Like Frank Sinatra sang, "I did it my way!” District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley is leaving the Boston City Council on his own terms.
O’Malley recently spoke with Jamaica Plain News. The following is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: Why did you decide to not seek re-election?
O’Malley: I have been so grateful for the people of the district for electing and re-electing me for the last decade. I’m excited to write the next chapter in my book to try to pursue new opportunities to continue to serve the public in any way that I can. Just not just as an elected official.
I don’t think people should stay in elected office for life. I wanted to run, and ran unsuccessfully a few times before winning. In 10 years, you can make a difference, and push policies and push investments that are important to myself and the district.
Obviously, I announced on the earlier side. I felt like I owed it to the district. I feel very good about it.
Q: What are you most proud of as your time as a city councilor?
O’Malley: I’d say sort of the political answer and list about 12 different things. In broad strokes, I’m very proud that my colleagues trust me to very aggressively pursue environmental issues. I will still be pursuing them with renewed vigor in my last year. Community Choice Energy, net zero carbon building standards, banning plastic bags, gas leak legislation, curbside composting is coming soon, water filling stations, textile recycling. I’ve been really aggressive in promoting important, impactful environmental policies. They’re not something you always read about, but they’re incredibly important. One thing [that was known] after Donald Trump was elected there’d be no leadership [on environmental issues] at the federal level, and it was really up to cities and towns to lead. I’m lucky and appreciate that my colleagues and the mayor have been so supportive of my efforts.
Constituent services. I was a legislative aide, and worked in government and know how important of a role a city councilor has on focusing on those quality of life issues. Sometimes it’s overlooked, but it’s important. I had an incredible team to serve the people of neighborhoods. We tallied it up, we’ve had about 6,300 individual constituent cases over the last 10 years. We’ve got a rule that you had to respond within 24 hours of a call or email, even if you couldn’t give an answer the constituent wanted.
Getting the Jamaica Plain Branch Library renovated is one of my proudest moments. Before 2016 there hadn’t been a major renovation of that branch, and it had sat on Sedgwick Street since around 1916. I love that library. I’m looking forward to bringing my daughter there when it’s safe to do.
Q: You wanted to be a city councilor since you were a teenager or younger, how did the reality stack up to the dream?
O’Malley: I’ve been very contemplative the last couple of days. It was a lot like what I thought it would be. Some would say I did a pretty good damn job.
I interned in college for City Councilor Peggy Mullen-Davis, I worked for [Suffolk County Sheriff] Andrea Cabral, and with Steve Pagliuca. I had seen firsthand of the demands of the job, and ways to pursue good progressive sound policies and focus like a laser on constituent issues. I was very lucky to learn how to be a good city councilor even before being elected. It is always different when your name is on the bumper sticker versus holding signs with someone else’s name on it. There was a bit of adjustment, but it was also absolutely magical. I would not change one thing in the last 10 years. There are some things I would’ve done differently in situations. The experience overall was amazing.
For the last 10 years I woke up every day excited for work. Few of us can say that, and even with divisive neighborhood issues, and there have been many. There has been lots of growing in the district the last 10 years. I’m glad I could play a role in shaping the district and the city. There have been hard moments and gleeful moments. It was the experience of a lifetime, overall. It’s been the biggest point of pride for my professional career. I’m just so thankful for the district re-electing me time and again to keep doing it.
Q: You interned for Peggy Davis-Mullen?
O’Malley: In high school and college, I tell interns I interned in college as a staff aide, and 10 years later I moved into what was her office and took over her phone number a decade later. I was a councilor myself, and a decade later I’m moving on.
I still have a year to do I’m going to be in the job for the next 13 months. I want to go out on my own terms and effect change. Leadership is knowing when to pass the baton to the next person. I was the youngest councilor when I was sworn in, I’m not the oldest now at 41, I’m smack dab in the middle of age, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.
Q: How much did being a new father come into play in your decision?
O’Malley: Certainly, a huge part. For 10 years in office, and 10 years before that, my number one focus in life and priority was my job in the district. And now very proudly it’s my family and my new daughter.
The birth of Margot has certainly changed my priorities, and not to say you can’t be a fantastic parent and be able to do demanding jobs like I will do over the next year. Also, I feel in my heart my priority is that my family is part of charting my new career. I fully expect my next job will be incredibly demanding. I wouldn’t want anything different. Also, I recognize priorities in life have changed and I have to do what is best for my career.
Q: You’re going to serve out the rest of your term, what would you like to do afterwards?
O’Malley: The beauty is, and why I announced so early was because I’ve come to this decision, it’s the right thing. I feel great about decision. I owe it to my district that’s given so much to me. I wanted constituents to know. If I’m going to start looking for other jobs, and in all earnestness for future employers and current employees [it was helpful to announce]. I’m not sure what I want to do. Obviously, I feel passion about environmental issues, and would like to stay involved in that work. I think there are some other great opportunities and I’ll keep my options open and meet with people, talk to people, and figure the future out.
Q: Would you move out of Boston?
O’Malley: No. No way. This city is ingrained in me.
Q: Would you want to run for an elected office again?
O’Malley: Again, I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point. I don’t see myself running anytime soon, but never say never. I love this city and love this state. I’m not going to close the door on that one way or another. But I’m going to transition to a non-elected official for a while.
Q: There’s already one candidate running for the District 6 seat, Kendra Hicks, who’s raised a good amount of money so far, and has garnered support. Did that come into your thought process of not seeking reelection again?
O’Malley: No. not at all.
Running for office is challenging and wonderful. I encourage everybody to do it. I’ve said this as an incumbent, being challenged is good for me and any elected official. Politically I’ve been blessed and re-elected. Every time. I look forward to seeing the race unfold. Miss Hicks is a very talented candidate and [there will be] more candidates, and I look forward to seeing it as a voter.
Q: In your email announcing you’re not seeking re-election, you spoke about the difficulties of having a child, specifically your wife miscarrying. As a society, we don’t often publicly speak about fertility. Why did you want to share such a personal part of your lives?
O’Malley: It happened. When you’re a public person and something hard happens, and maybe this is being Irish Catholic, we don’t talk about this difficult thing. We were devastated and you feel lonely because you don’t want to talk about. After opening up to friends I heard it’s common, more common than people think.
Men in particular don’t talk about this, and we really should because it can be such a devastating experience. Having people to talk to can be enormously helpful. You get a good feeling from talking and feel supported. I wasn’t unsure about saying something after Meghan Markel wrote [about having a miscarriage in The New York Times]. A number of people who talked about their own personal experiences moved me. Kathryn and I said I would put something out as well. I wanted to put myself out there who would be honored to talk to someone else who’s going through this, and gone through it, and who has questions. I know how helpful it was to me. I want to offer that to people as well. I think it’s easy for people to sometimes see elected officials or public officials [as not real people]. We’re real people, too. People may forget. I wanted to be able to offer support as a friend, and as a new dad to someone who needs someone to talk to. If nothing else, to tell couples or individuals it will work out some way. Be hopeful and optimistic that it will work out one way or another.
Q: What will you miss about the job?
O’Malley: I will miss the people. I talk to so many people on the phone or zoom now, during office hours, meeting with people. The average day is frenetic and I’m going to miss that pace and miss people’s stories. An operational view is that every day is different. You often have hearings, you often have meetings that cover the same topics, but no two work days are the same. It’s exciting, it’s fresh, it’s fun. People lament that government moves at a glacial place, but that’s not the city pace. It’s constantly moving and it’s been great to be part of.
Q: Got any ideas for people to run for District 6?
O’Malley: I would never be presumptive or announce for someone. There are some incredibly talented residents, friends and neighbors and potential candidates. I’ll let them make that announcement.
Q: Anything else?
O’Malley: I would say it’s been the greatest honor of my life for the last 10 years to serve the people and neighbors I know and love. The vote is a hiring decision. I have been hired every other year for the last decade and I’m so honored to earn respect and I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve, and I’m finishing out strongly. There is still a lot of work to do in the neighborhood.