The back and forth between Medford mayoral candidates on Wednesday featured a series of questions developed by a panel of four city residents from around 60 submissions, ranging from what to do about high school to the advice of incumbent Breanna Lungo-Koehn and city councilor John Falco would give to young people living in the city.
Acrimony crept into the give-and-take later in the debate, with audiences indicating their approval or dissatisfaction with the candidates and their responses.
Sponsored by the Medford Chamber of Commerce, the debate was moderated by Channel 25 presenter and investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh. The panel was composed of Dan Kennedy, professor of journalism at Northeastern University and collaborator of GBH; Boston Globe art journalist Mark Shanahan; Astride Lisenby from the West Medford Community Center and Anne Marie Gallagher from the Medford Historical Society.
Candidates each had two minutes to respond to a question and an additional minute for rebuttal or clarification. None of the questions were specific to a candidate; the questions were designed to be answered by both.
For example, with regard to Medford High School, both were in favor of creating a committee to deal with building failures and come up with solutions. Both were in favor of recruiting residents to sit on a racially and ethnically diverse advisory committee and even building a new structure if necessary.
Pay for school? Falco suggested that the city look at all of its financial tools, from a proposed 2 1/2 waiver to grants and loans to pay for the capital project. Discussing the financial aspects of building a new structure, Falco lamented the loss of the city’s CFO who left under adverse circumstances in July. He noted that other capital projects – a new fire headquarters and new fire stations – are also expected to be addressed in the near future.
Lungo-Koehn, who formed and dissolved an advisory committee in the spring, citing a lack of diversity, suggested an SBA loan and the possibility of a 50-60% cost rebate.
In a school-related question, applicants were asked about police in schools. The two responded that they supported what the city police chief and the school principal thought best.
Lungo-Koehn noted that the font has changed in recent years; the city has a civil rights officer and has invested heavily in training to address domestic violence, racial justice and hate crimes. The city has installed a multilingual resource line to answer calls from residents who do not speak English.
Responding, Falco said his support came from a personal reason – the city’s school resources manager helped his family through a difficult time where one of his children was being bullied.
“I don’t know what we would have done without the school resources officer,” Falco said, explaining that although his family was supported by the administration, it was the officer who made the difference. .
Here are some other topics the candidates touched on during the debate on October 13:
A vaccination mandate?
âI believe in science,â Falco said, unequivocally in the affirmative.
The mayor said she would wait for the state-implemented mandate to “unfold”, wish to create a plan and “do it right” before starting a discussion on a mandate at the local level.
Black lives matter
When asked if they support the erection of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) banner at Town Hall, Lungo-Koehn said she believes a third community discussion is needed to discuss the importance of having a banner.
âWe need to hear about the lives lived and make that decision as a community,â said Lungo-Koehn.
Falco would be in favor of purchasing a third pole for the corner of the monument in front of City Hall, where it would display the BLM banner and a Gay Pride flag all year round.
“Why not raise the Gay Pride flag until June,” he asked.
Parking and Medford Square
Car park? Both believe it is beneficial for Medford to have in-house parking enforcement in place.
The mayor announced that the city had just hired a new manager for the city’s parking department. Falco feared the city had left him too late to smoothly transition from ParkMedford to city watch.
One big question: what to do with Medford Square? Plans have abounded, at least seven in the past 15 years. However, the square is not the destination sought by residents.
Mixed-use development, tackling vacant land and empty buildings, is essential, Falco says.
âWe need a parking plan, a pedestrian and bicycle plan, a plan for the Mystic River,â Falco said.
Lungo-Koehn said the city and residents are in the process of creating a comprehensive plan, a 30-year vision for the city, that will address the problem. The old plans will be reviewed and the good possibilities will be revived. She pointed out that the square is only one of the city’s 19 shopping districts.
Zoning and housing
City council has completed its one-year review of the city’s zoning ordinance and forwarded the document to the city’s community development office for review, public comment and eventual adoption.
Housing crisis: The mayor discussed the city’s housing production plan, but noted that while she presented it to council, the city’s legislative body had failed to respond. Falco replied that the board had questions and was still waiting for answers from the administration.
Three 40B developments, projects that reserve 20 to 25 percent of housing for affordable housing, have stalled, Falco said. He suggested negotiating with the promoters to bring them to town; Lungo-Koehn said the city should not lose control over its zoning by allowing developers to freely build 40B homes.
The projects would have added $ 6 million to the city’s property tax revenue and $ 2.5 million in permit fees, Falco said. Lungo-Koehn countered by noting that Housing 40B allows developers to bypass the city’s zoning ordinances, and she won’t give in without some backing from the city.
Falco suggested strengthening the city’s relationship with the MBTA, recovering three canceled routes: 325, 326 and 710. He uses public transportation to get to work and recognizes the benefits, as well as the need. lanes reserved for buses, cycle paths and accessible trains. stations.
Lungo-Koehn highlighted the reserved bus lane on Mystic Avenue, a project started with Somerville, the $ 400,000 state grant to reconfigure Haines Square and the growth of the traffic engineering department.
The two argued again over the issue of the diversity of the city’s workforce, discussing the merger and subsequent separation of the city’s human resources department and the diversity and human resources department. ‘inclusion.
In question: the council wanted separate departments; the mayor wanted them to merge. Also at issue: the promotion of the head of diversity to include both diversity and human resources.
The council claims the mayor bypassed the process of creating and staffing the position, a council task accomplished by ordinance. The mayor said council approved the budget item for salary in its budget review and created the merged post, implicitly approving the salary.
When discussing funding for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Medford received $ 48 million, the discussion turned into assertions. Falco mourned the loss of the city’s chief financial officer and said the absence of a financial leader has hampered decisions on how to spend the money.
Falco noted that Malden and Arlington have already made plans for the funding and have sought public input.
“Where is the public’s contribution to Medford?” You have to be in the process, âFalco said, addressing the audience,â and you are not. “
The city, Lungo-Koehn said, is currently interviewing federal fund managers as a first step in creating a plan for the windfall funds. Once the manager is hired, the city will apply for a public charge to decide which buckets are a priority to fill.
The city has already spent $ 8.6 million in federal funds from the first round of COVID-19 relief payments, Lungo-Koehn said.
Lungo-Koehn said Medford is seeking a federal fund manager and is currently interviewing candidates for the job.
The two agreed that the money should be used for infrastructure projects, repaving sidewalks and streets, water and sewer lines, in schools with technology for students, business resilience. , the plan against climate change.
How to promote Medford’s history and culture was a question that did not elicit a clear answer from either candidate.
In the end, both contestants were confident they had done well and presented their visions to the residents of Medford.
You like yourself ?
In a softball question, noting that both candidates had been colleagues on city council for years, each candidate was asked what skill they admire in the other?
Falco, who responded first, said he admired Lungo-Koehn’s dedication to the community.
She works hard, âhe admitted.
Lungo-Koehn, however, recalled that Falco had suggested the city hire a traffic engineer seven or eight years earlier. This hire enabled the city to solve many traffic problems and paved the way for a second traffic engineer, who would take care of pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Advice for young people?
âTake a step back, sleep on decisions, think before you act,â Lungo-Koehn said.
âLeave no stone unturned, always watch, ask questions, get involved, engage,â said Falco, explaining that it was advice he had heard from his parents all his life.