Q&A: Stephen Murphy – Helping Seniors Stay in Homes, Wants Privately-Developed Solar-Powered Transit and More

At-Large Boston City Councilor Stephen Murphy is seeking reelection on Tuesday, November 3rd. Murphy, who was first elected to the council in 1997, answered questions from Jamaica Plain News via email. 

All four incumbents are seeking reelection with only one challenger, Annissa Essaibi-George — read a Q&A with her here; Read a Q&A with Ayanna Pressley here

Q: Why should you be reelected as an At-Large Boston City Councilor?

A: I have always believed in advocating for the fairness of others. Our residents — my constituents — need support when it comes to issues affecting their neighborhoods, and ultimately their city. That’s why I am running for this office — to give those people that support whenever they need it. I care most about making sure their phone calls are answered, and their needs are addressed day in and day out.

I believe there is something to be said for going in to work every day and giving your job the absolute best. Making a difference in someone’s life keeps me motivated and is the staple of my work as a Boston city councilor. There are always challenges that need to be met and I look to make a positive difference whenever and wherever I can.

Stephen Murphy

Stephen Murphy

Here are some examples of my work on the Boston City Council:

Crosswalk signals: After a trip to Washington, DC, where I first saw countdown crosswalks I drafted an order bringing countdown crosswalks into the city to ensure greater public safety for residents, especially children and the elderly.

Living wage ordinance: In 1999, I devised a way to assemble a living wage ordinance — the first in Massachusetts — that called for any municipal job in the city to pay a livable wage of $11.79 an hour. This translates into $15.31 an hour by today’s standards.

Public libraries: I worked to repurpose Convention Center bonds to save $18 million on interest that went towards prevention of the closure of four public libraries throughout the City of Boston (Brighton, Oak Square, East Boston, and Lower Mills).

CORI reform: I co-authored a city council resolution to reform CORI in four specific ways, which went on to serve as a precedent for then Gov. Deval Patrick, who filed his own CORI reform bill. Patrick’s bill passed the legislature in 2010. It all started at my desk on the Boston City Council.

Concussions: Working with Chris Nowinsky of the Sports Legacy Institute, I filed an ordinance that decrees Boston school kids playing on Boston fields, parks and community centers now have to get medical clearance to return to the game if they’ve received any kind of head trauma. Additionally, all coaches, teachers and trainers need to take a course to better identify someone who suffered brain trauma.

Q: What have been your accomplishments in the previous two years?

A: My Diesel Emission Reduction Ordinance (DERO) was passed as a means to lower the abnormally high asthma rate (300% compared to the national average) for inner city kids in Suffolk County. This resolution calls for putting new technology in every diesel truck Boston owns and contracts with. Now, anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 vehicles a year have clean air emissions.

I also re-filed legislation designed to give Boston police concurrent jurisdiction so both state and city police have police powers throughout the Massport-owned properties in the Seaport District. In my mind the Boston Police Department is the preeminent community policing agency in the country and should have jurisdiction in the Seaport area if crimes and other causes for response take place in this new neighborhood of our city.

Q: If reelected, what would you like to accomplish in the next two years?

A: I am currently seeking alternative transportation modes at a time when the MBTA remains in flux and large number of cars fill the city’s streets and neighborhoods. This includes the idea of a privately-funded and privately-developed solar-powered rapid transit, which we are aiming to introduce in a PILOT program. It would be cleaner and would reduce our carbon footprint while moving people around in a more efficient way.

Specific to downtown neighborhoods in a blossoming real estate market, like Jamaica Plain, I am seeking ways to allow long-time residents over the age of 55 to stay in their homes without having to pay unusually high tax increases as a result of increased valuations.

Specific to downtown neighborhoods in a blossoming real estate market, like Jamaica Plain, I am seeking ways to allow long-time residents over the age of 55 to stay in their homes without having to pay unusually high tax increases as a result of increased valuations. I have filed a home rule petition to provide relief for these homeowners. I’m trying to make a difference for the people that are suffering because of Boston’s economic success.

Q: When speaking with residents, what are the major issues they discuss with you?

A: Although we have different and unique neighborhoods in Boston there are common issues that I hear from residents across our city. Lack of affordable housing is a problem we must address and I am a strong proponent of building more affordable transit oriented housing, Just Cause Eviction, No more than 4 and the Community Preservation Act. Lack of parking and traffic often go hand in hand and that leads to discussions on density and the need for better planning. In any issue confronting a neighborhood I always look to the residents in each neighborhood to see what the needs are and how can I help by working together our work becomes a shared goal for what is best for their neighborhood.

Q: What about in Jamaica Plain?

A: In many ways, Jamaica Plain faces similar issues. Jamaica Plain has faced the reconfiguration of traffic and long traffic delays in and around what was the Casey Overpass. Housing is very expensive in Jamaica Plain and people are being priced out of their neighborhood confirming the need for more affordable housing options.

Stephen Murphy

Stephen Murphy

Q: You’re a former city council president. What do you think is the role of the city council president and what do you look for in a city council president?

A: As council president, I promoted the Boston City Council as a separate independent body responsible and responsive to taxpayers while at the same time, working closely with then Mayor Menino on council initiatives.

The Council President is a leadership role. The council president oversees the legislative branch of city government and is the chief administrative of the 80+ staff, oversees a $6-million budget, and has oversight of the city clerk’s office. The council president creates committees, appoints chairpersons, steers the legislative agenda all while working cooperatively along side all members of the council and the mayor.

It was a tremendous honor to be the council president for three years and I am proud of the work we did together as a body during that time.

Q: One issue that you have worked hard on for years is the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program. In Boston we have more than 50% of properties owned by non- profits — colleges, religious institutions and more. Are they paying their fare share or contributing enough to Boston?

A: As of the last look, FY2015, no, they are not paying their fair share. Although these institutions are contributing more than before, they have yet to contribute fully to the 5-year schedule of increases they agreed to as part of PILOT reform. We are currently in year four and they should be contributing $42 million but they are falling short and have only contributed $30 million. All of this is far cry from the $11 million in contributions we received prior PILOT reform but they are not living up to their end of the deal. I will continue to keep the pressure on them to meet their obligations.

Q: You have publicly stated you would like the Boston City Council to receive a raise. Would you like a public vote on it? What about tying City Council salaries to the Boston Median Income?

A: Since the last time the Boston City Council received a pay increase, rank and file City of Boston employees have received pay increases averaging 28%. Each collective bargaining unit has received three separate contracts in the past 10 years. For example, a starting salary for a teacher has gone up from $47,000 to $88,000 in the past ten years.

I support Mayor Walsh’s compromise which would raise a councilor’s salary by $12,000 which is a 14% raise over the past 10 years. I also strongly feel there should be a new mechanism to replace current charter provisions pertaining to council pay increases.

Q: Anything else?

A: Our great city continues to thrive yet there is still work to accomplish. As your city councilor, my primary mission is to ensure the well-being of our residents while aiding in the continued growth of Boston. I would be honored to be considered for one of your four votes on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd. Thank you!