA. Edwards called it a violation of residents’s civil rights. Edwards said all too often it is the resident that is forced to pay legal fees and other costs in fighting a development while a developer when it should be the other way around. She called for more meeting streaming online and a contract with neighborhood groups so there is no confusion on what is considered an acceptable or unacceptable development project.
Again on development Edwards said developers need to start being part of the solution more, and start paying for the community’s needs. Things like a new ferry, improvements to infrastructure and transportation should all be demanded by the community as more and more large scale developments are constructed.
Passacantilli said that development is outpacing the city and state’s ability to keep up with transportation and infrastructure improvements. He said development should be slowed so the city can begin to figure out how the city and developers can work to increase the number of schools, fire stations, police stations and other essential city services to meet the demand of residents flocking to these new developments.