LYNN — Five of the seven City Councilor-at-Large candidates debated about how they would solve the city’s financial crisis, reduce violence and whether there should be term limits for Lynn’s elected officials on Wednesday night.
Candidates also addressed how to promote social justice, or equity, in city government. The three incumbents spoke about how well the City Council works together, while the two challengers spoke about the need for change.
Three incumbents, Brian Field, Brian LaPierre, and Hong Net, and two challengers, Jose M. Encarnacion and Lennin Ernesto Pena, participated in the first Councilor-at-Large candidates’ forum, held at the North Shore Islamic Center and hosted by the Lynn Community Association.
Incumbent Buzzy Barton did not attend because he was at another event, and challenger Joel Hyppolite did not appear, but no reason was given for his absence. Seven candidates are vying for four seats.
The city’s unstable finances were addressed right away in Wednesday’s forum, with candidates asked what three steps they would take to put Lynn on firmer financial footing. Candidates struggled with providing an answer to the question, in terms of providing new solutions.
Encarnacion said he didn’t have an answer, but if elected, would ask for an audit of city finances to try to find solutions.
LaPierre placed the blame on former Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, saying the City Council inherited a $14 million deficit from her administration. The panel had to dig itself out of that hole by working with Mayor Thomas M. McGee to borrow that amount from the state to balance its FY18 and FY19 budgets, he said.
LaPierre cited new sources of revenue that will come from the council issuing permits to medical and recreational cannabis businesses and headlining acts at the Lynn Auditorium that have been bringing in funding.
Field said the city was able to balance the FY20 budget this year, and cited a collaboration between the mayor and City Council to negotiate a three-year health insurance agreement with its dozen unions that led to a savings in the budget.
Net also cited the city balancing its budget this year and mentioned planned developments that will bring Lynn new tax revenue, but that he wouldn’t forget people who need affordable housing.
Pena said the city needs to lobby for more state and federal funding, and more emphasis should be put on making sure everyone is counted in the upcoming 2020 census, which impacts federal aid to municipalities.
All candidates believed there needs to be more police officers hired to reduce violence in the city. Last year, the city authorized the hiring of 19 police officers and last week, part of the city’s negotiated health insurance savings was transferred by the council for the hiring of 10 new officers.
In the past two months, there have been two homicides and four additional non-fatal shootings. Police believe the latter shootings are the result of ongoing gang retaliation.
One of the more interesting questions of the evening was whether there should be term limits for the city’s elected officials. Some city councilors have been serving for more than 10 years.
Of the incumbents, only Net said he would be in favor of term limits. The two challengers said they would like to see limits.
“It would break up monopoly,” said Pena. “It would give everyone a chance.”
LaPierre said he believes in “self-imposed term limits,” with elected officials knowing when is the right time to step away.
Candidates also addressed how to promote social justice in the city, with the two Latino challengers, Pena and Encarnacion, speaking throughout the night about how a vote for them would lead to more diversity in government.
Encarnacion and Pena said there needs to be more people of color in City Hall and the public schools.
But Field pointed out that in the past two years, the city hired its first African-American fire chief, Stephen Archer, and school superintendent, Dr. Patrick Tutwiler.
Still, the incumbents agreed more needs to be done.
The election is Nov. 5.