By TANIA DEL RIO SOLORZANO
Jeff Zucker, CNN’s CEO, has a quote from an interview from a few years ago where he encapsulates everything that is wrong with the way the media cover politics in the modern era: “The idea that politics is a sport is undeniable.” Increasingly, there is a trend in the media towards coverage of politics as if it were a sporting event, a form of entertainment. By concentrating on the “horse race” aspect of politics, they sacrifice substantive and crucial conversations about the most important challenges facing ordinary citizens. Politics should not be reduced to that. Politics, in its ideal form, is the process human beings designed to resolve conflicts and distribute resources and power without resorting to violence.
The result of viewing politics as sports or entertainment is the erosion of democracy. To combat this phenomenon, we must demand discussions on our topics of interest. If the media do not provide them, we must create the spaces ourselves. We must reject the vision of the citizen as only a spectator or consumer. In this space, we have talked on many occasions about ways in which people can actively participate in the democratic process and we have highlighted many examples of our neighbors who do so every day. This month’s text is no exception.
On April 20, the Democratic Party Committees for Boston’s Wards 4 and 5 (roughly corresponding to Jamaica Plain and the Back Bay) organized a mayoral forum so candidates could bring their visions and proposals to voters. The forum was very successful in two ways. First, it opened a space for substantive conversations that weren’t being sufficiently had on mainstream media outlets. Second, the forum brought together more than 500 participants, demonstrating that with good outreach to diverse communities which includes accessibility services such as interpretation, captions, and a virtual format, more people can participate.
This type of activity is very important because the first step for good participation in a public decision-making process is to be informed. And as noted above, on many occasions, the media ecover the ‘horse race’ instead of the important issues facing all of us. For this reason, the effort on the part of the forum organizers, who do this work as volunteers, is very valuable. Good job Wards 4 and 5!
The forum was the opportunity to learn the positions of candidates on many issues, including public safety, climate change, public schools, among others. Here is the first part of a summary of the most salient parts of the discussion:
Acting Mayor’s Participation: The forum was held on the same day that the jury in Derek Chauvin’s trial delivered its verdict. Kim Janey, the acting Mayor, had originally communicated to the forum organizers that she could participate but that she would have to leave by 7:00 PM to participate in a fundraising event. Due to the racial tensions across the country resulting from the trial, Janey decided that instead of participating in the forum, she would hold a press conference at 6: 00 PM. The conference lasted until 6:20 PM, but Janey still pulled out. For that reason, none of the sections below include her responses or positions.
The participating candidates were Andrea Campbell, John Barros, Anissa Essaibi-George, Jon Santiag,o and Michelle Wu.
Most important quality: To start the forum, the moderator (excellent work, by the way, Callie Crossley!) asked a question that helped extract the essence of each candidacy. She asked what quality of each candidate uniquely qualifies them for the task at hand. Andrea Campbell pointed to her personal story growing up in Boston and how all the challenges she faced motivate and inform her service. Michelle Wu shared that what sets her apart from the other candidates is that her vision for the city is the clearest, most progressive, and boldest. John Barros said that his executive experience is something the other candidates do not have. Jon Santiago emphasized that his entire career has been about public service and lastly, Essaibi-George spoke of her experience as a teacher in Boston public schools.
Boston Police Department: As we all know, one of the most pressing issues on the national agenda is police reform.
Michelle Wu referred to the case of the former police union chief, Patrick Rose, accused of sexual abuse against minors and never held accountable by the Department. She indicated that greater transparency is required from City Hall and pointed out her work on the Council to ban the use of facial recognition software and the need to reallocate funding from BPD towards public health services. Essaibi George noted that more anti-bias training is required and indicated that she does not agree to defunding efforts. Barros also spoke of the need for such training, adding that police should be removed from public schools. All the candidates agreed with him on that last point, except Anissa Essaibi-George. Campbell said that more work should be done with community organizations and that she would reduce BPD’s budget by 10%. Santiago talked about redirecting 911 calls to mental health professionals when appropriate.
Due to lack of space, the next part of the summary will have to wait until the next edition of the newspaper. I will relay their positions on education, housing, urban planning, the response to COVID, government transparency, and the balance of power between the City Council and the Mayor. You can watch the full recording of the forum on the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee’s Facebook page.
Tania Del Rio lives in Eagle Hill in East Boston with her family. He has a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University. She is the Executive Director of the YWCA Cambridge, an association that provides housing for low-income women and youth leadership programs. She is interested in promoting gender and racial justice, as well as the civic participation of the Latinx community.