Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley fielded questions from West Roxbury Patch editor David Ertischek about how to create more jobs in Boston, why his children attend parochial schools, and creating the state's first witness protection program. Conley is a former city councilor and West Roxbury resident.
Patch: As mayor what can you do to decrease violence in Boston?
Conley: There’s a lot that I have done and much more we can do. I created the Gun Court, created the state’s first witness protection program, and helped found the Shannon Grants program. I worked with Tom Menino to create a Family Justice Center to deal with domestic violence, family violence and sexual assault. My office invests heavily in early intervention, prevention and education programs. And I have new initiatives and legislation including participation in the Lipstick program, which tries to discourage young women from acting as straw purchasers or carrying or concealing illegal guns for their boyfriends. I also have a bill pending in the legislature that offers 26 separate ideas to strengthen our gun laws, make illegal guns easier to trace to their source, and shut down the secondary market for guns.
All of this has worked – Boston is one of the safest big cities in America and I’m proud of that. Something like 85% of Bostonians feel safe walking alone in their neighborhoods. But we spend too much time looking at crime from the wrong end of the spectrum after everything else has failed and a young person ends up in serious trouble. I’m running for mayor because if we’re going to reduce violence further, we really need to get to the root causes and that means jobs and economic opportunity and education. Take it from me - the long road to justice doesn’t begin in a courtroom - it begins in a classroom. As mayor, I will fight to give our children real hope and opportunity taking education reform to the next level.
Patch: What would you do with the current school assignment plan being implemented in 2014?
Conley: I view the school assignment plan not in isolation, but as part of a whole effort I would undertake to empower parents with more choices and a greater voice in their children's education. These choices should not only include attending schools closer to home, especially for elementary and middle school students, but more choices to attend public charter schools, pilots, and magnet schools. The new school assignment plan was the product of thousands of hours of meetings, discussion and effort. It is not a perfect plan but it moves Boston in the right direction. The goal is to keep moving in the right direction on school assignment and education reform as a whole, and as mayor, I will.
Patch: You support lifting the charter school cap. Many feel the current school funding formula hurts Boston Public Schools due to funding being taken away by charter schools. How would you alleviate the issue?
Conley: In the first year that a student goes into a charter school, which is also a public school, the district is reimbursed 100% of the cost of that student, and then 25% of the students cost for the next five years. I understand the argument that some make as to why the district is losing money, but at the end of the day, charters are public schools, too, and the resources are rightly following the student. I support lifting the cap on public charter schools because I want parents and students to be able to choose among great schools. Kids shouldn’t be stuck in schools that chronically underperform because adults can’t get their act together. The creation of charter schools 20 years ago and giving parents real choice has been instrumental in bringing about so many of the improvements we’ve seen in the schools under Mayor Menino. I think it would be a major step backward to change course. Giving parents choices, and giving charter school communities – the principals, teachers and parents – the autonomy to really serve kids has been a great thing. If I’m mayor, there’s going to be a lot more of it.
Patch: How many kids do you have? What school(s) do they attend? Did you apply to get into Boston Public Schools for your children - why or why not?
Conley: Every parent agonizes over doing what’s best for their kids. We all want our kids to have the best education possible. It’s a deeply personal decision that no parent takes lightly. My wife and I have two children. We made a decision to send them to parochial schools because we thought those schools would offer our kids what we thought they most needed to learn and succeed. I have six brothers and sisters and between us all we have kids in public schools, parochial, private and public charter schools. The conversations each of us had are no different than the kind that go on around kitchen tables all over Boston. Parents are trying to do what’s best for their kids and give them the best education possible. Parents don’t play politics with their children’s education and neither will I.
Patch: You're the Suffolk County District Attorney and some have said you have more of a 'D.A. personality' more than a mayor's personality - care to comment on that? I think they're saying you're more outwardly aggressive.
Conley: I don’t know about a “DA’s personality”, but I have the job of being the District Attorney and I take it seriously. Everyone who comes before my office – a victim, a witness or a defendant – is in crisis. We’re helping victims put their lives back together, often after a real tragedy has occurred. I understand why people tell me to smile more when I’m on television, but when you consider what I’m usually talking about, people understand. As for a “mayor’s personality”, I think every mayor is different. Tom Menino is different from Ray Flynn, who was very different from Kevin White. I’m different from them, too. One thing people can count on is that I’ll never try to be someone I’m not. People who meet me know that I smile easily and laugh often. When I’m mayor, people will undoubtedly get to see me smile more when I’m on TV announcing better jobs and cleaner parks, but being mayor is also a tough job and serious business and I’m ready for it.
Patch: How will you utilize innovative technological advancements to keep Boston being one of the most modern cities in the world?
Conley: I believe in technology and, one of the untold stories of my time as district attorney is the technological transformation of the office. We’ve used some of the most innovative and technology advanced tools to investigate crimes and prosecute cases. I think one of the great challenges for the next mayor is keeping Boston technologically competitive with Silicon Valley, other cities, and the world. My Better Jobs Now plan addresses this in a number of ways: making all of Boston a hot spot by expanding the fiberoptic network city-wide - a crucial infrastructure improvement - (and) adopting strategies to attract and retain the best and brightest college graduates, and even issues like housing and transportation and arts to make Boston culturally vibrant and affordable place to live and work.
Finally, I was the first candidate to recognize the danger that the so-called tech-tax represented to our high-tech, innovation, and start-up communities and, to ensure that Boston and Massachusetts would keep growing, advocated strongly for its repeal.
Patch: Boston Mayor Menino will leave the city in very good financial standing, especially considering the recent recession. What is your budgetary experience, and how will you foster financial growth for Boston?
Conley: We’ve talked about a lot of issues in the campaign for mayor, but fiscal responsibility is an issue that hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. Boston enjoys a triple-A bond rating and, especially compared to other states and municipalities, is fiscally well-positioned. At the same time, the city's fiscal future is never certain and there are serious challenges looming - rising employee costs, unfunded pension liabilities, increased demand for services, shrinking federal and state support. People ask me the one thing I’ll do that’s similar to Tom Menino and I tell them that if they elect me they’re getting someone who is deeply committed to fiscal responsibility. I am the only candidate in this race who has led a large, complex public agency. Unlike other candidates, everything I did was subject to press and public scrutiny and the final decisions were mine and mine alone. I’ve balanced a budget and managed a large staff. And I can tell you that whether you care about jobs, education, public safety, or any other issue, any and all progress depends on Boston’s fiscal health. So we need a mayor who is fiscally responsible, can set clear goals and priorities, balance a budget, say yes when it serves the public interest and say no when it only serves narrow special interests.
Patch: What color are your candidate signs? Why did you go with that design?
Conley: I chose a dark blue background with white lettering and a streaking star. The colors are patriotic, which appeals to me, and I think the star projects movement, which conveys my feelings about Boston. We’re a great city, the shining city on a hill, a true beacon, and we’re moving forward.
Patch: Climate change and how it will affect Boston is a huge topic for the future, what are your plans to deal with climate change?
Conley: I plan to convene a top panel of engineers, scientists, climatologists and others to recommend concrete short-term and long-terms solutions to prepare Boston for changing, threatening climate conditions. My plans to address the environment include providing more green space, cleaning up the air around Boston Harbor, improving our public transportation, encouraging recycling and composting and expanding energy efficient renewables.
Patch: Anything else?
Conley: Yes, jobs. I am the only candidate to offer a really substantive, comprehensive jobs plan. It’s called Better Jobs Now, a blueprint for how we move Boston forward, how we grow and retain our middle class, and how we extend real economic hope and opportunity into every corner of the city. I would encourage everyone to read it on my website or at www.jobsforboston.com