LYNN — The most passionate moments of Thursday night’s forum among candidates for Councilor-at-Large candidates at the Lynn Community Television station came when the four incumbents and three challengers discussed ways to involve more citizens in the electoral process and the need for a city planner.
In all, councilors Buzzy Barton, Hong Net, Brian Field and Brian LaPierre, along with challengers Jose Encarnacion, Joel Hyppolite and Lennin Pena answered nine questions posed by Lynn Community Television’s Mukala Kabongo on a variety of issues facing the city, ranging from how to better incorporate Lynn’s diversity into everyday business to how to prevent shortfalls such as the one that caused it to borrow money last year.
But the candidates seemed split on the idea of hiring a city planner — not so much on the philosophy or need to do it, but whether it was the best way to spend Lynn’s resources.
On the question of how to avoid another shortfall, Barton was succinct.
“The first thing I’d do, and that I’ve been saying since I got on the council, is that we need a city planner, and we need a grant writer,” he said. “We need people who can bring revenue into the city.”
Barton sort of jumped the gun on the issue of a planner, since Kabongo dedicated the last question of the night to that topic. And reaction was mixed.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how to fund one,” said Field, explaining that he’s not against the idea of one, per se, but he’d like to find some way to fund one before committing to hire one.
LaPierre was on the same page.
“If we were in better financial stability, if we could find a source on paying for it, if we could get creative, I could get behind it,” he said. “But I’d like to see some incentives (to present to one). Not everyone can be as good as (previous planner) Kevin Geaney was. He was top-notch.
“We need a real bold thinker. But we’re just climbing out of this shortfall. We have to get that behind us.”
Kabonga asked the panelists whether they thought adding polling places would solve the low turnout numbers, such as the 6 percent figure during the recent city primary.
“I think so,” said Pena. “You have three alone in Ward 1, and all the other six wards only have one. We could use more.”
Pena was also outspoken on what he thinks the problem is.
“The city doesn’t do a good job of letting people know,” he said. “They promote concerts at City Hall Auditorium much better. I think Bobby Brown got promoted better than our election did.”
Barton said he didn’t think the city needed extra polling places.
“The city did a poor job letting people know it was election day,” he said.
Another topic that caused some division among the seven candidates was the idea of giving tax breaks to developers without conditions.
“I don’t work for developers and I don’t represent developers,” said LaPierre, who voted against providing a tax break to the contractor who is working on the Munroe Street project. “I am proud of my vote.”
“I also voted no,” said Net. I’m willing to negotiate with them as long as they’re bringing in jobs and they’re not driving people out of Lynn.”
Others weren’t so quick to categorically vote against them.
“I’m for them if the developers are giving affordable housing priority to Lynn people,” said Barton.
“I favor tax breaks if people in Lynn are going to benefit,” he said. “And if most of the people who are working on those big buildings are from Lynn.”
The candidates were also asked their views on combating opioid abuse in the city.
“I believe,” said Encarnacion, “that education should begin in early childhood. We all have friends and family members who have gone through this.”
Said Field, who chairs the council’s opioid subcommittee, “I get reports each month, and they say the problem is getting better. Police and fire are better equipped, but I think it’s important for people to understand that you are not a criminal if you are an addict. It is a disease.”
“And,” said Hyppolite, “it has to be treated like a disease.”
“Medical providers have to share some of the blame,” Net said. “They prescribe some pretty strong medication.”
Both Pena and Barton were upfront about their battles.
“You are looking at a person with 34 years of sobriety,” Barton said. “I’ve been there.”
“I am in recovery,” said Pena. “I’ve seen many people succeed. But you can’t help them without compassion. I know what it takes.”
Hyppolite, talking about the issues with the Lynn Senior Center (the city has taken over management of it), said, “I believe we can do better. We have to find more funding for better programs. I hope, when I get into office, that I can make that a priority.”
“It’s uncomfortable for people to be there now,” said Net. “We have to do all we can to help our seniors. Bring it back to the way it once was.”
“Our senior citizens made Lynn what it was,” said Barton.
Each candidate was allowed one closing statement of no more than 90 seconds. While most thanked Lynn Community Television for hosting the debate, Encarnacion and Hyppolite explained their reasons for running.
“I want to be your voice,” Encarnacion said. “Representing the whole community would be an honor.”
“I am a husband, father, homeowner and taxpayer,” said Hyppolite. “That is why I am running.”