City Councilor and mayoral candidate Rob Consalvo pledged to bring a mix of innovation—including naming a “technology czar”—and old-fashioned public service to the Mayor’s Office in his first major campaign interview.
“We’ll fistfight over who’s the biggest visionary,” Consalvo said of the mayoral candidates in the exclusive interview April 5 at the Gazette office. “[But] this is about the people of the neighborhoods. I’m going to preach helping people and public service. And if I lose, I’ll know I stayed true to what government is all about.”
Consalvo, a Hyde Park resident, acknowledged he is not an expert in Jamaica Plain issues and promised to become one. But he did voice a strong opinion about a hot-button local issue, the pending Casey Overpass replacement project in Forest Hills, saying he would have preferred a new bridge. The state plans to replace it with the Casey Arborway, a new network of “at-grade,” or surface, streets.
“Quite frankly, I support another bridge being placed there. But I understand it’s not going to change,” Consalvo said, citing concerns about traffic flow. “Not that I don’t think the at-grade plan would be great if we all lived in a perfect utopia… I just don’t see how it’s going to be done.”
Consalvo said he or an aide have attended every Casey meeting and that, as mayor, he would have a role in dealing with its “effects.” Asked if that would include attempting to somehow change the Casey decision, he said it is unfair to speculate on that sort of process.
Consalvo, 43, previously worked on the staff of state Rep. Angelo Scaccia and had multiple staff jobs, from constituent services to driver, with the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy. Consalvo has been a city councilor for 11 years, representing Hyde Park, Roslindale and part of Mattapan. His District 5 once briefly included JP’s Woodbourne area.
Consalvo is known as a friend and protégé of incumbent Mayor Thomas Menino, his predecessor in Hyde Park’s council seat, who Consalvo jokingly calls “the second-hardest-working councilor ever to represent District 5.” An old political urban legend had Menino setting up Consalvo to take over the Mayor’s Office some day. But Consalvo says now that Menino has made it clear, publicly and privately, that he won’t support anyone in the race.
Consalvo openly emulates Menino’s micromanagement approach to quality-of-life issues, while also saying he is different in his interest in improving Boston through new technologies.
“There isn’t any candidate in this race who has the record of achievement I have in City Council,” said Consalvo, adding that his work has “I think transformed the role of city councilor.”
On the tech end, that includes introducing the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system to Boston several years ago. The system, which is installed in some JP locations and expanding into Egleston Square this year, automatically pinpoints gunfire and reports it to police headquarters without anyone having to call 911.
Another Consalvo initiative under way will add a database to 911 that lets first-responders know about people with special physical or emotional needs at the address in question so they can prepare. Other ideas include traffic lights that change on demand for emergency vehicles, portable fingerprint scanners in police cars, and un-crackable rubber sidewalks that water soaks through rather than running off.
“I would even propose a technology czar” to collect such new tech ideas from around the country and see if they’re a fit for Boston, he said.
On constituent services, Consalvo has a reputation for constantly attending community meetings and responding quickly to calls ranging from filling to a pothole to creating a new park. As mayor, he said, he would continue that program citywide. He said he also would “make sure City services are distributed equitably.” Is he saying they aren’t now? “I’m not saying they are [unequal],” he said with a smile, declining repeatedly to clarify.
Consalvo said it is also crucial to retain Menino’s focus on Boston’s neighborhoods. “I’m representing the most diverse district in the city,” with 75 percent of the population people of color, Consalvo said, adding that gives him a good background for working with all neighborhoods.
He said Boston needs more neighborhood groups to form and hold elected officials accountable. He also pledged to convene committees of residents and experts to “harness energy and bring people together” to advise the City on a variety of issues.
At the same time, he acknowledged that his local focus has left him uninformed on many issues in other neighborhoods.
“I’m not an expert on every Jamaica Plain issue. But if I become mayor, I promise you I will become an expert on every Jamaica Plain issue,” he said, adding he “likes to learn.”
Specifics aside, all neighborhoods have some common interests, he said. He cited concerns about strong business districts, public safety, the need to ease the City permitting process and clean streets.
“We have different issues, and we share a common thread,” he said.
The Boston Public Schools (BPS) are a personal issue for Consalvo and his wife Michelle. Their children—Amanda, 10; Anthony, 9; and Austin, 3—all currently or will some day attend Hyde Park’s Roosevelt K-8.
“I take offense when people talk about the mess in Boston Public Schools,” Consalvo said. “I think there are a lot of success stories in Boston Public Schools.”
He said he supports the recently approved school assignment plan.
“I’m a neighborhood schools guy. We need to move closer and closer to neighborhood schools, and this is what it did,” while also improving school quality, he said.
As mayor, he said, he would move forward on continuing to improve school quality with an “open and transparent public process.” It would also be collaborative, he said, adding, “I don’t think we should be attacking teachers or the teachers union.”
He said BPS also needs more K-8 schools and more of the feeder school model he helped create as “basically a separate school system for Roslindale.” More corporate and university support for public schools is also a missing piece of the plan right now, he said.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the powerful, quasi-public agency that combines the city’s planning and development roles, has been a frequent target of local criticism. Consalvo said he would convene community leaders to discuss the future of the planning and development process, including looking to other cities for models. But he said he would not get rid of the BRA altogether.
“I think the BRA does a lot of things right. And like any agency, they get it wrong [sometimes],” he said.
“It would be irresponsible to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said. Comparing any complaints to concerns about bad snowplowing during a recent storm, he said, “Are you going to dismantle Public Works because they got it wrong?”
Consalvo supports a proposed casino in East Boston. “That train’s coming down the track whether people like it or not,” he said.
He also opposes a citywide vote on the matter, saying it would be a “great injustice” if East Boston residents voted in favor of the casino and the rest of city voted no. “The people of East Boston should decide their fate. It’s morally indefensible otherwise,” he said.
He noted there was no citywide vote on other big projects, such as Boston University’s controversial South End biolab, which critics fear could cause diseases to one day escape into the entire city. “My constituents didn’t get a vote on whether they’re going to die of Ebola,” he said.
Asked about the other candidates in the race, Consalvo said, “All good guys and friends. I know we’ll all run a clean, respectful race.” He added, “The more candidates, the better,” because it will improve the quality of the discussion on the city’s future.