Joe Ruggiero

East Boston Progressive Network — Questionnaire

Who we are: A group of active East Boston residents working together to organize our community around progressive issues and values.

Goal: To put candidates on the record regarding their views and values, also, to establish differences among the candidates on  issues we care about with targeted, specific questions.

Joe Ruggiero

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Housing/Development

New developments often require political support (including that of our state representative) to secure zoning and permitting approvals. The City of Boston has an inclusionary housing requirement for new developments which requires developers of ten units or more to make 13% of the units affordable to households earning between 70% and 100% of the Boston Area Median Income (AMI). There is also a pay-out option for developers who choose to pay into a fund so that the units can be created elsewhere in the City.

    • Do you believe that the current inclusionary zoning policy should be expanded, reduced, or kept the same? If you would like to change the policy, please describe what you would do to make that happen?
      Boston is facing a housing crisis, and clearly we need creative solutions to address the lack of housing options, particularly in our neighborhoods. I would engage in a discussion around expanding the inclusionary zoning policy, but this should be one in a series of strategies to address this issue.
    • Please elaborate and be specific in your goals and targets for maintaining affordability in East Boston; or if you intend to take a hands-off approach, please explain.
      The first step in addressing the unique needs of East Boston’s housing challenges is to hear from residents. I intend to take an active role in addressing this issue, but the neighborhood should have the strongest voice in identifying what the real problems are and the best means to address them. Are residents more concerned about affordable housing options, or gentrification, or density, or transit-oriented development? And what does affordable mean to the residents here? Is it affordable as designated by the federal government, or is there a greater demand for workforce housing? I would feel more comfortable diving in to this issue with deep and meaningful dialogue before setting goals and targets that may not be in line with what our neighborhood wants and needs.

Development in East Boston is proceeding at an ever-quickening pace without the benefit of an updated master plan. Of chief concern to existing residents are new, large-scale projects which either trigger Article 80 review (+50,000 sf) or do not conform to existing zoning regulations (“as-of-right”). Either threshold mandates that a project be presented to the governing neighborhood association for review.

    • Would you, as a candidate, commit to not issuing a statement either in favor or against these types of projects before the governing neighborhood association has reached a formal decision–and once reached, would you commit to adopting that position?
      I would not commit to supporting or opposing a project before the neighborhood association weighed in. I would have to address this on a case-by-case basis, but I would imagine that in most, if not all, cases, I would support the decision of the association.
    • If a project falls within East Boston but outside the boundaries of the existing Neighborhood Associations, would you commit to a public process for residents to learn about the project, its benefits and impacts, and voice their concerns/opinions?
      Absolutely. The people of East Boston need a voice in the decisions made around development here.
    • If multiple large-scale projects are proceeding within a compact area, how would you bring proponents together to jointly fund comprehensive, cumulative, and publicly accessible studies of anticipated impacts (traffic, noise, etc.) and possible shared public benefits/amenities?
      The City follows a robust public process with any individual proposal, but at a minimum, there should be a series of community meetings associated with the broader impact of multiple projects. We need a real Master Plan for development in East Boston, to ensure smart, long-term growth.

Transportation

We’ve seen this winter how important transportation infrastructure is to the stability and vitality of the Commonwealth. MBTA chairwoman Beverly Scott took the heat for the T’s poor performance during recent snowstorms, but she in turn blamed a lack of funding for the T, as well as leftover debt from the Big Dig project, as the root cause of the system’s failures.

    • What do you see as the most effective strategies for increasing funding for transportation in general and for the T specifically? Please cite specific policy / revenue raising steps that can be taken.
      The MBTA has been underfunded and under-resourced for decades. It is clear that we need to explore creative solutions that do not place an unfair burden on taxpayers, and that establish a sustainable system. This might include public-private partnerships, or finding a private sector investment possibility for the system. But the MBTA should also take careful stock of their allocation of resources. The system has focused on expansion, without also investing in maintaining the current infrastructure. While growth and expansion are valuable, if we can’t support the current system, we will run into a crisis point as we have in recent weeks.
    • Federal money has already been designated for ferry service to East Boston, and the state legislature has mandated the design and construction of a Red-Blue connector. As our state representative, what will you do to move these critical transit projects forward?
      This has been a frequently-discussed issue for me on the campaign trail. East Boston needs to be connected to the City, and these are two fundamental ways to make that happen. As your state representative, I would lobby my colleagues in the Boston delegation and in the Baker Administration to make these investments a priority. We need a strong voice to advocate for our neighborhood on Beacon Hill; I will be that voice.

 

Immigration

  • The Massachusetts Trust Act would ensure that state law enforcement resources, facilities, and personnel are not being used to enforce federal immigration law, and would prevent non-citizens from being held on federal immigration hold requests. The Trust Act did not pass last year, but has already been refiled for the 2015 legislative session. If elected, would you actively work to support the passage of this bill?
    A state “Trust Act” would serve to encourage productive and respectful relationships between police and members of the immigrant community. Immigrants are often taken advantage of, and are reluctant to contact police for fear of consequence around their status. We should not create barriers to safety. Our local police should only have to focus on enforcing the law and keeping our families safe, and not on enforcing federal immigration policy.
  • We commend all of the Democratic contenders for this seat for coming out in support of making driver’s licenses available to all Massachusetts residents, without regard to federal immigration status. With this in mind: Thousands of East Boston residents are expected to benefit from President Obama’s executive order last November if and when the temporary injunction imposed on February 17th is lifted. Do you support his executive order, and what do you think it means for East Boston?
    This is a public safety issue, pure and simple. People on our roads should be properly trained, licensed, and insured, regardless of status.

The Olympics

Boston 2024 is an unelected, unaccountable organization which appears to be positioned to have a significant influence over the City and the Commonwealth’s priorities for the next nine years if Boston is selected for the 2024 Summer Games. East Boston may have special reason to be concerned.  In November 2013, East Boston residents voted against a casino at Suffolk Downs. The results of this historic vote and the voice of the people was largely ignored by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Given these recent events and that the possibility of an Olympics stadium in East Boston, we may bear a disproportionate amount of the burden from the airport as well as the potential use of Suffolk Downs.

    • Recently Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim has proposed the following non-binding ballot questions for a citywide referendum. Very briefly: As a resident of Boston, how would you vote on each of the following, and why?
      • Should Boston host the 2024 Summer Olympic & Paralympic Games (the “Games”)?
        Yes. This brings tremendous opportunity for economic growth to the City, if done responsibly.
      • If Boston were to host the 2024 Olympics, should the City commit any public money to support the Games?
        To support the games, no. To support long-term infrastructure investments, yes.
      • If Boston were to host the 2024 Olympics, should the City make any financial guarantees to cover cost overruns for the Games?
        No. This should fall to the Host Committee, not the taxpayers.
      • If Boston were to host the 2024 Olympics, should the City use its power of eminent domain to take private land on behalf of the Games?
        I would vote yes to keep the option open, with the caveat that eminent domain is an extreme method of last resort, and that any land taken should be for long-term infrastructure, and not for temporary Olympics-related structures.

Parks

  • Frederick Law Olmsted’s Wood Island Park was one of the only “active” parks he ever designed. Piers Park was given to East Boston in mitigation for the loss of Wood Island, but the designated “active” portion (Phase II) has been stalled for nearly two decades with no reason to believe that it will be funded or built in the near future. What will you do to ensure complete funding and construction of Piers Park Phase II?
    It would be my responsibility as your state representative to lobby my fellow elected officials to make this a priority. We need to take a fresh look at what this investment would mean for East Boston, and identify a strong business reason to make our case on Beacon Hill. I would be that strong voice to advocate for our open spaces.

Political Transparency

Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert Deleo previously supported term limits for his office, but recently reversed his stance as his own term was nearing its end and pushed through a change to the House rules which eliminated them. The Massachusetts legislature has one of the most closed-door lawmaking processes in the nation, and the conversation surrounding this controversial rule change was no exception.

    • Do you agree that this position should not be subject to term limits?
      No. I believe in healthy turnover in government. True term limits happen at the ballot box.
    • What will you do to directly encourage open voting in one of the least transparent legislatures in the country? How will you commit to publishing your vote on each and every decision that you make in the State House?
      This is very simple. All votes should be open to the public and published in a medium – preferably online – where all can view. I would commit to making all of my votes in the Legislature public in that manner.

Environment:

  • Do you feel that the most recent Massport Logan Airport Health study’s methodology and findings were consistent with what was ordered by the legislature? If so, why? If not, what would you do to ensure a comprehensive study that addressed its deficiencies? Regardless of your answer to this question, what would you propose to begin to address the known health issues raised by the study?
    I do not. Our elected officials should be holding Massport accountable for the promises they have made and failed to keep. This report was not nearly as comprehensive as it should have been, and I would advocate for a new, independent study to examine the impact of Massport on our neighborhood. Throughout the campaign, I have consistently stated that access to quality, affordable health care is among my highest priorities. This would be no exception. We need a real mitigation package for these issues.

Healthcare

  • Massachusetts has made significant strides in offering affordable health coverage to low and middle income residents.  As East Boston’s state representative, how would you make sure that MassHealth and other subsidized health care programs remain affordable for consumers?  How will you commit to ensuring that there are no service cuts to the MassHealth program or changes that would negatively impact eligibility and access to health care for MassHealth members?
    Massachusetts has been a leader in this field because access to quality, affordable healthcare has been a shared priority of elected officials and advocacy groups. We must maintain adequate investments in this system to ensure long-term growth.

Criminal Justice

  • Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders have recently been reduced by the legislature. Would you support legislation to repeal mandatory minimums entirely in these cases?
    Yes. My life changed when I got sober, and I know firsthand the value of access to recovery programs. We can’t arrest our way out of addiction. We need stronger funding for these programs. Frankly, investing in recovery programs upfront will save taxpayer dollars down the road by addressing the root of the issue, instead of simply locking drug offenders away without access to job training, healthcare, or recovery services.
  • Although Massachusetts has the fourth-lowest rate of incarceration in the United States, the Commonwealth still jails nearly twice as many of its citizens as developed nations such as Canada, Japan, Germany, and Italy. What sort of legislation would you propose that would refocus law enforcement and corrections on rehabilitation rather than incarceration?
    Again, we need to make these investments up front instead of simply throwing people in jail. For those we do incarcerate, we should provide them with a path to come out of jail and become a productive member of society. Treatment and prevention is a much wiser investment for our Commonwealth.

Education

  • Would you support legislation to ensure that all Massachusetts students are eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of their federal immigration status?
    Yes. Immigrants come to this country in pursuit of the American Dream, and we know that one of the key foundational pieces to that is education. We should not create barriers to success for our students.

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