The Interview: Tito Jackson

Brexit. President Trump. Mayor Tito?


Photograph by Elise Amendola/Getty Images

City Councilor Tito Jackson’s quest to unseat Mayor Marty Walsh is, to put it gently, an uphill battle. Boston hasn’t ousted an incumbent mayor since 1949—and Jackson is up against a fine-tuned political machine with more than $3 million in its war chest. Yet when I met with Jackson at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, in Roxbury, not long after Walsh’s State of the City address, he was upbeat and confident that he could win over the city’s voters. Over the course of an hour, Jackson picked apart his opponent’s first three years in City Hall, criticizing Walsh on everything from what he sees as a sweetheart deal given to General Electric to the growing gap between Boston’s haves and have-nots. Will Jackson fulfill his vision to run a “truly comprehensive grassroots campaign” and pull off the next great political upset? Crazier things have happened.

Marty Walsh has more than $3 million socked away to fend off challengers, while you have about $100,000. Why didn’t you make a bigger fundraising push at the end of last year?

I was the District 7 city councilor and the chair of the Committee on Education. We had a very important decision [lifting the cap on charter schools] that was being made at the state level that would affect the future of public education in the state of Massachusetts and in the city of Boston. And so I did my job. I focused on the people of District 7 and I focused on the 55,843 students in Boston Public Schools to ensure a decision wasn’t made at the state level that would take away from their bright futures. But I just want you to think about something very interesting: Boston 2024 spent millions to bring an Olympics to the city of Boston. No Boston 2024 and No Boston Olympics combined spent less than $10,000 to take that process down. Maybe Mayor Walsh has too much money. Three million dollars might buy you a condo in one of the luxury buildings, but it can’t buy you an election.

Why not defend your city council seat, so that if you lose the mayor’s race you can still be part of city government?

I am singularly focused on running for mayor of Boston. I love the work that I have done in District 7 and I have enjoyed being chair of the Committee on Education. But I have to give it up because I’m fully committed to all of the people of the city and want to give them a platform that’s about them. I am committed to a Jackson administration that is not going to be distracted by fancy but very expensive and flashy events that will come and go, like the Olympics, which could have cost our city over $12 billion, or like IndyCar. We know that 50 percent of people in Boston make $35,000 or less. We talk about affordable housing, which is a political term. A realistic term is housing that is affordable. In this red-hot market, it is critical to push developers who are making more than they’ve made in the past to be good corporate citizens, and ensure they have “affordable” units that meet the affordability of the neighborhoods and the context in which they are putting them.

Do you worry that Mayor Walsh might co-opt some of the more progressive elements of your platform?

I’m happy to hear that many of the ideas that Mayor Walsh is putting forward in year three of his term are ideas that we have put forward, but in the Jackson administration, we’re going to hit the ground running. The learning curve that this mayor has had—I won’t need that. I’ve served longer in municipal government, I have a background in economic development—working in the Patrick administration on job attraction and economic development deals—and I also know that a deal such as the General Electric one is literally giving away the whole farm.

So what would you have done differently with GE?

We should actually be rewarding, concentrating on, and ensuring that we grow the innovators of Boston: the companies that have chosen to be here organically and who don’t have a mercenary mentality based on who the highest bidder is. I am not disappointed in General Electric. It was a great deal that was put before them. We were at an auction and we were the person who stood up and overbid. There was an opportunity cost for those dollars. Those dollars could have been used for companies that are less than five years old and are startups. It’s our startups and small businesses that are the hallmark of our economy. I love companies that want to come here, but I don’t think they should come here based on the incentive packages we offer. They need to realize that we are the most talented, most educated, and hardest-working people in the world.

Some people say there is a troubling level of distrust between young people of color and the Boston Police Department. Do you agree, and how will you address this issue?

I believe that we have some of the most talented and hardest-working police officers in the United States. But what I would say is that the department has not done implicit-bias training for all of its members. The department and those officers have not been afforded the resources that are needed to do their jobs effectively in regard to the issues you’re talking about. I think we have to listen to the voices of young people when they say there are disparities in the way they’re treated and the number of stops that have occurred. I also think this is an area where the Boston Police Department needs to look at its own diversity at all levels. This is a structural issue that’s based on leadership, or lack thereof.

Do you think the city can elect a black mayor?

I believe the city is ready for real leadership. I believe Boston is a city that believes in diversity. And I believe Boston is a city that, yes, could elect a black mayor who has a background in the private sector, who has a background in economic development and job creation, and who is eminently qualified based on his record and commitment.

Tito Jackson Boston City Councilor

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson stands to speak during a council meeting at City Hall in Boston, January 13, 2016. / Photo via AP

Do you think you may have a difficult time differentiating yourself enough from Walsh on big issues and in voters’ minds?

We’re going to run a comprehensive grassroots campaign that will present the best ideas on offer in 2017. I am absolutely focused on giving everyone in the city of Boston, particularly young people, the same opportunity that I had. I was born in a very difficult situation. I was born to a 13-year-old mother who was assaulted by two guys. I was given something uniquely Boston—I was given two parents who said, “We want to adopt you not because you’re the cutest baby or the baby that eats the least, but we want to adopt you because we want to do more and we want to help.” Not only did they do that for me, they did that for three other children. Four of us are adopted. I want there to be households like the one I grew up in: seven kids, and we grew up in a house with a driveway, with some bushes that I wasn’t allowed to go past. We lived in a community where people, based on their hard work, were able to stay there. That’s a fleeting thought in this city, with $4,000 two-bedrooms and $1 million and $5 million condos being green-lighted without any thought to what they’ll do to the neighborhoods and communities they’re in. The rose-tinted glasses have to come off.

But do you think Walsh doesn’t know that the gap is getting bigger between the haves and have-nots? He’s talked a lot about this issue.

I think the mayor is a goodhearted person, but I judge people on their actions. And I see over a year spent on a $12 billion, monthlong party that would have shattered the very strong fiscal footing that the city has worked years to place itself on. I see divestment instead of investment in our public school system. I have had to look young people in the eye who are crying because a teacher in a program has been removed, and when they went to speak with this mayor he told them they were misinformed. That, to me, is a sign that this mayor has lost his way.