City Council Candidate Chat: Francisco White
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for City Council at large? You got in early, before the field got so crowded.
Francisco White: Yeah, I had no idea there were going to be 19 of us. I decided back in February; at the time I was still with MassVOTE, working with the youth there, and basically that’s what inspired me to run. Working with youth throughout the city, in communities of color, and engaging those communities to be involved in the process, I began to realize that people are living in very different Bostons. We speak of a unified city, and Boston Strong, but people are having very different experiences. And I think it’s because racism and classism are a big influence in our policies. So, that’s really why I’m running: to give voice to marginalized groups, to give voice to people who feel like they haven’t been heard at City Hall, and give them a seat at the table.
What do you feel you can do to change that, if you do become a member of the City Council—it can’t do a lot of things, and racism and classism are big, long-term issues for the city.
I think it starts with addressing those issues at City Hall. As far as I can see, they haven’t even been addressed. So, just raising awareness of those policies that are racist and classist, and those agencies that perpetuate racism and classism and exclusion, and division of communities, like the Boston Redevelopment Authority. So many people in Boston believe that the BRA is a necessary part of the growth and progress of Boston, and I know that that’s not the case. The BRA really has no incentive to prioritize affordable housing for families. Without that incentive, we’ve seen that they’re not going to do it. They are so preoccupied with incentives that attract large businesses to the city, and the development of luxury housing complexes—these are all things that make Boston a hub of business and innovation, but they are neglecting the families that make Boston what it is. They are pushing these families out. I am running to democratize the city planning and development process, and I would like to see the BRA abolished. That’s just one of the ways I intend to work to raise the issues of racism and classism in policies.
You also talk about environmental and social sustainability. That sustainability term has become a bit of a buzzword; what do you mean by it?
As far as environmental sustainability, I support citywide curbside composting, an expansion of our recycling program, a commitment to more bike lanes—lots of things. I think that we need to include penalties in the BERDO [Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance], because it’s not a strong enough policy in its current state. It gives all of these recommendations and suggestions to building owners, but there’s no penalty for not heeding those recommendations for making properties more sustainable in our city. As far as social sustainability, though, what I mean by that is eliminating the division between our communities. And not just our neighborhoods, but the divisions between communities of color and communities that are not of color; the division between low-income communities and wealthier communities. I think that starts with starting some sort of committee that is responsible for socializing these different communities, and planning and hosting educational events and forums, so that we can start to see that we are really more of one community than it seems currently. I think that we create these invisible barriers between neighborhoods, and between people who we have trouble identifying with, and the city can play more of a role in eliminating those barriers.
A lot of people tend to look at some of the improvements—this is, I think, a less divided city in those terms than it was 25 years ago. But I suspect that what you’re saying, as someone who hasn’t lived here as long, is that coming in with fresh eyes you can see that the city is still a long way from where it should be.
Yeah. Since I’ve lived in the city I’ve lived in East Boston; my whole neighborhood was Latino. Now I live off of Blue Hill Avenue, and I haven’t seen a white Bostonian since I’ve lived here. That’s a problem. I want to work to do what I can to resolve that issue.
You’ve lived in western Massachusetts, in Springfield; and also in New York City I believe?
And North Carolina. I was raised in western Mass. But in my adult life I was in North Carolina, and New York City very briefly. There was a period of homelessness early in my adult life that I overcame, so I was sort of all over the place. [Laughs]
What have you seen in those other places where you’ve lived, that give you better perspective on Boston?
New York is a beast of its own [laughs], I don’t think I can compare those experiences at all. But I would say in Charlotte – it’s sort of a new city; it’s growing very rapidly. There’s a huge emphasis on their transportation infrastructure, and I think they’re doing that really well. Boston, and the whole state of Massachusetts, could take some lessons from cities like Charlotte, and other cities that are newer and growing and developing at a faster pace. Our transportation system sucks; I don’t know how else to put it. It doesn’t run efficiently, it doesn’t run as much as it should, it doesn’t serve areas that it should.
You have been endorsed by the Green-Rainbow Party, both at the city and state level. For all the supposed leftyism of the area, the Green-Rainbow Party has not had much success here—Chuck Turner was one of the few elected officials who associated himself with the party. Why do you suppose that is, and how can it become more successful?
I think the problem that the party faces is that we’re really all activists by nature. Leaders in the Boston area who have associated themselves with the party—Chuck Turner, and Mel King, and Jill Stein—those people are activists. They’re out there at the grassroots level, and they really have a good grasp of the issues. They’re so used to fighting from the streets, that I think it’s sometimes hard to make that crossover to the political field.
Another thing that may seem surprising to some people about Boston is that there have not been many openly gay politicians elected to office. You’re one of two hoping to be the first openly gay candidate elected to the City Council. What do you make of that, in such a supposedly open and progressive and gay-friendly city?
I think on the surface Boston is very open and progressive and gay-friendly. But our politics are still American politics. We’re just entering a period of time where the LGBT community feels like they have a place in the political arena. For so many years, we were focused on getting basic equal civil rights, and now that we’re just starting to get those, nationwide, now we can focus on being decision-makers ourselves. I’m just really excited. That there are even two openly gay men in this race speaks volumes about the political climate right now; about how Boston nurtures people who belong to oppressed communities to step forward.
In Boston, a lot of the black community was much slower to come along on gay rights, and same-sex marriage in particular. Are you seeing more acceptance now in the black community? Is it becoming a non-issue?
It’s definitely not a non-issue. I think the black community has come a long way with accepting gay issues and the LGBT community, but it’s definitely not a non-issue. When I’m canvassing in black neighborhoods—I’m someone who tried to work with black communities, and I still experience resistance in the black community because I’m an openly gay man. [Laughs] Some people might disagree with that, but I think it’s pretty obvious. To be a black gay man, and try to step forward into a leadership role that would impact the black community is a very difficult thing to do. There are so many religious beliefs behind the hesitation to embrace the gay community.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.