State's Poorest District Votes Today
Roxbury-North Dorchester to Fill Vacant Statehouse Seat
Voters in the poorest state representative district will go to the polls today in a special primary election, choosing from among four established community activists to fill a slot on Beacon Hill.
The election, one of only two special elections statewide, boasts a close race between three of the four progressive Democratic candidates who seem to differ more in their political experience than in their views of the issues facing the Roxbury and North Dorchester area.
Today's vote comes four and a half months after former Rep. Doris Bunte (D-Boston) announced that she would vacate the Suffolk County seat to head the Boston Housing Authority.
The four candidates are John G. Bynoe, a Boston attorney; Gloria Fox, a social service administrator; Grace D. Romero, a former hospital worker; and Frank G. Williams, a real estate broker. Bynoe, Fox and Romero appear to be leading the race.
Community leaders in the heavily Black and Hispanic Boston neighborhood have cited the area's drug, poverty, housing and unemployment--estimated to be as high as 30 percent--problems as important issues in the election.
Another divisive issue has been the proposed redevelopment of Dudley Square, which promises economic revitalization, but which the candidates have said may threaten to displace low-income residents. The final plans for the $750 million project have not been made public yet.
Today's election holds special significance, according to political observers outside the neighborhood, because of the influence the winner could exert over the multi-million dollar development plans for the area. And the new representative will wield the influence that comes with being part of the powerful Boston delegation.
In addition, a Statehouse official said the district is important because it will remain one of the few minority seats in the legislature. Today's winner will become one of only five Black members of the House. If Romero wins, she would be the first Hispanic state legislator in Massachusetts.
While race may not be an issue in terms of the candidates themselves, Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston) said yesterday that the future of the district's racial make-up is tied closely to redevelopment and today's winner's position on the issue.
Worse Than Development
"One of the things that's worse than development is having Roxbury become white... Whether Roxbury will remain a Black community will be decided in the next three or four years," said Rushing, whose district borders the Roxbury-North Dorchester area and who has endorsed Fox.
Fox said she does not oppose the Dudley Square plan, but wants to insure community input throughout the redevelopment process.
The 43-year-old former head of the Roxbury-North Dorchester Area Planning Action Council has also garnered endorsements from Melvin H. King, who heads Boston's Rainbow Coalition, and former Rep. Bunte.
If elected, Romero, who is currently serving her first term on the Boston School Committee, would seek a moratorium on any development by the Boston Redevelopment Authority--including the Dudley Square and other, smaller projects--which would displace residents, said Larry Howard, Romero's press secretary.
Romero has been endorsed by ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and the Service International Employees Union, according to Howard.
Leader of the Pack
Two of the three leading campaigns have said that Bynoe, a long-time civil rights leader in Roxbury and the state, appears to be the leading the race.
Bynoe said he supports economic development, but wants to prevent the kind of development that may harm local residents. He said he would encourage "new companies coming in to really make an effort to find local people" and to place them at all levels of employment.
All three leaders in the race cited the need for innovative approaches to the area's many social problems, but listed separate approaches to financing them.
Bynoe, who serves as general counsel to the National Business League, emphasized the need for private funding. "Federal, state and local funds are going to be very limited," he said. "Looking for them is fine," but finding them is going to be difficult, he added.
Government Dependency Okay
Fox said she would rely on government assistance for part of her program. "It's unrealistic to think that there won't be any federal money needed," she said.
"When I'm elected, I intend to sponsor a full-employment bill for people in district seven," she added. She declined to specify what she would include in the bill.
Romero, the only candidate who has held public office, said government funds would be difficult to come by. Instead, she said she intends to introduce legislation which would encourage high-tech industry to come to Roxbury and to train employees from the area.