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Boston mayoral hopefuls spar on diversity

Sparring in front of a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds in Dorchester, all 12 mayoral hopefuls directly took on the city’s minority issues Tuesday night, passionately debating public safety, education, and diversity.

The night’s forum was the latest in a series of recent gatherings that, on a near-daily basis, have ratcheted up the intensity of the campaign as the Sept. 24 preliminary vote draws near.

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For those eager for the mayoral race to heat up, the wait is over.

In the night’s best-received address, candidate John Barros railed against city leaders spending more time and resources to address violent crime in white communities and with white victims than crime committed against racial minorities.

Barros, a former Boston School Committee member, recalled the amount of city, state, and federal law enforcement attention given when 24-year-old Amy Lord, a white woman, was killed in South Boston earlier this year.

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“The Amy Lord killing was tragic,” Barros said, prompting applause. “But when people die in my neighborhood [Roxbury], we don’t get that kind of response.”

As they have in the past, all the candidates called for diversification of the Police Department’s upper ranks.

Charlotte Golar Richie, former state representative and the only woman in the race, stressed that the Boston police need to improve racial and gender diversity.

“Women make up half of the population of this city, and in the Boston police we don’t have one woman superintendent,” Golar Richie said, prompting gasps from the crowd.

A handful of the candidates — Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley and Councilors Felix G. Arroyo and Mike Ross — challenged voters to focus not on their vows of diversity, but to look at their history of hiring diverse staffs.

Conley said his district attorney’s office is one of the most diverse in the state, while Ross and Arroyo noted similar efforts with their City Hall staffs. “I have 19 full-time staff members who get health benefits between my office and my campaign staff,” Arroyo said. “Sixteen are people of color; 12 are women. That’s the kind of mayor I will be.”

The forum, at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, was hosted by the Boston NAACP, the Commonwealth Compact, the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, and the Coalition for Community Groups. The candidates agreed that a key to addressing the income and job disparities between Boston’s minority and white communities is facilitating socioeconomic mobility.

Charles Clemons, a former Boston police officer and founder of TOUCH 106.1 FM, said developers and construction companies working in the city must be fined if they do not hire Boston residents. Several candidates said there is a need to devote more city resources to economic development in minority communities.

Others stressed that innovation and technology jobs must be based in minority communities, as well as in places like Kenmore Square. “We should never restrict innovation to a district,” said Councilor John Connolly. “It should flow throughout the city.”

The fast-paced forum got heated at times, with Councilor Charles Yancey at one point accusing fellow Councilors Ross and Robert Consalvo of being “Johnny-come-latelys” on the topic of police diversity.

Both defended their records of prioritizing and calling for diversity in hiring, with Ross noting that he was one of the first candidates in the race to speak out about the need for a more diverse police force and with Consalvo pointing out the diversity of his campaign staff.

When the debate turned to education, the candidates each stressed that the teachers and principals in the Boston public schools need to more closely reflect the diversity of the district’s students.

David James Wyatt, the race’s sole Republican, expressed discomfort with the idea of racial quotas for teachers, but the other candidates decried the racial makeup, which is largely white, of the district’s teachers.

Yancey vowed a return to an elected School Committee, Consalvo stressed working with community colleges, and Conley recycled a well-received campaign line, saying that the next mayor must be a transformative figure on education and address the achievement gap between students of color and white students.

Others, including Ross and Bill Walczak, founder of the Codman Square Health Center, stressed that curriculum options must reflect the jobs available in today’s workforce.

“We need to make sure that all children are actually being lined up for a career, not just a diploma,” Walczak said.

Wesley Lowery can be reached at Wesley.Lowery@globe.com.
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