All 13 Boston city councilors are up for reelection this year, and not one of them lives in any of the downtown Boston neighborhoods. The nine district councilors and four at-large councilors are elected for two-year terms.
In my opinion, we suffer from not having a "Boston Proper" resident - meaning someone who lives in the South End, Bay Village, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, North End, West End, Waterfront or Chinatown neighborhoods.
Five of the 13 city councilors live in the same, distant part of Boston. Councilors Stephen Murphy, John Connolly, and Rob Consalvo live in West Roxbury or Hyde Park, while Councilors Felix Arroyo and Mat O'Malley live in Jamaica Plain. Councilor Mark Ciommo lives in Brighton, which is as far away from downtown Boston as is Medford, Everett, or Revere. Councilor Sal LaMattina has to take a boat across the Boston Harbor to get to City Hall.
It's not the individuals involved; I have no issue with them. All are good, solid persons. It's just that, with the downtown neighborhoods being the ones that most people think of when they think of Boston - it's vital that we have representation by those who not only go to work here (at City Hall) but who live here.
A Disconnect with Urban Issues
Boston Proper district councilors presumably have more interest in what goes on in our neighborhoods, but Councilor Mike Ross seems preoccupied with keeping Northeastern from intruding on its Roxbury and Fenway neighbors. Meanwhile, Maureen Feeney, Tito Jackson, and Charles Yancey spend their time attending to the needs of their fellow Dorchesterians. (To be fair, it's not always this way; for example, District 2 Councilor Bill Linehan has always been a big supporter of South End baseball and has recently co-sponsored a hearing on that neighborhood's public/private alleyways.)
Issues of the suburban neighborhoods can be quite different from us in the city who deal with crime and gritty city issues more than they do in their bucolic areas.
For example, street sweeping, trash pickup and parking fall into that category. The noise issue in the North End can't be appreciated unless you're trying to sleep in your Salem Street apartment while yahoos from the suburbs are waiting for éclairs at Bova's.
Likewise, you can't understand what it's like to be accosted by seemingly mentally ill persons falling out of recovery unless you walk by them on a daily basis on Harrison Avenue or on the Copley Square mall. The councilors' opinions, therefore, are based on third-hand information and their decision-making processes formed by random, infrequent interactions.
I think that, by and large, the councilors want the city's urban problems to remain downtown. The Boston Housing Authority has more developments in the South End than in any other neighborhood, but how can city councilors understand the needs of these residents without coming into contact with them on a regular basis?
Councilor Murphy would probably be less willing to bully non-profits into paying "voluntary" property taxes if he lived near any of the universities or hospitals in downtown Boston and could see the immense positive impact they have on our city.
We Need to Take Responsibility, Too
While you might think the councilors would focus on Boston Proper because the downtown neighborhoods are where the serious money is made in tax revenue, both residential and commercial, sadly, the reason that councilors ignore downtown Boston is most likely because fewer residents vote here than elsewhere.
It doesn't help that the South End is split into two districts or that the North End is aligned with East Boston. The lack of cohesiveness is one of the major reasons that the downtown Boston neighborhoods don't have full representation. Perhaps the promised redistricting of Boston's districts will actually happen and we can fix this problem.
It doesn't have to remain like this. You still have an opportunity to make your voice heard. The final day to take out city councilor nomination papers is May 17 and the last day to submit voter signatures is May 24.
Districts have very nominal signature requirements; you can qualify with just 150 signatures in District 8, for example, while all the other districts require just 200. At-large candidates have to get at least 1,500 qualified signatures. (A requirement that should be lowered, by the way.)
So, go pull those papers.
John A Keith is a South End resident and real estate broker. He ran for State Representative in 2009 (but lost). You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.