Roslindale resident Rob Orthman is one of three candidates vying for the 10th Suffolk County District representative seat being vacated. Orthman spoke with Jamaica Plain News about stabilizing the MBTA, fighting for public education, affordable housing, and more.
All three candidates are Democrats, and would face off in a May 2 Democratic primary. The winner will advance to a May 30 special election, to face any other party's nominee or independent candidates, of which there are none so far.
Q: What neighborhood do you live in?
Orthman: Roslindale, and I was raised in West Roxbury
Q: What is your profession?
Orthman: Attorney, currently on leave from the Department of Early Education and Care where I focus in particular on providing affordable child care to lower-income families across Massachusetts. Previously, I was an aide to former District 6 Boston City Councilor John Tobin, who represented Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, and Roslindale.
Q: Why are you running for the 10th Suffolk District state rep seat?
Orthman: I feel a strong sense of urgency to tackle the big problems we face, especially in housing, public transportation, and education. I have been a community leader working on these issues for many years and will bring my track record of bold leadership to deliver results for residents across this district. We need strong, progressive leadership in the State House and I will provide that if I earn the trust of my neighbors to represent them.
Q: The 10th Suffolk District became part of Jamaica Plain due to redistricting. Jamaica Plain's socioeconomics vary neighborhood to neighborhood. How would you describe the part of Jamaica Plain that is in the 10th Suffolk District?
Orthman: The parts of Jamaica Plain in this district are predominantly Moss Hill and Pondside near the Curley School, where my son is a student. Like the other parts of this district in West Roxbury, Roslindale, and South Brookline, these areas of Jamaica Plain have families seeking affordable childcare, seniors facing rising costs, and just about everyone frustrated by the state of the MBTA. I am a leader professionally and in the community on each of these issues and can hit the ground running on day one to tackle these problems and understand them all on a very personal level.
Q: What are the three biggest issues that face the 10th Suffolk District? Please provide specific ways you will work to solve them.
Orthman: The three biggest issues I see and hear talking to residents across the district are housing, public transportation, and education. On housing, I have been a leader in Roslindale for years working to get more housing built and in particular to secure more income-restricted housing in new development. I am a board member of WalkUP Roslindale, a local group of residents and small business owners, focused on supporting transit-oriented housing and creating more sustainable and walkable communities.
On transportation, I was a lead organizer in creating the rapid bus and bike lane on Washington Street between Roslindale Square and Forest Hills to provide a quick, efficient bus ride for thousands of daily bus commuters, most of whom are individuals of color. I have advocated for years to move the four commuter rail stations in West Roxbury and Roslindale into Zone 1A to lower the ticket cost for riders and incentivize more people to use commuter rail instead of driving. A big reason I decided to run for this seat is that the MBTA is controlled by the state and I will be a state representative laser-focused on stabilizing the T and also one who rides it daily to the State House as I do now to work.
On education, I am a Boston Public Schools parent and a graduate of Boston Latin School. I am deeply committed to providing a good public education for all our children and in supporting our teachers who we have asked so much of in the last few years. This is personal to me as my sister is a public high school teacher in Massachusetts and I saw first hand how she heroically taught her students over Zoom while caring for her two small children at home at the same time. In my day job, from which I am currently on leave to run for this seat, I work at the Department of Early Education and Care to provide more affordable and available child care to families across Massachusetts, especially lower-income families. I will bring that focus and experience working on child care to the State House to tackle the extremely high cost of care in our state and to support our educators still recovering from the financial and emotional costs of the pandemic.
Q: What legislation would you propose in your first 100 days in office?
Orthman: Whoever the voters of this district choose to represent them will immediately have to tackle the state budget as a first order of business. I will fight to ensure the 10th Suffolk district receives a fair allocation of resources and funding despite having a vacancy for months while the budget process was ongoing. For legislation, I am in particular looking at strengthening the MBTA Communities Act. That is a law passed last year to require suburban communities with MBTA access to create areas zoned for transit-oriented, multi-family housing and break down systemic barriers that are the result, in part, of past exclusionary housing practices against black residents looking to live there. Some communities have resisted this law, which the Attorney General says is not an option, and I believe we need to look at further strengthening it to make sure every city and town does its fair share to tackle our housing crisis and provide opportunities for new residents to live there, especially individuals of color.
Q: What prior experiences, work, and/or volunteering will help you represent the 10th Suffolk District well?
Orthman: I am an experienced community leader on issues of housing and transportation. I know how to negotiate with developers for more affordable housing and community benefits. I know how to organize and hold the MBTA accountable to the standards our riders expect and deserve. I will bring that advocacy and community work with me to the State House. I work now in early education and child care and will be a strong advocate for families, like my own, across this district to receive the education and child care they and their children need. Prior to becoming an attorney, I was an aide to former Boston City Councilor John Tobin, who represented Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, and Roslindale. For over three years, I worked to provide responsive, quality constituent services to the residents of these neighborhoods. I know that basic quality of life issues matter as much as big picture policy. I promise that our office will be responsive and effective in helping residents navigate state bureaucracy and getting the basic things right like protecting the trees along our parkways and filling potholes and fixing our bike lanes to ensure everyone has safe roads and streets across our district.