City Council Candidate Chat: Gloria Murray
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for City Council there in District 8?
Gloria Murray: I am running for City Council because I have been a long-time, 20-year resident of the Mission Main housing development in Roxbury. I have been very active in working on social and environmental issues here in the development and in the community, and I feel I can bring my skills to improve the district as a whole. I was encouraged to run by neighbors and people in district because of my leadership skills, my advocacy, and they thought I would be a good candidate.
Had you thought about running for office in the past, or was it just that the opportunity arose?
No, I never thought about politics in the past, because I always thought that politics was a dirty game, and I just didn’t want to be associated with it. But if you don’t try to make a change, you can’t expect other people to make a change for you. With a new mayor coming in, and the city council seats up for election, I think it’s a perfect time to run, and to try to make an impact in the district.
When you talk about politics as a dirty game, was it local politics and the City Council that had you down on politics?
A lot of times politicians would say one thing and do another. They would tell you they’re going to vote one way, and then when it comes time to vote, they vote the opposite. I’m a person who would stand up for the community, and vote for what’s right, not what’s popular—that’s one of my campaign mottos. I will listen to your concerns. I will be your advocate. I think I’m very good with sharing information; I started an electronic newsletter that is distributed to Mission Main residents, community members at large, and politicians. It is an informative newsletter that shares information about what is going on in the development, and in the community. If I am elected city councilor, I would like to have a newsletter that is distributed throughout the district, to share information from all the different neighborhoods. Because a lot of the different issues are common issues that we all share, even though the district is very diverse in income and ethnicity, we share the same issues.
Talking about that diversity: as you are campaigning and talking to folks in different parts of the district, are you learning anything about parts of the district that has surprised you?
I was surprised to learn that the other areas, besides Mission Hill, do not have an elementary school. Mission Hill is down to the Tobin K-8. We had a number of schools that were moved. So we’re lucky that we were able to maintain the Tobin. But Beacon Hill, the Fenway, the Back Bay, and the West End are all in need of elementary schools. With the new school assignment plan coming on board next year, we need to have more schools in the district, for families to have an opportunity for their kids to go to school within walking distance—quality schools.
When that Mission Hill K-8 school was relocated, I know that district councilor Mike Ross tried to stop it but was not successful. Do you think you can be more successful at building alliances, convincing colleagues, working with the other councilors and the next mayor, to be able to fight for things like that for the neighborhood?
Councilor Ross was very successful in getting a verbal commitment from the school department, that children from Mission Hill will always have a seat at the relocated school. I would like to continue the great work that he’s done and advocate with the other councilors to build schools in all areas of the city. It’s not just District 8—it’s a citywide issue. I would like to brainstorm with the other councilors, once the elections are completed, to work on having quality schools in districts throughout the city.
I know housing and related issues have also been a focus of yours. What would you be advocating for on those issues, if you do get on the city council?
I’m a big proponent of housing and equal treatment for everyone. Mission Main was one of the first HOPE-VI developments in Massachusetts. We went through a lot of learning about the pros and cons when this development was built. I’m one of the founders of the Mission Main Concerned Residents Committee, which is a group of residents who came together to advocate on behalf of the tenants. One of our successes was having carpeting removed from some of the units, for families that have asthma and medical ailments. Wynn Management is one of the largest property management companies on the East Coast; residents had been asking to have carpeting removed since the property was first built. I had started working as a Fair Housing information specialist in 2008, and I learned that it was actually a violation of the Fair Housing Act to force people to live under those conditions. So we brought in advocates from the Boston Public Health Commission, and Alternatives for Community and Environment. An attorney came in, and she worked with residents to write reasonable accommodation requests, and carpeting was eventually removed. Management now has an apartment remodeling program in place. So we did have some successes. We learned a lot. I would like to work with the whole community to make sure everybody is treated fairly and equally.
You sound like someone who, once you get started on something, is pretty tenacious about seeing it through to a solution.
Yes, I’m very persistent. If I don’t know the answer, I know how to contact stakeholders and garner community support to move issues forward. I’m very big on unity and information and equal treatment for everybody.
One of the other issues in that district is always how the home-owning residents, and the long-time residents like those at Mission Main, get along with the college students, particularly Northeastern as it continues to expand. Has the right balance been found, or what needs to be done going forward?
A number of Mission Main residents sit on the boards of the task force for Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Northeastern’s task force. They’ve been speaking out about university encroachment in the neighborhoods. Houses are going for over a million-and-a-half dollars, because of the prices the students are willing to pay. Northeastern is still working on building more dorms, trying to ease the problem. Wentworth has over 80 percent of its students living on campus, so they’ve been very forthcoming, working with the community. There’s still a lot of work to be done with Northeastern, but they have sat at the table, and they are working on building more dorms. That’s also an issue, Fisher College is looking to expand in the Back Bay. Suffolk University has a lot of dorms in downtown. It’s a district-wide issue.
So, you don’t regret getting into dirty politics so far, at least not yet?
Well, it hasn’t been dirty so far! Everybody’s pretty cordial. Everybody gets along—so far.
It’s still early.
One last thing: There are a lot of preconceived notions or stereotypes about Mission Main and Mission Hill. What would you tell people about Mission Main that runs counter to what some people around the city might think?
Mission Main is a mixed-income community. We have successfully merged people of all different incomes. We have people who are low income, working class families, we have BHA tenants, we have students and other market-rate tenants paying up to $2,800 a month for a three-bedroom apartment. We have on-site security. We are located in an excellent area, next to the Longwood medical center—this is prime real estate. Years ago, people used to run from us, now they run to us.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.