City Council Candidate Chat: Michael Flaherty
This is the 15th in a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. Here I speak with former city councilor Michael Flaherty.
David S. Bernstein: You left the City Council to run for mayor in 2009. Why are you passing up the mayoral race this year to run for an at-large council seat?
Michael Flaherty: I’m running for City Council at-large because I am committed to helping Boston become the greatest city we can be. I have the same desire and passion for public office as I did when I first ran. I miss being in City Hall. Budget hearings, constituent service work—it’s in my blood. I enjoy being a city councilor. I’ve also never been one to sit on the sidelines. I want to help, I have proven I can help, and as great as our city is, it needs help to become even better. With Mayor [Tom] Menino stepping down, and several members of the City Council giving up their seats to run for mayor, there will be a large turnover at City Hall—and with that a loss of a great deal of experience. There’s a real opportunity to make the City Council a more active and effective partner in helping lead city government.
You were once part of a group of city councilors people called the Young Turks, who claimed to bring new energy and new thinking to the council. Why wouldn’t that be a good outcome, if all this turnover brought in a new, young group?
We as a city face numerous challenges: a public school system that must perform better; streets that must be made safer; more responsible and respectful development; the epidemic of substance abuse plaguing our city; and the lack of economic opportunities for our young people. While there are many candidates running at-large with their own experience and offering their own solutions, my focus will be on returning to city council and to bring with it a tremendous amount of city experience.
In watching Menino’s final term, are there any things that you would point to that you might have done differently, that you think would have been better for the city if you had been elected?
I planned on creating a standalone planning committee, to separate the planning and development powers that currently exist under one umbrella, the BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority]. I’ve always felt that there is an inherent conflict that both of them are housed under that same roof. By having a standalone planning committee, similar to what you see in major cities across the country, we would have a development plan that is respectful of the community, that would then be turned over to the economic-development agency in the city, the BRA, to have them implement the plan. Too often I see development projects become more about who you know and who you hire, than about the merit and the substance and the community involvement in the development plan. That was one thing I was hoping to see in this last administration, was a new way to bring about planning and development in our city, a new way to create economic opportunity, jobs, and housing—a level of predictability, consistency, and transparency to development in the city of Boston.
I remember there being a lot of talk about what to do with the BRA in that 2009 campaign. As you watch the mayoral race going on today, and as you think about what future mayor you might be working with as councilor, do you feel that the candidates are discussing issues like that in a serious way? In a way that leads you think the next mayor will bring a new openness to the way things are done in the city?
My focus, quite frankly, has been to concentrate on the City Council at-large race. I know all of the mayoral candidates; I’ve served on the council with six of them. Let me see: Charles [Yancey], Dan [Conley], Robbie [Consalvo], Michael [Ross], John [Connolly]—actually five, and I served with Felix [Arroyo]’s dad. And Felix worked on the council staff. So I served with five, but I know them all. I’m very comfortable that I could work with each and every one of them, and put the interests of the city first.
Since the mayoral race of 2009, some people say they haven’t seen you engaging publicly on city issues. You ran for council in 2011, but aside from that, they say you haven’t been in the press much, haven’t spoken up with criticism of the mayor or others. Why haven’t you played a more public role?
Your roles change when you go from an official capacity, holding office, to when you become a citizen. The same cynics predicted that I would pack my bags and move to the suburbs after losing that election—which those who know me know is clearly not my style. I would never turn my back on this city. Boston is my green pasture. There’s no place that I would rather live. I’m not one who sits on the sidelines. That said, I’ve had my professional responsibilities as an attorney. And having four children, and the responsibilities that come from that—picking up and dropping off from school, coaching youth sports, driving to soccer games, lacrosse games, and youth hockey games. I’m fulfilling my obligation as my children progress with their academics, making sure they pay attention to their studies. That’s all part of who I am. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that my focus has changed. I would weigh in on significant issues, and I think you know, particularly around crime and violence, going back to my days as an assistant DA, those are issues that I think are important—particularly around substance abuse, and a lack of economic opportunity for our young people. Those are all important issues that I continue to speak out about, and opine about, and attend meetings about.
I’m interested in your thoughts about the political changes in South Boston—Jack Hart has been succeeded in the state senate by someone from Dorchester, there are no at-large councilors from South Boston, and none of the mayoral candidates is from Southie. What do you make of it?
Elections come and go, and some candidates win, some candidates lose. You can’t have two winners. What people not just in that community want, but what people across the city want, is for their elected officials, no matter what neighborhood they come from, to work hard; to be responsive to their needs and concerns, whether it’s a constituent service concern, or it’s a policy issue, or a legislative issue, that impacts a particular neighborhood or the entire city; and that you show up, and you return phone calls, and have a responsive staff. The onus is on the victor to immediately engage the community and to do the job that they’re elected to do.
I kind of feel like the differences between and among the different neighborhoods is breaking down a little—there’s less clear-cut differences and more similarities than in the past. You’ve campaigned and worked city-wide over the years, do you see that change at all?
You’re seeing, and I’ve witnessed first-hand, the demographic shifts. The city is becoming a younger city, a more progressive city. Our hope is that the men and women who come to Boston, fall in love with the city, get a great education at some of the best institutions in the world, that they remain in the city so that we can capture that brain power, to help usher Boston into the future. The focus for elected leaders—particularly those who are representing some changing communities, where there’s been an influx of new residents, versus the life-long residents—is to make sure that for the life-long residents, that we’re doing the best to make them want to stay, and at the same time we’re embracing newer residents and all that they have to offer.
I heard that you went to the Mayor’s block party the other day. Did you get a chance to speak to him, and if so, what did you say to each other?
It was very brief. I just thanked him for his years of service, and said that I appreciated the cookout. He said “Hello, good to see you, glad you were able to make it.”
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.