Matt O’Malley Energized About Next Opportunity, Reflects on City Council

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After 11 years, Boston City Council President Pro Tempore and District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley is moving on from City Hall and is very excited about what the future brings.

O'Malley spoke to Jamaica Plain News about his proudest accomplishments, unsung constituent services, and what's next for him.

This is an edited version of the conversation.

Q: Tell us about your new job and what does it entail?

O'Malley: I was named the Chief Sustainability Officer of Vicinity. It’s a district energy system primarily using steam and we’re in Boston, Cambridge and 12 other states. I’m heading up our decarbonization efforts, and to make Kendall Square all electric. With renewable energy sources, it’s a really, really exciting time to work in the renewable energy world. Also, [I'm excited] to be part of a passion of mine, the decarbonization of our buildings, and making Boston one of the most energy efficient and resilient cities in the world. 

District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley after the passage of BERDO 2.0. (Photo from Matt O'Malley's office)

Q: Why did you want this job?

O'Malley: This really builds nicely on what I've done in the environmental space. I’m excited to be on the other side of the equation, with first passing BERDO with the late Mayor Thomas Menino, and this fall with passing BERDO 2.0, which creates aggressive building standards for us to hit as a society. I can work on it through this opportunity in the private sector. City halls, hospitals, and more are Vicinity’s customers. Vicinity has an impact on the government space, healthcare space, and it’s a challenge that I’m up for and excited about.

I've been enormously lucky and truly looked forward to work every day. And will look forward to this work, too. 

Q: You were involved with so many things in the community through the years. Are there particular things and organizations you will continue to work with?

O'Malley: Certainly. District 6 is where my wife and I are raising our daughter and grew up, and are involved with civic associations and neighborhood groups. In my new position I will continue to partner heavily with environmental groups like Mothers Out Front. I’ve already met with some leaders of it. Also, the Boston Clean Energy Coalition and local environmental groups. I've been very lucky to be able to support a whole host of youth sports leagues in West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, JP Open Studios, JP Porchfest, and The Footlight Club. I’m going to continue to support those great organizations.

District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley and staff perform. (Photo credit Chis Lovett)

Q: Looking back at your 10 years as a councilor, what are your proudest moments?

O'Malley: In terms of legislative priorities, BERDO 2.0 is the most impactful and what I’m most proud of. There are a whole host of leading environmental initiatives. When I was a freshman councilor, and came in through John Tobin’s term, committee assignments were doled out in seniority, I was chosen to chair the Environmental Committee. But the joke was on my fellow councilors, and I chaired the committee for last 11 years. I am proud to have passed the plastic bag ordinance, Community Choice Electricity and worked with Mayor [Michelle] Wu on others such as the the Wetlands Ordinance, net zero carbon construction standards, the gas leaks bill. We’ve really been able to push aggressive environmental policies, and help to lead Boston as a national leader. With Mayor Wu, we will certainly strengthen that reputation and push environmental policies beyond what we’ve done. 

From a capital perspective, the JP Branch Library renovation is something I worked hard to create, Millennium Park Phase 2, which we got $20 million for and will be renamed after Mayor Thomas Menino. The Jamaica Pond renovation got completed just before the pandemic, and we’ve been fortunate to take advantage of it during the pandemic. The Egleston Square Roxbury firehouse had an unveiling a few months ago, and I pushed for it for a number of years. It’s really gratifying to play a role in delivering these great projects to the district.

Q: How do you think Jamaica Plain is today versus 11 years ago when you started?

O'Malley: Jamaica Plain is a wonderful place to live work and raise a family. It’s an inclusive neighborhood, and I’d say that about West Roxbury, as well, which is part of District 6. Jamaica Plain is a cohesive neighborhood where residents look out for each other. 

We’ve seen changes. The city’s population has grown exponentially, and property values have increased dramatically making it harder for people to stay. I’ve pushed for better policies for housing, and the JP/Rox Plan, which is controversial but something i’m proud of. New development that is being built is using affordability metrics, which all cities are dealing with gentrification and displacement, and we have to do to make sure people can stay in the neighborhood.

Q: What are some under the radar things that you are proud of?

O'Malley: Constituent services. I spent a number of year as a staff member and intern for city councilors. So much of my day was spent on quality of life issues. You will not see it on the news or read about it in the newspaper. But they're just as important. 

On Nira Avenue near Hyde Square is an urban wild, and there’s the great Nira Rock. Families and kids are always playing there, and there was a telephone pole right in middle of it, which made it difficult to access this open space. It took some time, and some, let's say persuasive arguing from my point of view, and we got a telephone pole moved. It’s not something you read about, but it showed what local elected officials can do to help navigate bureaucracy of city hall, or dealing with Boston Public Schools, or provide small businesses support. 

We took a renewed focus during the pandemic. We organized a check-in program for senior citizens during the pandemic. We have more than 100 volunteers, and we have made north of 20,000 phone calls to check in with seniors. We did another push for gift cards for supermarkets to get people access to food during the pandemic. I say that to note what an honor it is to play a role in coordinating that neighbor-to-neighbor support. That’s something again, I feel lucky to play in this position.

We saved the JP post office. There was some real, real pressure to move the post office off Centre Street. Rep. [Liz] Malia, [former State Rep. Jeffrey] Sanchez and I worked tirelessly with Congressmen [Stephen] Lynch and [Mike] Capuano, who both represented portions of JP at the time. We got it saved and kept it there. There are a million stories like those potential crises, where we got in early and fixed it ahead in time and then it never made it a problem. 

Q: What happens to your current work with the city, particularly BERDO, after you leave?

O'Malley: Now I'm coming from the other vantage point working for renewable energy. With BERDO 2.0 we created an impact advisory committee that will consist of industry experts and community organizations and city officials. They’re going to oversee implementation of it. I’ve had many conversations with Mayor Wu, who is an indefatigable partner on environmental issues through the years. She gets it, and is making Boston a New Green Deal city. I have no worries that she's not going to build on our work together and take it to the next level. From an environmental perspective, Boston is in very good hands.

Q: Would you ever run for office again?

O'Malley: Never say never. But I am very excited for the next chapter. I have a beautiful baby girl and have a better work life balance.

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