Gov. Baker hears policing, access concerns in Mattapan visit

Gov. Charlie Baker looked on as Rep. Russell Holmes addressed a protester during Tuesday's news conference in Mattapan. Angela Rowlings/Boston Herald/Pool

Gov. Charlie Baker visited Mattapan on Tuesday to celebrate the selection of a minority-owned developer to build new housing, day care and healthy food amenities on the site of the former Boston State Hospital, but he was greeted with frustration from some community members upset with their lack of access to him and an element of his new policing reform bill.

Baker last week filed legislation to allow Massachusetts to join the vast majority of states to license police officers, and in doing so it would create a process to decertify police who violate certain codes of conduct on the job.

The bill, officials said, had been in development for months, but came together after the killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis while in police custody. While the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus worked with Baker on the bill, one woman confronted the governor during a press conference to take issue with a provision that would make officers eligible for one-time bonuses of up to $5,000 if they receive additional training in de-escalation techniques, bias-free policing or narcotics.

"Five-thousand dollars for anti-racism training? Who deserves that?" the woman shouted.

Baker said his bill was crafted to enhance training for police across Massachusetts, and make sure they could be held accountable through a decertification process if they fail to live up to the new standards for policing.

"If you want people to up their game, if you want people to perform at a higher level, if you want people to do a better job in serving the communities they represent and to be leaders with respect to the way they do that, it's not unusual to create a modest incentive for them to do that," Baker said.

The woman, who some media reported as holding a sign that read "Charlie Baker 3rd degree murderer," kept up her challenging of Baker, prompting Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, to intervene.

"Your issue, whatever it is with Charlie, isn't mine, alright? So please don't take over the press conference because of that," Holmes said.

Holmes credited Baker with filing a bill to start the conversation about police accountability on Beacon Hill, and said he's heard support for about 98 percent of it. He called decertification of police for misconduct "what's most important to me."

"I don't want to get too much into sausage making, but we've gotten a broader commitment for even more work from the House and the Senate, and I ended the press conference last week saying the same thing I'm saying now. Prove it. Prove you can get it done," Holmes said.

"The governor put something on a sheet of paper. I haven't seen anything yet on a sheet of paper from the speaker or the Senate president. I'm waiting for that," Holmes said.

The policing bill, however, wasn't the only issue community members were frustrated with Baker about. Another man in the audience who identified himself as a member of the Black Boston COVID-19 coalition told Baker that his group has been trying since April to get a meeting with him to discuss the virus's impact on communities of color.

"I have much respect for you, but right now I'm really feeling bad," the man said.

Baker apologized and said he didn't know about the request, but would be in touch.

"We'll set it up. We'll talk to you soon and I'm sorry that didn't happen," Baker said.

The governor was at the Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, the first parcel of the site to be redeveloped after the hospital closed in 1979, to announce the selection of Primary Corporation as the developer of the final 10-acre parcel.

Primary Corporation, in a venture with Accordia Partners and Toll Brothers, plans to build 367 residential housing units, including 82 for ownership and 121 affordable units, including 42 for seniors. Holmes said it was the community that insisted on homeownership opportunities being part of the development, in addition to rental, and pushed for day care options and shuttle service for seniors.

The project will include food amenities, a farming initiative with the Clark/Cooper Community Gardens and an expansion of the site's day care center. Construction is slated to begin in 2021 and be wrapped up in 2024.

"We want people who live in our neighborhood to just move across the street. We're not building a new neighborhood," Holmes said.

Baker said the redevelopment of the Boston State Hospital property goes back as far as his days as secretary of administration and finance under Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci in the 1990s.

"The site will be a truly great place to live and raise a family, with easy access to the T and open space to support a healthy lifestyle, and outdoor activities," Baker said.

Kirk Sykes, president of Primary Investments and co-managing partner of Accordia Partners, said the companies, along with Toll Brothers, are committed to making sure the community gets brought into the project with jobs and training, as well as housing and investment opportunities.

"Primary-Accordia-Toll seeks to empower this communtiy and its residents through our efforts and reach the kind of harmony and unity our name Accordia implies," Sykes said.

Holmes said that for the project to be successful he wanted to not only see residents of the community able to live there when it's complete, but to have a role in building by getting the training and jobs they need to start a career. He said it won't be enough for the developers to simply meet their 13 percent diversity hiring goals, and he believes the developers share his opinion.

"We have a neigborhood that we live in, my wife and I, my mom. We can all walk over from our different places. This is our neighborhood. We do not expect folks from our neighborhood to walk by a site and 13 percent participation and think that's successful," Holmes said.

The press conference was Baker's first public appearance this week, and he also used the opportunity to offer an update on the state's fight against COVID-19.

Baker said that over the course of several days last week 17,617 people were tested at one of the more than 50 pop-up testing sites set up to increase access to free testing for anyone who had participated in large gatherings and protests following the killing of Floyd.

The governor said 2.5 percent, or about 440 people, tested positive, which is only slightly above the statewide average.

"We're obviously pleased to see the percentage of positive tests was quite low given the size and frequency of those demonstrations," Baker said.

He credited people with wearing masks and the fact that the rallies were outside, and often moving from one starting point to another destination.