Citing her “unique set of skills,” Boston mayoral candidate Charlotte Golar Richie said she wants to bring her experience as a legislator, a former director of city’s Department of Neighborhood Development and an advocate for at-risk youths to the Mayor’s Office.
Richie said her time spent as a former director of DND enables her to deal with issues such as transparency, permitting and planning that are being raised during the mayoral race about the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).
“I’m the best candidate to be able to address these concerns,” said Richie during a recent interview at the Gazette’s office.
Besides the BRA, the hour-long interview also touched on Richie’s vision for the city and her support for an East Boston-only vote for a proposed casino.
Richie said that when she was appointed director of DND by Mayor Thomas Menino in 1999, she faced the same criticisms that are being directed at the BRA now. She said she pulled together a “wonderful team” that came up with a revised approach to development-related concerns. That included a “strong” notification policy, she said.
“We shared the policy throughout the city, so people knew what they could expect when we introduced potential development in neighborhood,” said Richie.
Asked if planning should be taken away from the BRA, Richie responded that she would not want to spend the time and money doing so. She added by not taking away planning, the BRA would continue to pay for it.
But, Richie said, she wants to improve the planning process and make sure it is “receptive to the community’s perspective.”
Richie was director of DND for eight years, managing 200 people and a $100 million budget. She said it was “a daunting task,” but she “settled in quickly.” During her time at DND, Richie said she developed a comprehensive housing plan that eventually led to 18,000 units, one-third of which was affordable for low- and moderate-income people.
Before the DND, Richie served three terms as the state representative for Dorchester, a job that came as a result of her roots in that neighborhood.
Richie, who is originally from Brooklyn, first moved to Dorchester 26 years ago. She said that after having a child, she and her husband Winston were looking to buy a house. They eventually bought one in the Meeting House Hill section of Dorchester and have been there since, said Richie.
“Dorchester has been really good to me,” she said.
While working as a reporter for the Dorchester Community News and BNN-TV, Richie was asked to hold a candidate forum for the City Council race in 1993. Afterwards, a couple of neighbors told her she did great and asked her to dinner, where they asked her if she ever thought about running for state representative.
“Why me? There must be someone else that wants the job,” Richie said of her response.
Richie said she investigated other people she thought should run and they told her that they didn’t “want to be in a fish bowl,” sacrifice the time or have “the fire in the belly.” She said the more she investigated, the more she thought she could, and wanted to, run. A tragedy sealed her decision.
Louis D. Brown was a 15-year-old teenager in 1993 who was on his way to an anti-violence party when he was shot to death on Geneva Avenue, a five-minute walk from Richie’s home. Richie attended a church vigil and was so moved by Brown’s parents that she decided to run so she could standup for the community. Richie would eventually hire Brown’s mother, Tina Chéry, as an aide. Chéry founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Dorchester.
Richie said that gun violence is still a problem now, and as mayor, she would like to revisit the policies, such as bringing key stakeholders together, that helped reduce the high homicide rate of the early 1990s.
“We know what to do and we have to do it,” she said.
Richie said entering the State House was “nerve-wracking,” as she tried to figure out how to be an exceptional leader. She said she had the “presence of mind” to realize she couldn’t do it by herself. Richie organized an advisory group of 25 to 30 people from the community and they met quarterly at her house. The meetings had agendas and subcommittees, such as the Dorchester/Roxbury Labor Committee, which is still in existence today, said Richie.
“It was a wonderful way to interact with the community,” said Richie.
She said she would bring that ability to connect with her to the Mayor’s Office.
Richie said her vision for Boston is to unite the city around goals and to address challenges. She said one of those goals is to improve the quality of schools, noting that no candidate will argue with that. Richie said the question is how to do it.
Richie said she wants a “strong superintendent” for Boston Public Schools (BPS) who has a proven track record in an urban district. She said that the city needs to agree on what a quality school is, then set ways to measure that and figure out how long that will take to achieve. Richie said there needs to be progress reports, and when the bar is not met, new leadership and added resources.
Asked about the new school-assignment plan, Richie said that that is the issue she has received the largest amount of comment on, with parents and teachers not clear about the plan’s design and not sure it is going to be successful. She said some people feel the plan reduces the amount of quality schools available to them.
“That’s a problem,” she said.
Richie also discussed her support for an East Boston-only vote for a proposed casino at Suffolk Downs. She likened it to a new runway being installed at Logan Airport, a move that would affect everyone in the city, but impact East Boston residents the most.
Richie has been out of public office for the past several years, but as she put it, “It’s not like I’ve been at home twiddling my thumbs.”
She was a senior advisor to Gov. Deval Patrick, starting in 2007, where she handled legislative affairs.
Since 2010, she has worked for YouthBuild USA, which supports young people who have dropped out of high school get either their G.E.D. or diploma while learning a trade, such as construction. She said her role there was to make sure the federal government funded the organization. She traveled throughout the country and down to Washington, D.C. to advocate.