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Opinion: Boston Proper Needs Its Own City Councilor

Boston's 13 city councilors all live outside of Boston Central, the city's downtown neighborhoods. How does this hurt us?

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 .)

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  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 john@johnakeith.com.

kenny jervis May 12, 2011 at 05:24 PM
This is one of the reasons that I am running. Although I live in South Boston now ,I had previously lived in the Fenway.Also being a chef I am in touch with the issues that Small Business owners face as far as regulations but also the quality of life issues that surround each of their establishments. But the true driving force of my campaign is the lack of input from the citizens of Boston regarding the Boston Public Schools. Between the lack of schools in populated neighborhoods to busing students away from their communities .This issue alone is the driving force behind the latest census that shows the great rate of families fleeing Boston and moving across the borders where the burden of finding the right school for their children is much easier. We need to keep kids in their neighborhoods and let those kids grow up together with pride in their community. My daily travels bring me to all parts of the City and I am disturbed by the vast inequalities that each of our neighborhoods face.We need a voice that looks after the whole city and not just their back yards. I applaud you for bringing up this issue. Kenny Jervis candidate for Boston City Council
David Ertischek May 12, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Hello Kenny, Thank you for commenting. Are you running at-large or for a district seat? David
kenny jervis May 12, 2011 at 10:35 PM
I am running at large.
jack barry August 06, 2011 at 03:13 PM
San Francisco is the same size and population. We have 11 District Supervisors, all elected to two year terms. Six expire one year, and the other 7 the other year.. The pitfalls of this system seem to be less than those of Boston.

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