Candidate Chat: Michael Nichols
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for this District Council seat?
Michael Nichols: I am running because of generational responsibility. You need a few folks from each generation to step up into leadership positions. Throughout the time I’ve been in Boston, and before, I’ve been someone who’s taken on responsibility. I’d like to be that person for my generation.
Tell me about your connection and responsibility to the district particularly.
I’ve lived in the district the entire time I’ve lived in Boston, both Back Bay and the Fenway. I’m on the neighborhood association Board of Directors for the area I’m in, which is Audubon Circle. This is the district that most people associate Boston with. You’ve got TD Garden and Fenway Park; you’ve got MGH and the hospitals of Longwood; you’ve got BU, Northeastern, and nearly a dozen other colleges and universities; you’ve got Newbury Street and the finish line of the Boston Marathon; you’ve got the Esplanade and Comm. Ave mall. For me, I’d love to be able to serve a diverse district that at the end of the day has a very significant importance, really internationally, in being the face of Boston.
Given the way you describe the district—which is in a lot of ways different from other districts—what does that mean in terms of representing it? What’s different about the interests you’d be looking out for as a city councilor?
My five main platform points for interests concerning the district are affordable housing; K-12 education; institutional expansion; the intersection of nightlife, transportation, and public safety; and elder affairs. Those are my big five issues. But for me, it’s having a neighborhood-focused guy who understands the issues completely. In my work on the City Council, and in the statehouse working for Linda Forry and Tony Cabral, and as someone who is on my neighborhood board and appointed to a commission by Mayor Menino, those are all roles that give me the opportunity to understand the issues from a neighborhood point of view, and to advocate on behalf of those who live here.
You have been the research director for the City Council. A lot of people, including myself, tend to mock the Council as an unimportant, toothless body. From the inside, can you make a defense of the importance of the City Council?
I would agree that it is statutorily set up to be less powerful than the mayor. But the position of city councilor, and of the City Council as a whole, affords the opportunity to improve the quality of life on a day-to-day basis for residents—and is in a position to achieve some very important public policy initiatives. In my opinion, we’re heading into a period when we’re going to have the strongest council, and weakest mayor, in 20 years. That is no commentary on the people running for mayor, but the fact of the matter is that we’re going to have a freshman mayor, and we’re going to have at least half the City Council who are veterans.
You mentioned the folks running for mayor; one of those is the current District 8 City Councilor, Mike Ross. What do you think of the job that he’s done, and what he could potentially do for the city? Are you going to endorse in that race?
I am absolutely not endorsing anyone in the mayor’s race—I currently work for five of the 12 candidates, so I am staying out of the race. What I can say is that Councilor Ross has done a great job and that I’ve been really happy to get to work with him on the tourism ad swap, on the Problem Properties Tax Force, on neighborhood issues related to development, and on studying the taxi industry. On all those issues and more, I think he’s taken an approach to governing that I really respect and would seek to emulate in many ways.
You were appointed by the mayor to the Onein3 Council, which is for young adults in the city. Do you think that young adults in the city are under-represented in terms of public policy?
I would say there is a real danger of them being under-represented on the next Council. Of the four councilors who are assured of no longer being on the council, three of them are on the younger half of the city council—Councilor Ross, Councilor [John] Connolly, and Councilor [Felix] Arroyo. The OneIn3 issues are important to me, because they really will drive the success of the city in the next 10 years. I say to folks that I have everything in the world that I need within half a mile of where I live in Audubon Circle, with the exception of somewhere to send my kids to public school. There are no schools here, and the quality schools are located a good distance away from this district. There are virtually no schools in West End, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, and now Mission Hill as they get their K-8 school taken away. Young people want to see somewhere to send their kids to school. They want affordable housing and access to jobs. They want to have public transportation late at night, and the de-regulation of liquor licenses, which I’ve gotten to work on with Councilor [Ayanna] Pressley. Those are issues that keep people in the city.
Losing the school in Mission Hill—what could have been done about that, and is it important enough that something needs to be done about it now?
Absolutely. I think the school department has been incredibly short-sighted by not having a comprehensive master plan to accompany the school assignment process. You can’t have one without the other. Based on past decisions that I think weren’t fully thought out, the city has a frayed relationship with the Massachusetts School Building Authority. We should be working with the Authority to identify areas that are a good fit for new schools or renovated schools, that gives access to public schools to everyone throughout the city. It’s not a dead issue to me—the K-8 school in Mission Hill should not be moving, and it is only moving because of this annual, haphazard, geographic school assignment process.
Have the people in the district been affected much by the Marathon bombing?
I think we’ve all been affected by it, as a city. My read on it is that most of the folks in the district are ready to move past it, but I’d note that we’re going to have the eyes of the world on us next April, and I’d like to be someone who is part of those conversations, making sure that Boston puts its best foot forward.
You strike me as a very serious young man. Do you think of yourself that way, or is that just a political persona I’m picking up on?
It’s probably a little bit of both. I take very seriously the opportunity to represent 70,000 people on the Boston City Council. I’m a pretty fun person, I think most people would say that. We’re going to have some things coming in this campaign that people probably haven’t seen before in Boston politics, in a way that will be enjoyable. I’m captain of my coed softball team, I’m the president of the Boston chapter of the UConn Alumni Association, I’ve helped plan social activities and bar nights, so I wouldn’t say I’m too serious.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.