Part 1 of a 2-part series
Five candidates vying to replace former District 6 City Councilor John Tobin—representing most of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury—will face off in a special election preliminary ballot Oct. 19.
They are: Chun-Fai Chan, Kosta Demos, James Hennigan, Matt O’Malley and Sean Ryan. Another potential candidate, JP resident Jonathan McCurdy, submitted signatures to get his name on the preliminary ballot, but did not make the cut, city election officials told the Gazette.
The top two vote-getters in the preliminary election will face off in a final election Nov. 16.
A West Roxbury resident of 20 years and teacher in the Boston Public Schools for the last six years, Chun-Fai Chan, in an email statement sent to the Gazette, said he is seeking office because, “We need to have a continued democratic participatory government where a diverse range of voices is heard to ensure that all Boston residents are fairly represented. This participation is necessary to ensure that our tax dollars are transparent and well spent because we have only a finite amount of resources to meet the needs of all Boston residents.”
Those sentiments largely echoed Chan’s comments in a phone interview with the Gazette last week. “We need to have diversity,” among elected officials “to have different perspectives,” he said.
He would like to see nurses and construction workers running for office, he said.
Chan also said promoting volunteerism would be one of his main priorities if he were elected. “People are so cynical about government. Good, talented people don’t know how to engage themselves civically,” he said.
Increasing voluntary civic engagement will be increasingly important as the city continues to deal with “shrinking resources,” he said. “We need to make sure our government is working for us,” he said.
Chan said he has not been particularly engaged in community politics himself prior to deciding to run for office. “I have attended a few meetings here and there, but teaching has been my number-one priority,” he said.
If elected, Chan said he would focus on developing strategies to curb the high school drop-out rate in the city, including by proposing a plan that would allow people to donate their bottle deposits to buy books for youths. That proposal would likely require a change to state recycling rules.
He also said he would host monthly district meetings with seniors to discuss issues specific to that community.
Chan said he has a number of friends and supporters in JP, and that his idea for monthly meetings with seniors was, in part, inspired by conversations he has had with seniors here.
Longtime JP activist, Forest Hills resident and co-owner, with his wife, of 3rd Eye Photo Services, Kosta Demos told the Gazette he had “not been planning on running” for the District 6 seat. “When I looked at the field, I discovered no one is carrying forward charter reform, electoral reform and [efforts to] give the City Council more parity with the mayor,” he said.
Those three issues are interwoven. The city charter is what defines Boston’s “strong mayor” system, giving City Councilors little actually power, and electoral reform could include term limits for the mayor. Tobin was slated to head a charter reform commission during the upcoming city council session.
Demos said he decided to run when he read in the Gazette that District 6 candidate Matt O’Malley—whom Tobin has endorsed—did not know enough about Tobin’s charter reform efforts to comment on them.
“That ticked me off so much,” Demos said. “I really think it’s time to reexamine the way the government in this city works.”
On the bread-and-butter question of constituent services, Demos said, “Everyone running would be in a position to provide good constituent services,” provided they have a good staff. “It is an important part of the job, but I hope to look further than that,” he said.
Demos said that, if elected, he would not “plant” himself in the city council. He would work on reform and then let others take over, he said.
“There is the possibility of pulling together a coalition that could make a dent,” in the charter reform effort, he said. “There are some people [on the council] who I think would be open to that kind of work.”
A veteran of the Arborway Coalition’s protracted and unsuccessful effort to get the Arborway Line restored from S. Huntington Avenue at Heath Street through JP Center to the Forest Hills T Station, Demos said transportation planning would be another big issue for him.
He said he has been ”pleasantly surprised by the open-endedness of planning around the monument,” in the JP Centre South Transportation Action Plan. That tentative plan calls for the small grassy island at the intersection of Centre and South Streets, where a Civil War monument sits, to be expanded into a small park. The park would cut off vehicular access to Centre Street on the Eliot Street side, and two-way traffic would be opened on the other side.
The plan is controversial among local residents and business owners, but “traffic concerns are overblown a bit,” Demos said. The plan “reminds me of something that would happen in Toronto or somewhere Northern European.”
As city councilor, Demos said he would focus on pushing for transportation planning “for the underserved population in the south of the district.”
He said he would like to see electric buses, which run on overhead electric wires—connecting Forest Hills with West Roxbury and Roslindale.
Those buses are more efficient because they speed up and slow down faster than gas-fueled buses, Demos said. And they are more energy efficient, he said.
The MBTA is a state agency, so election to City Council would give Demos limited leverage to influence its planning processes, he acknowledged. “It would give me a podium from which to air these ideas,” he said.
Brother of former District 6 and At-Large City Councilor, and one-time mayoral candidate, Maura Hennigan, son of influential former state senator James Hennigan Jr., James Hennigan III is looking to get into the other family business.
Hennigan grew up in Jamaica Plain and now lives in West Roxbury, where he runs the family-owned James W. Hennigan Insurance Agency.
“My opponents do not have the same perspective I do” having lived all his life and run a business in the district, Hennigan told the Gazette in a phone interview last week.
“One thing I want to bring to the city council is [ideas for] programs for young people ages 12 to 17,” Hennigan told the Gazette. “Many communities have options for youth ages five to 12.” But teen years “are a crucial age when young adults need options. If they don’t have support, they can make the wrong choices.”
Hennigan has served on the board of the West Roxbury YMCA for 15 years, and currently serves as its chair. The YMCA runs a teen summer camp where youths largely develop their own curriculum, choosing volunteer opportunities, field trips and other activities, he said.
Responding to Gazette questions about the city’s recent move to pull out of seven community centers throughout the city—including at the Agassiz Elementary School and at English High School in JP—Hennigan said, “We have to have available community centers in Jamaica Plain. They are an asset to people as a drop-in place…They are a safe haven, a safe place to go.”
The city plans to find non-profit partners to take over staffing of the sites it is pulling out of. It is unclear whether sites run by non-profits will be available as drop-in centers or just open for specific programs
Hennigan said he is opposed to a full city pullout from the community centers. “The city still has to be there to run some of these programs,” he said.
As a small business owner, Hennigan said he would focus on the vitality of JP and West Roxbury’s business districts. “Some of my opponents do not know how hard it is to keep people employed during tough economic times,” Hennigan said.
“I have deep roots in JP,” he said. “I have been to every single different neighborhood. He recalled in his youth attending mass at the Blessed Sacrament Church with his grandfather. That former church campus in Hyde Square is now the site of a mixed-use affordable housing, commercial and community space development.
“From Moss Hill to Hyde Square to the Monument area, every single last one of these neighborhoods is rooted within me,” Hennigan said.
Editors Note: See the Oct. 8 issues of the Gazette for coverage of the other two candidates, Matt O’Malley and Sean Ryan.
Due to a reporting error, electric buses were previously described as “bus rapid transit” in this article. Demos does support electric buses in areas not served by subways and trolleys, but does not support bus rapid transit express buses as an alternative to subway and trolley service. The Gazette also previously called Demo’s business by the wrong name.