Five running for City Council seat

September 24, 2010
By

David Taber

Part 2 of a 2-part series

Civic-minded Jamaica Plain residents will have well-toned voting arms by the end of the season. Not only is the statewide general election coming up Nov. 2, but there will be two rounds of voting this fall in a city special election to replace former District 6 City Councilor John Tobin.

Five candidates vying for the seat—which covers most of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury—will face off in a special preliminary election Oct. 19.

They are: Chun-Fai Chan, Kosta Demos, James Hennigan, Matt O’Malley and Sean Ryan.

The top two vote-getters in the preliminary election will face off in a final election Nov. 16. That election is separate from the statewide Nov. 2 ballot that will elect state and federal officials.

The local political group Jamaica Plain Progressives plans to host a District 6 City Council candidates forum Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. at the Nate Smith House at 155 Lamartine St. [See JP Agenda.]

Matt O’Malley
JP resident Matt O’Malley’s campaign got off to a strong official start Sept. 10 when his kick-off event in West Roxbury attracted over 750 people.

Speaking to the Gazette following the event, Tobin, who resigned from City Council in July, said he “was lucky to get 10 percent of that” at his campaign kick-offs. Tobin, along with O’Malley’s former boss, Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, a JP resident and local state Rep. Liz Malia, are among those who have endorsed O’Malley.

“This is my dream, to serve this community I know so well,” O’Malley, who grew up in West Roxbury and now owns a house in JP, told the Gazette in a phone interview.

O’Malley’s political career began when he was in high school and worked as a legislative aide for former Boston City Councilor Peggy Davis-Mullen. He has mounted two unsuccessful runs for an at-large city council seat, in 2003—at the age of 23—and in 2005. He managed Cabral’s first campaign for Suffolk County Sheriff in 2004, and is widely credited for her landslide victory. He also worked for a time as political director in Cabral’s office and for Mass. Equality, an advocacy organization devoted to preserving and expanding same-sex marriage rights.

O’Malley said education public safety, economic development and constituent services will be his main focuses.

“We need to be doing more to make sure we have excellent public education options for every student…We need more cops walking and biking the beat, and resources for community policing…Local business development is the engine of economic development. As a City Councilor I am going to embrace the [district’s] Main Streets programs and encourage the fostering of small, locally-owned businesses,” he said.

On constituent services, O’Malley said he would “fight for the best, top notch quality-of-life [improvements] in every part of the district.”

Presumed by many to be the frontrunner, O’Malley is also the only candidate so far to come under direct fire. One of his rivals, Kosta Demos, previously told the Gazette that what prompted him to get into the race was O’Malley’s comment in the Gazette saying he did not know enough about city charter to comment on it. Tobin was slated to head a City Council charter reform commission this year.

The city charter essentially defines the structure of city government. Among other things, the charter is what defines Boston’s “strong mayor” system, giving City Councilors little actual power. Tobin was slated to head a charter reform commission during the upcoming city council session.

“I certainly understand charter reform and, certainly, charter reform is important,” O’Malley said in the recent Gazette interview. “I am excited to work on it.”

He said he would like to see the City Council more empowered, and said there are other major structural changes he is interested in exploring, including changing the Boston School Committee to a “hybrid system that is half appointed and half elected.” School Committee members are currently appointed by the mayor, but the hybrid system could help ensure that its membership reflected diverse opinions and expertise in the field of public education, he said.

He also said he is interested in the city council playing “a more active role in the permitting process and development,” and that he would like to see the two functions that the Boston Redevelopment Authority performs—planning and development—split up.

Sean Ryan
Born and raised in JP, Sean Ryan, like O’Malley, mounted an unsuccessful campaign to claim one of city council’s four at-large seats in 2009.

During last year’s campaign, he described himself as a libertarian. This time around he describes himself as an “independent Democrat” in his campaign literature, and is focusing on the bread-and-butter issues of “schools, services and safety,” he told the Gazette in a phone interview. Some of his views still reflect standard libertarian thought.

“I want to be a city councilor because I feel I am uniquely qualified to speak openly and honestly about schools,” said Ryan. He is a music teacher in Boston Public Schools, and member of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), who is on leave from a position teaching music at his alma mater, Boston Latin School.

As a former BPS student and a current BTU member, Ryan said he could play a key role in currently active BTU contract negotiations.

There are serious tensions, Ryan said, between city taxpayers and unionized city employees—exemplified, he said, by the contentious passage by City Council this summer of an arbitrated contract for the Boston Firefighters Union that included a 17 percent pay raise.

“People are frustrated. What we are seeing now are tensions between people who are neighbors,” he said.

If elected, Ryan said he would advocate for new smaller school-zones and significant reforms to the lottery system currently used for student assignment. Those reforms could save the school system by reducing its close to $80 million annual allocation for transporting students, Ryan said. Boston Public Schools administrators plan to unveil new student assignment proposals in the fall.

As far as city services are concerned, Ryan said that, after a few years of city budget austerity that shows no sign of abating, the goal should be figuring out how to “do more with less…[by cutting]…services people aren’t going to particularly miss.” The one example he gave is that he would he would favor full funding for libraries over the school transportation budget.

On public safety, Ryan emphasized that he believes enforcement of laws regarding non-violent drug crimes should be deemphasized in favor of community policing. “We have to admit to ourselves as a society that government cannot correct peoples’ faults,” he said.

Locally, Ryan said he is concerned about vacancies in JP’s commercial districts, including the hole left in Hyde Square when Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge and Lanes consolidated and moved to Amory Street.

“There is a tension between residents and commercial owners—a feeling that owners are doing something wrong,” he said. “If I was a City Councilor, I could go directly to the owners and ask them, in confidence, ‘What is the holdup?’ I suspect that the answer would be property taxes…I do know for a fact that markets clear if they are allowed to reflect supply and demand.”

Ryan said he is in favor of high-density residential development to deal with rising residential rental costs in JP.

He questioned the wisdom of spending money on the ongoing city planning process to develop plans to redesign Centre and South streets in JP. “It’s not something that’s high on my list of priorities. There are other things that are far more important,” he said.

Editors Note: The other three candidates in the race, Chun-Fai Chan, Kosta Demos and Jim Hennigan, were profiled in the Sept. 10 issue of the Gazette. Those profiles are available here.

Correction: the version of this story published in the Sept. 24 issues of the Gazette contained three errors. Matt O’Malley ran for an at-large City Council seat in 2005, not 2009. The words “as a society and “cannot” were excluded from Sean Ryan’s quote regarding drug enforcement policy, changing the quote’s meaning. The correct wording is, “We have to admit to ourselves as a society that government cannot correct peoples’ faults.” Finally, four words were omitted from the story’s lede sentence.