By Dan Murphy
Four at-Large seats in November’s general election were on hand for the monthly meeting of the West End Civic Association (WECA) on Thursday, Oct. 12, at the Amy Lowell Apartments.
Candidates for the four City Council at-Large seats in attendance at the WECA meeting included incumbent Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune, Julia Mejia, and Erin Murphy, along with political newcomers Catherine Vitale and Shawn Nelson.
(City Council at-Large candidates and political newcomers Clifton Braithwaite and Bridget Nee-Walsh were also scheduled to appear but didn’t attend, while Nelson, who wasn’t originally slated to appear, was on hand for the meeting, said Sebastian Belfanti, president of WECA.)
Now serving in her first term, Councilor at-Large Louijeune said she doesn’t believe that constituents will trust elected officials to tackle larger issues, unless they can effectively first handle smaller tasks, such as trash pickup.
Councilor at-Large Louijeune recognizes how difficult making ends meet can be for some Bostonians, and said she supports proposed rent-control measures in the city. “It’s incredibly important that we use every tool in the toolbox,” she said.
Additionally, Councilor at-Large Louijeune voiced her support for the plan to redevelop the West End Branch Library to include an affordable-housing component above it.
Asked for her opinion of the bike lane now being proposed for Charles Street, Councilor at-Large Louijeune acknowledged that bike lanes are generally “a difficult conversation for people” and suggested that perhaps another, less divisive location for them could be found on Beacon Hill besides Charles Street.
“I’m here to support bike lanes that the community can also get behind,” she said. “I think we do need to build a Boston for our future, and that includes building our streets so people can get to where they want to go.”
Councilor at-Large Mejia, now in her second term, was elected to office by a margin of just one vote in November of 2019.
While acknowledging that as a newcomer to politics she has “learned her job publicly,” Councilor at-Large Mejia proudly pointed to the 15 pieces of legislation she’s had a hand in passing in her three and a half years in office; these include an ordinance for the city to establish a Literacy Task Force, which measure literacy rates in the city and how they relate to poverty, she said.
Councilor at-Large Mejia asserted that she brings “profound lived experience” to the job.
“I have the gift of bringing people together across their differences,” she said. “I love what I do. I was born to serve, and I want to take what I’ve learned to a whole, new, other level.”
Moreover, Councilor at-Large Mejia, who moved to Boston from the Dominican Republic at age 5 and attended BPS, said, “I’m always fighting…because I’m impatient. The things I survived, 30 years later, I still see happening in Boston Public Schools.”
Councilor at-Large Murphy was elected to the council in late 2021 after spending the previous 24 years working as a BPS teacher, and although she has spent her entire life living in the District 3 neighborhood of Dorchester, she said she chose to serve as an at-large representative to serve the entire city.
On the matter of rent control, Councilor at-Large Murphy said she and District 3 City Councilor Frank Baker were the only two members of the council to vote against Mayor Wu’s rent control proposal in March.
“I don’t think rent control is going to be the tool that gets us out of the housing crisis,” she said.
While Councilor at-Large Murphy acknowledged the need for more housing in the city, she expressed her apprehension about the seeming disregard for residents’ concerns regarding both PLAN: Charlestown and PLAN: East Boston – far-reaching development plans led by the Boston Planning & Development Agency for those two neighborhoods.
“I want to make sure every neighborhood has the ability to voice their concerns regarding any changes that are coming,” she said, while acknowledging that each city neighborhood is unique and comes with its own set of challenges.
Vitale, a Dorchester native and a first-time candidate, said she was compelled to run for office after the state’s Department of Children & Families took away her children for five months in 2018. It was subsequently “determined in court” that her children should never have been taken away from her, said Vitale, and her family was reunited. But since then, she and her children have experienced homelessness on three occasions while the children’s father was battling substance abuse.
“I see how these systems are created to keep people in poverty,” said Vitale, who has worked as an activist for the past three years and described herself now as a single mother on welfare living in Section 8 housing.
Vitale pointed to the ongoing crisis at Mass. and Cass. as one such failure in the system. “Obviously, what we’re doing there isn’t working,” she said. “And it’s just going to get worse.”
Vitale also said that she thinks the Long Island city is currently uninhabitable. “We need a holistic treatment center,” she said.
Vitale said she believes providing ferry service to Long Island would be a more viable path forward for reopening the facility than the arduous task of rebuilding the bridge.
Moreover, Vitale, who homeschools her children, said she is now seeking a seat on the City Council because she’s “not happy with Boston Public Schools for many reasons” and because she wants to see her children enjoy a better quality of life than what she has experienced.
Even if she isn’t elected in the upcoming election, Vitale said she intends to run again in 2025.
“I’m not interested in being a career politician, and I’m not interested in being a lawyer,” said Vitale, “and it seems like they’re all one of those two things.”
Another Dorchester native and newcomer to politics, Nelson served in the U.S. Marines after graduating from English High School. He now works as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
Nelson expressed his frustration with ubiquitous potholes, along with the “cracked sidewalks” and the deteriorated condition of the city’s streets, despite Boston’s high tax base.
“If Boston is so rich, why do we have these problems?” Nelson asked. “The money is not being properly used.”
Likewise, Nelson voiced his dismay at seeing proposals, like bike lanes, pushed through at the city level, even when they run counter to the prevailing wishes of the communities themselves.
“The government works for us and not the other way around,” he said.
Nelson called for an elected Boston School Committee “so we can hold people accountable.”
Meanwhile, Nelson said he wouldn’t support rent control because he believes such measures entirely disregard the interests of landlords.
“There are always two sides,” he said. “It’s not just the renters; it’s the homeowners, too.”
The city’s municipal election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 7.