LYNN — The most contentious issue debated at Wednesday night’s ward councilor candidates’ forum was development and whether there should be more affordable housing in the city.
Eleven candidates, representing six contested ward races, addressed how they would better spend city finances, whether there should be term limits for city councilors, and if the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation of Lynn (EDIC/Lynn) should be dissolved into a potential planning department.
Participating in the forum, hosted by the Lynn Community Association at the First Lutheran Church, was Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi; Ward 3 Councilor and Council President Darren Cyr and his opponent George Meimeteas; Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci and his opponent Natasha Megie-Maddrey; Ward 5 Councilor Dianna Chakoutis and her opponent Marven Hyppolite; Ward 6 Councilor Fred Hogan and his opponent Cinda Danh; and Ward 7 Councilor John “Jay” Walsh and his opponent Alexis Reynoso.
Ward 1 challenger William O’Shea could not attend because he was in California visiting his son. Ward 2 Councilor Rick Starbard is running unopposed and did not participate.
The distinction between the candidates was clear. Challengers spent much of the forum pushing for change and to end what Hyppolite called the “good old boy establishment in Lynn.”
“We need change,” Hyppolite said. “It’s so exhausting. We keep electing the same people over and over again. Not all voices (are being heard).”
But Cyr, who has been on the City Council for 14 years, said he hears the same thing from challengers at each election.
“All of the incumbents want the same thing as all the challengers,” he said. “The new candidates talk about change and then when they get there, they realize it’s not as simple as they think it is,” explaining that there have to be taxes paid and services provided.
The divide between the incumbents, who answered similarly on many questions, and the challengers, remained throughout the forum. It was evident during a question on whether more affordable housing should be required for new developments.
Meimeteas, Hyppolite, Danh, and Megie-Maddrey spoke in favor of an inclusionary zoning provision, saying they would want to see each new development have 20 percent of its units be affordable. They spoke about how residents are being pushed out of the city because rents are unaffordable.
Of the incumbents, only Walsh spoke in favor of an inclusionary zoning provision, adding that he voted against the last two tax breaks for developers, including the luxury apartment building under construction on Munroe Street.
“I’m proud of being someone who’s supported trying to get some affordable housing in the city of Lynn and I still do,” Walsh said.
Chakoutis said the city needs affordable housing, but the problem is that term needs to be defined. Does it refer to seniors who can’t afford their rent, people who are struggling, or should it be reserved for the homeless. Affordability varies from person to person, she said.
Cyr declined to say how much affordable housing the city needs until there can be a discussion with stakeholders.
“We all want affordable housing, but there has to be a balance where a developer will want to build and construct that housing,” Lozzi said, adding that the focus should be on the availability of good jobs so that people can afford to live.
The divide was also evident on a question about whether EDIC/Lynn should be dissolved or merged into a city planning department, which Lynn lacks. Despite the disagreement on what should become of EDIC, all candidates said the city needs a planning department.
The incumbents said the EDIC should be kept as a separate department. They argued the city’s development bank does more than planning development, citing its small business loan program bringing start-up companies to Lynn.
Hyppolite and Meimeteas spoke about how the EDIC/Lynn needed to be more transparent.
Meimeteas favored restructuring the department, and said he’d like to see grant writers working on commission for the city, which he said was the next step to bringing money into Lynn. Reynoso said the agency should be restructured if it was going to improve the efficiency of the department.
Hogan was the only incumbent to criticize the EDIC.
“I would not dissolve EDIC, but I would ensure they’re held accountable a lot more, so they reflect a lot more with what’s going on in the city,” he said.
One of the more awkward questions was asking challengers to list what they disliked about their ward councilor, which kicked off the evening.
Some, like Meimeteas, chose to sidestep the question with levity, saying he didn’t like that Cyr had a bigger truck than him.
Others, like Megie-Maddrey shared some criticism, saying she sees it as a big problem that lots of people in her area of the ward, precinct 1, don’t know Colucci.
The night ended with 10 “yes” or “no” questions, a hit with the crowd where candidates responded by simply holding up a sign for either answer.
All challengers said they opposed tax breaks for developers and the trash fee, and were in favor of term limits for councilors. For those same questions, only incumbents Hogan and Walsh favored term limits and opposed tax breaks for developers.
Hogan was against the trash fee, while Cyr and Colucci held up both “yes” and “no” signs to jeers from the crowd, with Cyr saying that it was mandated. Only Cyr and Colucci said they are unwilling to give up their salary as a city councilor to save the city money.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.