At-Large Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty is seeking reelection on Tuesday, November 3rd. Flaherty was first elected to the council in 1999, ran for mayor in 2009, and was reelected as an at-large city councilor in 2013. Flaherty spoke with Jamaica Plain News about his candidacy.
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. Read a Q&A with Stephen Murphy here. Read a Q&A with Michelle Wu here.
Q: Why are you seeking reelection as an At-Large Boston City Councilor?
A: I love helping people. I know this city and its neighborhoods. I'm an experienced member of the city council who wants to get things done for the residents and taxpayers of the city. I’m also passionate about improving the quality of education for Boston Public School kids, making our streets safer and cleaner and continuing to fight to have Boston remain affordable for residents across the city.
Q: What have you accomplished in the last two years?
A: As chairman of the Government Operations Committee I have presided over a number of hearings that have lasting impacts for Boston. The Trust Act, which was sponsored by one of my colleagues (Josh Zakim). Through my chairmanship it’s not just been hearings, because the Government Operations Committee oversees all special laws, home rule petitions and ordinances, all of which have to go through a vetting process, along with looking at the legality [of the laws, ordinances, etc. going through the committee], and working with corporation counsel. I’ve also helped shepherd the Paid Parental Leave policy [sponsored by Michelle Wu].
I’ve been appointed as the chair of the Residency Policy Commission, which examines the various residency policies of City of Boston employees, and we intend to make recommendations to the mayor next month.
I recently held a hearing to discuss the current state of linkage fees and possible adjustment of the linkage formula. I heard from advocates that testified to the many jobs, job training programs, and affordable housing that has resulted from the revenue of linkage fees in the Neighborhood Housing and Jobs Trusts. Boston is becoming a city of the very rich and the poor. True linkage is impacted by large-scale commercial developments, which set aside funding for affordable housing. I’m looking to increase the linkage formula to generate tens of millions for affordable housing and job training. I have long supported the notion that linkage fees contribute great things to our community, and this issue is important to me as it was one of the the first issues I looked at when I first joined the Council in 2000.
I've also proposed residency preference for BFD [Boston Fire Department] and BPD [Boston Police Department] tests. Right now when you take the civil service exam it’s only a one-year residency rule. There are people who grew up in suburbs are coming into Boston and taking the test, then deciding whether to move into Boston. That hurts city kids who dream of being police officers and firefighters. We’re also getting ones who don’t know Boston or our neighborhoods. I want to expand the residency up to three years.
Q: What would you like to accomplish in the next two years?
A: I’m pushing for a year 13 for Boston Public School students who are serious about going to college. We boast about having the best universities and colleges in Boston… Most kids from our neighborhoods don’t get to go to those schools because they’re not prepared and can’t compete. It would be a rigorous college and SAT prep year... We’d also be working with colleges through a pilot program to help. It’s no longer good enough that we get kids through high school. We are in a global economy and in order for us to compete in a global economy our kids are going to have to compete at the highest level of academics. You have the top of the class, the valedictorians, and those kids are going to do well. The majority of students attending BPS, not only do they not get in [to area colleges], but those who do get in struggle to stay in. When I went to school we called it PG -- post grad. Kids would go to a year of prep school, more often used for sports, but folks use it academically, too, to get stronger academically. We’re graduating more kids from high school, but that’s not good enough. We have the biotech, pharmaceutical, financial services industries all coming to Boston. Look at the Boston waterfront -- it’s not just good enough that we get them construction jobs. We want jobs in those offices. We need to better educate in BPS, and get our kids very serious about going to college… I hope that colleges and universities will partner with us and pay for this and provide scholarships to city kids serious about furthering their academics…
I want good quality schools throughout our neighborhoods. It could be good charter, it could be good parochial, and if that means lifting the cap, so be it. I recognize that college isn’t for everyone, I want to have a state-of-the-art trade school, training mechanics, technicians, tradesmen and women, chefs and beauticians, so that we will have trade schools we can boast about.
Q: What are the major issues that Bostonians speak with you about?
A: They talk about crime and violence, particularly senseless shootings. They also talk about how expensive it has become in Boston. And many families are struggling and Boston seems to be going the way of Manhattan -- a city of the very rich and the very poor. We need to do a better job of protecting fixed-income residents like seniors, but also protect working families. They are really feeling this building crunch. It’s no longer a best kept secret that Boston is a desirable place to live and start your business and a desirable place to go to school, to get medical treatment, and with that the reality, people are being priced out. That's a big challenge for us to keep Boston affordable.
We need more treatment for loved ones. We have an opioid crisis and a heroin epidemic, which impacts every neighborhood in Boston and in JP. We need treatment on demand, so when you have a loved one ready for recovery that we are ready for them. You get one shot for recovery and if we squander that opportunity and don’t have a bed for those struggling from alcohol and drugs many instances they end up at the local funeral home. We can do better at treatment and recovery, and it’s my hope we have treatment on demand.
Q: What about in Jamaica Plain?
A: The issues as a citywide councilor are the bigger broader issues that cut across the board. JP is a cut-through neighborhood meaning vehicular traffic is cutting through to get downtown or surrounding communities. There are transportation issues; cyclist and vehicle traffic percolate to the top. There are also development issues -- that development takes into consideration community input and that it can also disrupt one’s quality of life. That’s why participating civically is important, but also to let local officials and the BRA (Boston Redevelopment Authority) know what you want in your neighborhood.
I supported the Community Preservation Act that did not pass in Boston. It was narrowly defeated in Boston, had it passed, it would’ve put tens of millions of dollars into creating affordable housing, as well as protection of open space and historic preservation.
I was the very first citywide elected official to support marriage equality long before the Goodrich decision when people were grappling with domestic partnerships. As a citywide city councilor I’m not afraid to exercise leadership on important social and economic issues.
Q: You filed legislation regarding marijuana dispensaries, be it medical or eventual recreational facilities, to not be within a 2,500-ft radius of each other. Why did you file this legislation?
A: Clearly, from someone who supports medicinal marijuana I recognize that recreational marijuana is just around the corner, I want to make sure our local business districts, that currently offer diverse services, are not overrun by pot shops and cannabis cafes similar to what we’ve seen in communities in Colorado… I want to make sure the Centre Streets of the world remain vibrant. The text amendment says recreational facilities could not be within 2,500 feet of a medicinal or 2,500 feet of each other. That would protect our local business districts from being overrun. The local business private districts are our heart and lifeline of our neighborhoods and also our largest economic generator. They employ local people. It would be a travesty if JP Licks, the Real Deal or Salamangundi were converted to pot shops.
Q: The Boston City Council recently voted on giving itself a 14% raise. And even if the council had not voted, it would’ve become law due to the city charter. But you pushed for a public vote by the council -- why?
A: As chairman of the Government Operations Committee I thought the citizens of Boston deserved no less. I was cognizant there were differences of opinions, but felt that no one would dispute that it’s a matter that should pass or fail by automatic pass by an obscure section of the city charter. City councilors are elected to make tough decisions and I felt that councilors should be on the record where we stand on this issue and that councilors be afforded the possibility make their case on the floor of the council chambers.
Q: A recent article by The Boston Globe highlighted numerous city councilors and included that you work for a law office while at the council. While it is common for Boston City Councilors to work at law offices or other part-time jobs, why do you think reading about your work as an attorney has drawn the ire of some Bostonians?
A: I don’t think it’s drawn the ire. We’re in an election cycle and everyone’s life is an open book. It’s not a new phenomenon. I’ve been on the city council and served with eight active attorneys. Why is this an issue this race? It’s a contested race. My primary responsibility and focus is the city council and the people’s business and I’ve been able to successfully balance my council responsibilities and my family obligations –- that comes first. It hasn’t impacted my work. I have no ethical conflicts. If there were I’d be reading about them. It’s a question that’s been asked and answered throughout my career. I’ve never missed a formal session. As chair of the Government Operations Committee, that helps having an attorney. Doing research, working with the law department, and as a seasoned city councilor it comes in handy to do that research and look around and look at the legality and compare state and federal laws.
Q: Anything else?
A: It’s an honor and privilege to serve JP and all Boston neighborhoods as an at-large city councilor. I work extremely hard and would like to go back and serve JP and all neighborhoods. I’ve proven that I’m not afraid to stand up for what’s right or to speak truth to power and continue to be a strong independent voice on the city council.