City Council Candidate Chat: Tito Jackson
David S. Bernstein: You were looking seriously at running for mayor; why have you decided to run for re-election as district councilor?
Tito Jackson: I decided the best thing for me, and the best thing for my district, is to have strong leadership in District 7. We have over $500 million of construction in our district. It is a time that Roxbury can shine. Having someone in District 7 who knows how to do their job—with someone across the hall in the mayor’s office who is learning their job—will be a distinct advantage. I’m very proud of my record in District 7. I’ve been there now two and a half years, and I think we are continuing to gain momentum. We have probably brought more capital dollars back than we’ve ever seen in District 7. There are a lot of accomplishments that I want to continue to build on.
Regarding development, to what extent do you think the Ferdinand Building will trigger further development in Dudley Square, Melnea Cass, and other areas?
When I first ran, I spoke about the bright lights of new businesses in Dudley Square, where stores close at 5 p.m., and you see darkness. We are now seeing the bright lights of new businesses. We’re seeing construction in Dudley Square. We’re seeing market rate housing being considered at the Harrison Supply spot. We are having people come to us, wanting to engage in conversations about Dudley Square. Dudley Square was mentioned in a Tyler Perry movie …
I’m not sure I’d brag about being mentioned in a Tyler Perry movie.
Leave Tyler Perry alone. But understand, Dudley Square is the physical center of the city of Boston. I’ve always said, as Dudley Square goes, so will go the city of Boston. We have great people working together: Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, Dudley Vision, tenant organizations; we need to connect their voice with policy. We need liquor licenses in the Dudley Square area, and I’ve put forth a hearing to explore how we get at least 10 liquor licenses in that area. We have new leadership at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School—I demanded the removal of the prior headmaster, who had a 54 percent graduation rate, which is failing our children. We have a new incoming leader, Diane Ross Gary, who is a consummate professional with a long track record.
Governor Deval Patrick has announced a new collaborative effort between Madison Park and Roxbury Community College. Those are two of the most important institutions in Roxbury, and they’re both under new leadership. As they’re both trying to get their own houses in order, is that the best time for them to be trying this new arrangement?
Dr. [Valerie] Roberson over at Roxbury Community College is a very strong leader from Chicago, with an extensive background in leadership. I think the optimal time would be, yes, when they are both up and running and great things are happening. The optimal time, though, was a long time ago. Neither one of these institutions should have been failing. Neither one should have the graduate rates that they have. Neither one should have federal violations. We have to act with urgency—and we have to act while we have an opportunity to get resources. When Governor Patrick comes to the table, he comes with the state checkbook. My objective is to make sure that we leverage all of the possible resources from both of these institutions, so there can be a seamless connection from Madison Park Vocational Technical High School, to certificate programs or two-year degrees, so our young people actually have a chance to work within a five-year time frame.
With both the education and development pieces, there have been plans going back to the beginning of the Menino administration—for development along Melnea Cass, and at Crosstown; plans to use RCC as a training ground, to be a pipeline of jobs for Longwood. Has that been a failing of the Menino administration, that all this hasn’t come together more for Roxbury? Even this Dudley Square development was an awfully long time coming.
I would say when we look at the outcomes at Madison Park, Mayor Menino has been mayor for 20 years, the outcomes are what they are, and that school is not at all what it should be. So that has been a failure. But I’m looking to the future. I would like to see stronger connections with MASCO [Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization] to the Longwood area. And we are working on a partnership between Madison Park and the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, which has the only hybrid car training center in New England. In addition, we’ve placed Madison Park students with Shawmut Construction. Those partnerships are critical. We can sit and look backward, or we can look forward and put plans in place.
Looking to the future, do you feel you’re in a position to hold mayoral candidates’ feet to the fire? Will you endorse someone, or what is the best way that you can ensure that whoever comes in next has these things on their list of priorities?
I am not currently supporting any candidates—I’m not saying that’s a permanent situation, but to date I’m not. People need to step forward on the issue of violence in our neighborhoods, to try to build sustainable communities. We have a school committee that just put forward neighborhood schools; what happens when you live in a neighborhood where people are getting shot? How do you feel about your child walking down the street in a place where there is a high concentration of crime? I’m holding the school committee’s feet to the fire, and the next mayor, because if any child is hurt, walking to or from school, we have blood on our hands. Also, we have to give an opportunity for our young people who excel; to have the programs that they need, in every neighborhood. Right now, in Grove Hall, there are no advanced work classes. I guarantee you there are some little geniuses right in the Grove Hall area, who instead of being able to go locally have to get on the bus.
There’s been a sharp increase in homicides in Roxbury this year, and an uptick in shootings. Does it frustrate you that it still doesn’t get much attention? You see people come out to march for Trayvon Martin, which happened 1,000 miles away, but not for what’s happening here.
I think it’s important for people to come together around issues. It’s not a zero-sum game. Injustice anywhere is truly a threat to justice everywhere. But my objective is to make sure the life of a child on Blue Hill Avenue is valued at the same level as a child on Boylston Street. The trauma that happened at the marathon needs to be dealt with, but there are people who deal with trauma every single day. Those are micro-terror incidents, and we have to treat them as such. We made a demand to the police department, that they beef up their side of things, so all 55 of the graduates of the department are going to B2, B3, and C11 [police districts].
On a very different note: your predecessor, Chuck Turner, is scheduled to come out of prison later this year. Have you been in contact with him, and do you have any thought or expectation of what role he will play in the community when he comes out?
Chuck has always been a strong and powerful leader in our community. He has always helped to shape and to push to make sure that justice and equity is felt. He started the organization that my father took over, the Greater Roxbury Workers Association, holding the city accountable to make sure that we have the Boston residents jobs policy enforced. Chuck has always been a warrior. It is my expectation that he comes out with the same warrior in his belly and gut. He has always been at the forefront of change in our community, and it’s my expectation that he comes out and connects in the same way, and continues to do the same things that he’s done in the past.
Have you been in contact with him?
Your mother’s house, which you purchased from her, went into foreclosure proceedings, and some wondered if that may have been reflective of money troubles that could have had something to do with your choice not to run for mayor. Can you tell me what happened with the house?
I was in the process of refinancing my home that I purchased from my mom. The initial mortgage that I got was not a good one. In that process, I fell into foreclosure and was able to re-fi my mortgage, and I have a 30-year fixed rate now,. It is something that’s very real in our neighborhood and community. I think people need to step forward and say what’s going on. I’ve stood with others who are going through it, even on my street, working closely with City Life/Vida Urbana, to help folks save their homes. We don’t want the fabric of the community to be broken apart. That is not the reason I chose not to run. It is something that many folks are going through, and one that I’m willing to speak about, willing to deal with, and willing to help people on.
I remember when you first ran, in the 2009 at-large race, you had this very joyful attitude—there was dancing, the Vote For Tito Jackson song, giving out free ice cream in Dudley Square. Have you maintained that, or has City Hall beaten that out of you?
The joy is still in my heart, but the fight is in my belly.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.