Opinion: Consider Science at the Polling Booth When Voting for City Council and Mayor

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Voting for the president is often the first thing that comes to mind when most of us think of taking political action. While it’s true that voting for the highest office is important, the changes that most affect our day-to-day lives are happening here in Boston.

The primary elections for the Boston City Council and mayor are September 14. Boston City Councilors represent and support us as the connector between the people and city hall for issues and services directly related to Boston. Our local elected officials are the ones who dictate the local laws, policies, and budgets that affect us the most.

Our project, the Boston Candidate Science Survey, is a non-partisan effort to inform voters about the positions and plans of Boston mayoral and city council candidates on a wide range of science-related issues, including climate change, STEM education, healthcare, and the role of science in their approach to policy.

The voters of District 6, which includes JP, are fortunate in that all candidates on the ballot (Winnie Eke, Kendra Hicks, and Mary Tamer) running for election responded to our survey. The high response rate from District 6 candidates indicates that each candidate believes in the value of science when making policy decisions. Within their responses to each of the questions, they have each either stated their position on the issue, outlined a plan for what they plan to do as a city councilor, or both. 

Each candidate was asked the same questions, and this is just one of the questions and their abbreviated answers (click on their names for their full responses to all questions):

Misinformation has been cited as one of the reasons for vaccine hesitancy against the COVID-19 virus. How do you propose the City improve messaging in order to promote science-based actions and combat misinformation, not just for COVID-19, but also broadly?

Winnie Eke

Eke: The city should reach out to communities in the city. Every group is peculiar in its own way and should be treated as such. In essence, the city should work on reaching people in their own enclave with specific message, answering their questions and clarifying their misinformation.

 

Kendra Hicks (Photo from twitter.com/hicks4district6)

Hicks: I think misinformation is one of the many reasons for vaccine hesitancy. Still, we can’t negate the decades of medical racism experienced by Black and brown communities and the many ways that these structural and interpersonal experiences have eroded trust in the healthcare system. One of the many lessons I learn while leading the Boston Public Health Commissions REACH [Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health] Coalition is that we need to make space to talk about these experiences, so that community members feel heard. We can use those stories as a catalyst for healing the effects of medical trauma and then partner with community-based organizations to conduct extensive and well-managed community engagement campaigns. Local governments can ensure that our actions are open to public scrutiny and engage with residents by releasing timely information on vaccination strategies in user-friendly formats. We should commit to using transparent and coherent communication that addresses misinformation and engage residents in developing vaccination strategies that work for them and their communities.

Mary Tamer

Tamer: I pledge to take concrete steps to ensure that we are doing everything possible to ensure that accurate messaging is being delivered about COVID-19 and the importance of vaccinations, especially in the parts of the city with the lowest vaccination rates. I will fully support funding for mobile vaccination and testing clinics as well as funding for a public education effort that reflects Boston’s linguistic diversity, deployment of healthcare providers to smaller venues and community settings where providers are able to offer more intensive, one-on-one support to help get individuals vaccinated, and to working with trusted community and faith leaders to build support for higher vaccination levels.

 

All of the questions we have asked the candidates were open-ended questions, and we would highly encourage everyone to take a look at candidates from District 6, the at-large city council candidates, and the mayoral responses as part of your research process of choosing who you want to elect to represent you in the city council and as mayor.

To pinpoint and solve specific problems in our backyard, local problem-solving is necessary. There are many approaches that can create a better city for us. Communities should take whatever approach is best for them, but that starts with political participation.

The federal government may focus on important issues affecting the entire nation, but local officials address specific concerns in our communities. It’s local elections that give voters the greatest opportunity to have their voices heard. And your voice can translate into immediate changes for our community. Even when the federal government creates policies, it relies on state and local governments to implement and enforce many of those policies. Local elections are where we see firsthand the effects of actually participating in elections. We see actual physical changes in our communities. 

We have both moved here in order to attend graduate school in Boston. Although we have different family situations, we both realize the importance of living in a place where the local representatives will utilize and implement research into policies that will govern how our families and neighbors survive and thrive in this city. We believe our representatives should continuously advocate for the health, wealth and wellbeing of all Bostonians by using science as a tool to create good public policy that benefits all.

It goes without saying that local government is important in assuring the community’s public health, a fact that if it weren’t clear already has been brought into stark relief in the past year and a half. Another critical issue that must be addressed by the local government is the climate crisis. Scientific inquiry and development are essential to address the challenges associated with both of these issues, but it is crucial to go beyond the research and focus on implementing those same findings into local public policy. Our elected policymakers must understand the value of seeking out and accounting for scientific knowledge to make sound policy decisions not only regarding climate change, but in other areas of public health and safety, and their constituents (that is, all of us) must know where they stand on these and other important issues.

Local elections have vital consequences on our everyday life. While local politics may seem less glamorous than federal politics, the city government has the power to affect change for us right here in Boston. We do live in the US, but foremost we live in Boston, and the issues we face together here can only be addressed with local politics. In fact, problems currently facing Bostonians specifically, like street trees and green spaces are being assessed, and solutions are being researched to arrive at the right one for our community. Yet all of this data (and effort into conceiving of solutions) only matters if the results of the work can be translated into practical actions. We need to vote for policymakers who will take science into account when creating public policy that affects us all as they have an important role in making Boston more livable for its residents.

Leticia Lee and Rayven-Nikkita Collins are graduate students at Boston University

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