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ELECTION 2023: Malden City Council hopefuls weigh in on issues at first Candidates Forum

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Affordable housing, language access, municipal finances top list; three contested races this year: Wards 2, 5 & 6


By Steve Freker


Despite the dramatic changes in even the past decade on how Malden residents exchange information, a tried-and-true staple of any local political campaign remains the same. So, a candidate wants to know how a constituent think? They want to know what that voter’s thinking about these days? Simple. Walk up to their home, knock on their door and ask them.

Affordable housing, language access and another basic – safe streets – came up again and again, according to nearly every one of the Malden City Council hopefuls who participated in the first Candidates Forum of the Malden 2023 election season. A solid crowd of over nearly 200 filled up many of the seats in the auditorium of the Malden Senior Center for the evening’s event, which was hosted by the Malden-based Chinese Culture Connection, Urban Media Arts (UMA) of Malden, the Mass. Senior Action Council, Malden Reads, and the Malden-based American Association for Arab Women. (AAAW).

Wednesday’s event was one of three such forums by the various organizations this election season. On the next three Wednesdays, three more forums will be held:

— Councillor at Large Candidates Forum, Wednesday, October 11, Malden Senior Center, 6:00 p.m.

— Mayoral Candidates Forum, Wednesday October 18, Malden Senior Center, 6:00 p.m.

— School Committee Candidates Forum, Wednesday, October 25, Malden Senior Center, 6:00 p.m.

Wednesday’s format consisted of opening statements, then individuals associated with the host groups asked questions, before questions were solicited and asked from the audience. The first questions asked of the candidates was “What do you see as your Ward’s number one priority?”

Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley, who is running unopposed for a fifth consecutive term, said that affordability of living downtown and other parts of his ward is the chief issue. “We have so many luxury apartments downtown, and the mitigation funds [raised] are being taken from Ward 4 and spread throughout the city.” Other issues he cited included “making streets safe,” since “many of our ward residents are scared to cross the streets out of safety concerns.”

Councillor O’Malley said he is proud to have been one of the more strident supporters on the Council since he first began serving in 2016 of the city’s push to replace lead pipes. “We have a lot of special needs students in our city and have to keep the lead out of water as it is not healthy for them or others.” He praised the efforts of Ward 6 Councillor Stephen Winslow and Conservation Commission Chair Isaac Slavitt for championing lead pipe replacement as well.

“It has been data driven, we are replacing lead pipes where children live,” O’Malley said.

Ward 3 Councillor Amanda Linehan, who is running unopposed for reelection to a third term, cited the Malden Hospital site redevelopment as the top priority in her ward. A plan is now in place and green-lighted to raze the existing building and replace it with a new psychological health facility. As part of the plan, six acres of recreational/green space is being deeded at no cost to the City of Malden.

“This new six acres of park space is a once-in-a-generation gift, and we will use community engagement to determine its use. We will be notifying all abutters of demolition and construction schedules and continue to share information,” Councillor Linehan said.

She also said the imminent state-mandated 3A Zoning implementation regarding multifamily housing around transit areas, safety getting to and from school and growing the city’s commercial tax base are other key issues.

Ward 1 Councillor Peg Crowe is also running unopposed for reelection to a seventh consecutive term (first elected in 2011). She said increasing the commercial/industrial tax base and increasing affordable housing are top priorities for Ward 1 residents. She said she backs inclusionary zoning, which will require new Malden residential construction to include 15 percent affordable housing.

“We have been working with the Affordable Housing Trust and dedicating ARPA [American Rescue Act] funds to affordable housing,” Councillor Crowe said, pointing to a project already underway to convert the former Salvation Army structure on Main Street in Ward 1 to exclusively affordable housing.

Ward 2 Councillor Paul Condon, one of the longest-serving public officials in history, is seeking reelection over challenger Sheila Rachels, who also participated in the forum Wednesday. Condon cited major projects now underway, including the Devir Park rehabilitation as a green space and primarily passive recreation, as a top priority. He said a grand opening of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project is planned for October 12.

Councillor Condon is another strong proponent of the replacement of lead water lines in the city. “It is an unglamourous project, but we have replaced hundreds of lead lines around the city, and we still have a lot more work to do with the quality-of-life improvement project,” Councillor Condon said. “We have five more streets being paved in our ward next week. Years ago, we just covered over the streets. Now we are taking the time to replace the gas lines and lead lines where they lie. A lot of work remains, along with paving streets and replacing sidewalks, but a lot has been done as well.”

Ward 6 Councillor Stephen Winslow, seeking a second term against the challenge of Jerry Leone, for a second consecutive election, said, “keeping Maplewood Square vibrant” is the top priority in his Ward. “We are facing a big threat. We already lost three restaurants, several residents and we may lose those vacated buildings to demolition, though we are attempting to have it delayed.”

Councillor Winslow said the Maplewood committee is using students from Metro Bids at Boston University to help create “a community vision for Maplewood Square.”

“This is the biggest crisis we face in Ward 6 – preserving Maplewood Square for businesses and residents – and I will continue to be an independent voice for the residents,” Winslow said, noting that efforts are underway to develop a Maplewood Square “brand” and that memorable events, such as “May”-plewood Fest,” would continue.”

Ward 2 challenger Sheila Rachels said that walkability and overall safety in her Ward were the priorities cited most often by residents through her efforts going door-to-door in the Edgeworth neighborhood. “There are lots of speeding cars and a major issue is to determine how we implement safer crossings,” Rachels, a lifelong Malden resident who is a political newcomer, said.

She said communication is an issue in her Ward. “When I was out in the neighborhood, people were surprised there was a candidate coming up and talking to them. They don’t feel like they’re being heard.”

In Ward 5, Councillor candidates Ari Taylor and Julie Willcox Turner are facing off for the seat being vacated by City Council President Barbara Murphy, who is not seeking reelection.

Taylor cited “overwhelmingly, traffic and safety on the roads as the top concern.” “We are the center of the city, a big cut through and pass through. The city just hired a new traffic planner, whom I plan to meet with to discuss a plan regarding streets [in our Ward].” Taylor mentioned the traffic light and flow at Mount Vernon and Salem Streets as “not working out anymore.” “When 7-11 opened, it worked then but doesn’t work now,” she said.

Taylor said she would work to protect the environment and address climate change in Malden and work to help keep Maplewood Square vibrant.

Ward 6 challenger Jerry Leone, who finished runner-up to Winslow in the last city election in 2021, said his law enforcement background would spur him to work with the police chief and police department to help protect his Ward residents and hold informational community meetings. “Maplewood Square has to be protected and we need to attract businesses,” candidate Leone said.

He was clear on another issue: “I do not support bike and bus lanes and I don’t want new ones and would work to get rid of others.”

“If it meant returning money to Washington, D.C. [to remove bike and bus lanes], I would walk it up there myself,” Leone said.

Ward 5 Council candidate Julie Turner Willcox said that traffic safety in her Ward is a major topic and said, “we have to fix the current system.”

She said another concern is the field beside Salemwood School. “Drainage is a major problem. It has to be addressed. It is our main field for use and our kids can’t get on it. They have got to be able to use that place.”

Turner Willcox said she had been able to communicate very effectively in her travels on the campaign trail because she was accompanied by friends who spoke fluent Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. “They were very happy to be heard, and it was a good opportunity to tell me their needs as Ward 5 residents.”

The Ward 5 candidate said that military veterans she spoke with while campaigning “don’t feel respected,” and that with three elderly housing complexes in her ward, “We have to address our senior citizens and their priorities.”

An additional story on the City Council Candidates Forum will appear in next Friday’s Advocate.

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