Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson launched his campaign for mayor in a rousing speech that faulted Mayor Martin J. Walsh for prioritizing corporate incentives and ill-fated projects that promised to deliver Boston “world-class city” status over the needs of middle-class residents being priced out of the city.
“Across the city, gentrification has become a neighborhood norm,” Jackson told dozens of supporters outside Haley House Bakery Café in Roxbury. “We seem to be judging our success by the number of million-dollar condos, skyscrapers, and publicly funded helipads that are being built, rather than the mobility of our families and the percentage of them that are managing to escape poverty. Can a brother get an amen?”
Casting himself as the progressive choice for mayor and a candidate for all the people, Jackson led the crowd in call-and-response chants of “We are Boston.”
He bemoaned public school funding cuts that resulted in changes including increased class sizes for autistic children and that prompted student walkouts and protests last year. And he contrasted the city’s inability to maintain access to an island shelter for the homeless with its willingness to provide General Electric a $276 million incentive package to relocate its headquarters to Boston.
“We gave money to GE to build a bridge for their employees while saying we didn’t have the money for the folks that were on Long Island,” Jackson said.
“We’ve lost our way,” he said. “We’re not focusing on the right things right now.”
Jackson, 41, a city councilor first elected five years ago, is so far the only high-profile challenger to announce a campaign against the sitting mayor. He faces a tall hurdle in trying dislodge Walsh, who claimed the first open mayor’s seat in a generation in 2013 with citywide support, huge backing from labor, and the support of communities of color.
Jackson said that his campaign is “not about an individual, it’s about our city,” but he was critical of the mayor’s priorities, highlighting the “distractions” that dogged the Walsh administration from its earliest days, from an averted bid for the 2024 Olympics to a failed attempt to bring an IndyCar race to the streets of South Boston.
“It is time we have a mayor that has a backbone,” Jackson said.
“The city’s most valuable asset is not an event, not a building, not a company,” he said. “Our most valuable asset is our people.”
Jackson was introduced by “the woman in my life,” his mother, Rosa, who with his father adopted him when he was born to a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted. Rosa and her husband already had three biological children. Jackson said he liked to boast to his siblings that he was the “chosen” one and that his arrival encouraged them to bring in additional foster children and adoptees.
“Right now I feel like the first days I laid eyes on him. I just knew he was the greatest,” his mother told the Globe before the event. During her remarks, she spoke of his early inclination to lead.
“He’s always been a politician and from day one to day 41 now, he is still a politician,” she told the crowd.
Jackson said the city must recommit itself to providing services before and after school and preschool seats for all children and to reverse the policy that eliminated school bus transportation for most seventh- and eighth-graders, forcing them to take the MBTA.
Last year, Jackson helped rally demonstrations against school budget cuts and was involved in behind-the-scenes efforts by two black students at Boston Latin School to highlight racial tensions within the city’s most competitive public school. One of those students, Kylie Webster-Cazeau, was among the crowd of Jackson supporters at his campaign kickoff yesterday. The allegations led to an investigation by the US Attorney’s office and the resignation of the school’s two top officials, one of whom blasted the Walsh administration for offering them only tepid support amid overheated criticism from outsiders.
Jackson’s involvement in such issues earned him praise from the backers who showed up at his kickoff event. “He’s very hands-on and approachable, and I know he’ll help the community one-on-one,” said Eric Doroski, a Northeastern University student who lives in Jackson’s district.
His odds, though, are daunting, acknowledged supporter Darryl Rookard . “It’s going to be tight,” he said. “He’s going to give Walsh a run for his money.”
Jackson has just about $65,000 on hand for a campaign, according to his most recent filing with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Walsh has about $3.5 million, according to the office.
When Walsh prevailed in the hotly contested race for mayor to replace the late Thomas M. Menino, he raised nearly $3 million for his campaign, supplemented by $2.5 million from labor-affiliated political action committees.
Jackson was elected to Boston City Council in 2011, winning a special election to represent District 7, which includes Roxbury and parts of the South End, Dorchester, and Fenway neighborhoods. He was reelected in 2013.Globe Staff Writer Meghan E. Irons contributed. Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert