Consalvo Wants To Continue Menino Legacy Of Urban Mechanic
With just a week to go to the preliminary election, when the crowded field will be winnowed from 12 to two candidates, we’re going to continue WBUR’s series of conversations with the candidates.
Today, an Italian-American from Hyde Park. City Councilor Rob Consalvo, who came into our studios yesterday, told us he wants to carry on the legacy of that other Italian-American from Hyde Park — outgoing Mayor Thomas Menino.
Rob Consalvo: I absolutely think the next mayor has to build upon the legacy that the mayor has laid for us. And what that means is absolutely, when you go door-to-door and talk to constituents, they want to know your plan on public safety. They want to know where you stand on public schools and how you plan to get quality schools.
But inevitably, it always comes back to other things like: Will you make sure that my trash gets picked up? Will you make sure that the tree in front of my house that’s pushing the sidewalk panels up gets repaired and fixed permanently? Will you come to my kids Eagle Scout awards ceremony or come to my neighborhood meeting if there’s a shooting in my community? It’s all of that.
Anthony Brooks: But let me ask you this: because like Menino, you cast yourself as sort of this urban mechanic. But now that Menino’s leaving, a lot of the candidates have been talking about the opportunity to change the city, take it in a different direction. It sounds like you’re saying, “Stay the course.”
I think the city wants steady leadership and a steady hand of leadership to continue to move Boston forward. When you talk to folks at their doorsteps, they want the same things that Mayor Menino stands for: someone who will always be there for them, someone who they can trust. They don’t want change with that. They want the same kind of 100 percent attention to their needs and isn’t using city government as a stepping stone to higher political office.
Well let me ask you about a couple of the big issues that have come up in the campaign so far. You’ve mentioned them sort of in passing. Education. You oppose raising the cap on charter schools. Tell us why.
I don’t think this one-size-fits-all approach is right. I don’t think lifting the cap on charter schools is right for Boston. There are issues related to the funding, which follows the child from the Boston Public Schools to the charter. There are real issues about the population that charter serves. They don’t serve special needs kids and English Language Learners the way we do.
But don’t charter schools sort of play an important role? As you know, a report from The Boston Foundation and MIT came out this year and found that charters are working in Massachusetts. SAT scores are higher, AP scores are higher. Kids are much more likely to enroll in four-year colleges. Don’t we need those kinds of models of success?
Sure. So certainly, we recognize that some charter schools are models of success, not all charter schools. Just like we recognize many Boston Public Schools are models of success, not all. Look, I think that charters have a purpose. But as mayor, my job is to oversee the 55,000 kids in the Boston Public Schools. I think we should be having a bigger discussion as candidates about the Boston Public Schools, and what our plans are to invest in our school buildings so we have state-of-the-art facilities, really invest in special needs kids and our English Language Learners.
You want to extend the school day. So let me ask you a little bit about that because the Boston Public School superintendent [and] the Boston Teachers Union have been wrangling over this issue for some time, in particular, how much extra pay teachers should get for longer school hours. How will you break that logjam on this issue?
It’s a great question. I do support extended learning days. The fact of the matter is, the union isn’t going anywhere. Not now, not next year, not 50 years from now. And I think the union is just dying to have a mayor and does a couple of things: has kids in the system, so knows what it’s like in the classroom, which I do with my kids; understands that teachers aren’t the enemy and while we want reforms in our schools and we want quality teachers and that recognizes the union will have a seat at the table. And so that constructive relationship will allow for the real negotiations that will get to extended learning time.
I want to ask you about public safety, which is also a really important issue in any city. As we all know, overall crime numbers are down across the city and the U.S. But that’s small comfort to a handful of neighborhoods — parts of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, for example — where families have to contend with too much violence. What can you do to ensure that all Boston neighborhoods are safer?
So, we need to invest in public safety in four key areas: prevention, intervention, enforcement and technology. You can’t do one without the other. So I have a comprehensive public safety plan that does all of it. It understands it all starts by having a well-staffed police force, and I’m calling on my first term to add 200 police officers to the force.
Well, two questions though about more cops: can the city afford it, and are you saying that really the trick here is to police our way out of this? Is that going to do it?
Absolutely not. More police on the street is the first thing we need to do to make sure the police department is staffed. I’ve also called for a 15 percent increase in summer jobs for youth. Because the best way to keep a young person away from a life of crime or going down the wrong path is to give them a job. Let’s invest in more officers, let’s invest in prevention and intervention, and let’s bring the technologies to the city that will make the police do their jobs smarter, better, faster.
It’s a full package of ideas, but I’m just wondering if it’s really new. And I’m not so much saying this is your fault, obviously, but more cops, summer jobs, job training, these are all things that I’ve heard people talking about year after year after year and yet in some of these neighborhoods, this crime remains a real problem for the families who live there. And I’m wondering is there really something new in there? Can there be something new in there?
Well, I think one of the things I was getting towards before: it all comes down to poverty. I think education has to play a more important role, particularly the Boston Public Schools in educating kids and keeping them away from crime and providing the resources that they need. I want to have mental health services available in every school so that we’re dealing at the root cause of what causes those problems sometimes.
Well let me ask you about finances, which are always tight, especially as the economic recovery bumps along in uncertain ways. You’ve talked about a bunch of programs: wraparound services, more police offers, more cops on the streets, summer jobs, jobs training. All of this stuff costs money. What areas of the budget would you cut in order to add, to pay for the new initiatives that you want to support?
I think the benefits package negotiated by a casino coming in is going to ensure that Boston will have more revenue to do more things to keep us a world-class city like extend our learning day or add kindergarten seats. That’s why there’s a benefit to having a casino. Secondly, every agency when I become mayor gets a top-to-bottom review. So we can do it through cost savings, by an independent source who will tell us how we need to do things better and smarter. We actually end with a surplus and tuck that away every year because of how well we are managing our revenue.
But is that to suggest that you wouldn’t have to make any cuts or are you willing to say, here are three areas or one area or two areas where we could cut?
I think when we do a top-to-bottom review of every department, we’re going to find those areas that need reform and that reform means cost savings and then we’ll reinvest those cost savings back into programming that we need.
Let me ask you, I understand that you read Governing magazine to find learn about new ideas from other cities around the country. What’s the most interesting idea that you’ve read about and would want to implement if you were mayor?
Well, that’s a good one because I could give you about 20. Now I have to pick one.
I’m going to say and it’s a topic that at first blush sounds funny, but yet is such an incredible idea, what I call a low-tech, high-tech solution to a huge problem facing our city and that is the issue of street trees whose roots push up sidewalk panels in every neighborhood of the city and the solution to that is rubber sidewalks.
We have this incredible problem on thousands of trees around the city where the roots push up the sidewalk panels. It’s a city councilor’s bread and butter. Constituent calls to say, I can’t walk down the sidewalk, handicap accessibility issue. We call Public Works. Their solution is to jackhammer out the cement, on a private contract, have the arborist come in and deal with the root, usually shaving it down. And then what do we do? We pour cement back over the root so that in two years, the very same constituent calls and says, “I know you fixed my sidewalk two years ago, can you come back and fix it because the roots are pushing it up again?”
I gotta say, Robert Consalvo, I know we were talking a while back about you running as the urban mechanic candidate. You’re advocacy for rubber sidewalks is a great advertisement for that. I gotta hand that to you.
And you know, it sounds funny at first blush, but when you talk to people about it, they love it and it works and it makes sense.
Final question: what do you think voters would be surprised to learn about Robert Consalvo? You’ve been on the city council for 11 years, we know your name, a lot of people know you of course. But, what would surprise most voters in Boston?
I think if they take one look at me, they probably assume I’m not an athlete, but I’m an avid basketball player who’s still got a great three-point shot. So don’t let the looks fool you, I’m actually an athlete.
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