As four Democratic candidates vie for the seat left open by former Sen. Steven Tolman, residents of the Allston-Brighton community are piping up at local forums and informal meet-and-greet sessions to make sure their needs will be met in a district that sprawls across six neighborhoods.
The Senate seat, vacated when Tolman left to head up the state’s AFL-CIO, represents Watertown, Belmont, and parts of Cambridge, Allston-Brighton, Fenway, and Back Bay.
Candidates running for the seat include retired firefighter Robert McCarthy, Brighton resident and lawyer Timothy Schofield, state Representative William Brownsberger, and state Representative Jonathan Hecht.
With the Dec. 13 primary drawing close, Allston-Brighton residents are concerned about their neighborhood’s economic vitality, and question specifically how each candidate would help the area.
Candidates agreed at a forum in Brighton last night that the Faneuil branch of the Boston Public Library in Oak Square, which teetered on the edge of permanent closure last year, should continue to be state-funded and kept open.
“These are the building blocks for families, for developing opportunities for themselves economically,” Hecht said. “I went to the celebration at the Brighton branch last week for the one-year anniversary of it being saved, which vividly brought home how important institutions like that are.”
McCarthy agreed, noting that providing public services coincides with his running platform on creating jobs.
“It’s about jobs and public service. Government is supposed to provide services,” McCarthy said. “The library kept up with technology and get the use they need. By shutting down, we end up with empty buildings. It’s more productive to have them open.”
As many residents raised concern about the creation and stability of jobs in the area, Brownsberger pointed out that universities in the vicinity, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, Boston College, and Harvard University, provide educational powerhouses that both create jobs and prepare the state’s – and district’s – future workforce.
“These institutions that we have in the state and the businesses around them, golden goose for this state,” Brownsberger said. “They create tons of jobs that bring in money to the state. They created Rte. 128 and that biotech cluster, and they continue creating jobs. It is one good thing happening in this state; it’s why our unemployment rate is relatively low compared to the rest of the country.”
Brownsberger and McCarthy both emphasized the importance of the neighborhood’s voice as Harvard proposes development projects that expand into Allston, such as a new dormitory, a $1.4 billion science facility, and a $20 million innovation and entrepreneurship lab.
“I would work with the Brighton Allston Improvement Association and neighborhood associations to understand your priorities,” Brownsberger said. “You call, and I will be there to work with you and understand your priorities, and represent your priorities in whatever appropriate forums.”
McCarthy said although he supports Harvard’s projects because they would bring more jobs, he would want any project plans to remain open to public critique and feedback.
“The whole plan should be transparent, and we should have hearings before any innovative change,” McCarthy said. “They have to work with the community and the people. Harvard employs over 6,600 people, and that’s jobs. Universities are economic engines for communities around this state. We have to be a partner when they do a major plan like that.”
As the Boston Development Group plans to build a hotel on the empty site where Applebee’s and the Circle Cinema used to operate in Cleveland Circle, Schofield also said he would encourage community feedback on the project.
“The bigger issue is to have community involvement in that project,” Schofield said. “I wouldn’t put any state money into it. But we should make sure the project is done properly as a whole.”
Candidates also went head-to-head on solutions for bailing the MBTA out of debt, since the area is heavily dependent on both the Green Line and multiple city buses.
Schofield said he did not think fares should rise, but that the state should funnel money into the T.
“We have encouraged people for environmental reasons to use more public transportation, but we underfund it constantly,” Schofield said. “We are fortunate to have a new immigrant population who need to use the MBTA, but can’t if it’s too expensive. We need more revenues – we have to close corporate tax loopholes.”
Brownsberger said he thinks the state should raise the gas tax to increase revenue dollars, which could then help fund the MBTA.
“A fare increase is the wrong idea, and nobody wants to see that happen,” Brownsberger said. “But the T is so far under water, that may turn out to be part of a package. Service cuts may also have to be part of a package.”
At a casual networking event at Allston’s Tavern in the Square last Tuesday, residents spoke with the candidates about economic concerns for the area.
Osmin Montero, an Allston-raised Brighton resident and chair of the Ward 21 Democratic Committee, said he wants a senator who is upfront, but intelligent enough to separate fact from fiction in economic legislation.
“In a recovering economy, we need to have respectable jobs,” Montero said. “Allston-Brighton is very dynamic and diverse. We do have issues of concern.”
Alana Olsen, the Allston Village Main Street executive director, said she lives in the vibrant and active community and is looking for a Senate candidate who can manage all the different neighborhood facets.
“As someone who lives in Allston-Brighton and works with small business owners, it’s important to take a stand on economic issues,” Olsen said. “The Senator should be doing what’s best for the Allston-Brighton community. We need legislation that supports small businesses and encourages growth. They should create infrastructure and make improvements.”
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