City Council Candidate Chat: Michael Wells
This is the 36th in a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. Michael Wells is a candidate in the 5th district.
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for the district council seat that Rob Consalvo is leaving?
Michael Wells: I wouldn’t have challenged Rob—we’re friends; I went to high school with him. But when he decided to step aside, I actually thought I was being pretty clever, deciding I was going to run. Lo and behold, there were nine other people in the district who thought they were equally clever. Eight of us made the ballot. There was no real burning desire, or hatred, or anything like that—it was just hey, I’ll give it my shot. Why not me?
Well, OK, why not you; but why you?
I feel that I’m just as qualified as the next guy. I’m for neighborhood schools; I’m for more law enforcement, more fire; I want to bring things back to the community. I see some things going right, and I see some things that could use improving upon. Public housing, for one thing, seems to be headed in the right direction in the city as a whole, but there are a few that are languishing behind. [Washington-]Beech Street for example, or Georgetown, they’ve been remodeled very recently. They are looking nice, and the communities as a whole are better for it. You look at Archdale, just down the street near Forest Hills, that one hasn’t been taken care of, and that’s a blight on the community right now. I’d like to see that one get changed.
I’ve been struck by the difference with the Washington-Beech renovation, which involved a lot of federal money. What do you think they got right there, compared to a place like Archdale?
The quality of the residences themselves are giving people a sense of pride in their community. Before they may have felt downtrodden, that this is the best they’ve got, and they’ve got to struggle and fight, and lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead. Now they feel that they have something to protect, and they’re not going to settle, to let somebody else ruin the community—be it crime, drugs, gambling, whatever the case may be. And I don’t think you can say the same thing about Archdale right now, and that’s unfortunate; and it’s why, when you read something unfortunate about Roslindale now, it generally tends to be from that area.
The district is very diverse, and that gets a lot of talk from people like me, from the outside. Does that talk of diversity tend to be about race, and is it sometimes a negative way of separating some parts of the neighborhood from others?
I don’t really see it as a negative at all. My personal experience, walking the neighborhoods, taking your dog out for a walk—whether it be Archdale, Beech Street, Georgetown, or private residences—you’re seeing that diversity almost on every street. On my street alone we’ve got Caucasians, we’ve got blacks, we’ve got Hispanics we’ve got single people, we’ve got gay people, we’ve got people who have kids, people who don’t want to have kids. I think the diversity of your neighborhood tends to benefit rather than hold it back. I don’t think people look at the neighborhoods in a racial sense; more that they look at it in an economic sense. That the people in this particular area live there because they can’t afford to move elsewhere. And that’s just not necessarily true. How did somebody get stuck in Archdale, when your friend gets in Beech Street?
You said you think some things are headed in the right direction and some are not. What about economic development in your district, where does that fall?
I think for the most part the city is moving in the right direction. Roslindale Square has changed dramatically over the years. I see the same thing happening in Cleary Square in Hyde Park. The Fairmont neighborhood always seemed a little bit separated from the rest, but over on I believe it’s Truman Highway, that little parcel down there has gone through a major renovation. These are all things that I know Mayor Menino and Rob Consalvo have spearheaded, and that would be something I’d want to continue growing in that direction, rather than letting it stagnate.
You’ve got a couple of people from that area in the mayoral race; does it matter who gets into that office, for you to work with and to protect the interests of the district?
Well yes and no. Obviously I know Rob, and I’m backing Rob personally—his campaign sign is on my lawn. But if Rob was not successful, and I were, I’d be happy to work with whoever becomes the mayor.
You are, and have been for many years, in the wholesale seafood business?
Yes, that’s exactly where you’ve reached me today; I’m at the John Nagle Company in Boston. Most of my constituents are probably going to know me from my other job: I am a vendor at Fenway Park, and I’ve been there since 1985. When I first started I was selling popcorn and Coca-Cola. Currently I am the Heineken man. It’s a great little side job. If you’ve been to Fenway Park in the past 28 years, there’s a good chance that I’ve walked by your section.
I’ve probably bought from you, and I hope I remembered to tip you well.
Perhaps you remember, a couple years back there was a gentleman who spilled his beers on the field. Saturday afternoon, Yankees game. That was me. You can still Google “Fenway beer spill” and see one of my more famous moments at Fenway. Here at Nagle, I started at inventory control. Then I moved into sales. I have a concentration toward the Asian market. When I started in sales, I needed something to differentiate myself from the rest of the staff. I noticed that I’d see Asian guy after Asian guy come in and get a box of salmon and leave; get a box of salmon and leave. I approached a couple of them, and found out that most of these guys were sushi restaurant owners. I had a couple of long conversations, with one guy in particular, and found out what it is that they needed more of, and went out and got it for them. I think that could translate well into being a city councilor—I have to go and meet my constituents, I have to find out what they want, and get it for them. Like I did here at work.
And I’m guessing that’s the same sort of approach to the job that Rob Consalvo took, and others before him.
I would think that ideally that’s what anybody would want to do with the job. I went out and found out what my customers wanted, and I went out and sourced the different products, for quality and price. In the councilor’s role, I would be out sourcing solutions, seeing which ones are economically viable and not, and precede to implement. When we started here it was just salmon. Now they’re buying their tuna here, their seaweed salad, hamachi, tobiko, masago, ikura, ebi, the list goes on. I’ve got a couple of pages of products now, that didn’t exist here just six years ago.
On learning what constituents want: as you talk to voters, is there anything you’ve heard that you weren’t aware of, or didn’t realize was as high a priority for them?
Not that I wasn’t aware of, or wasn’t a high priority. I would say neighborhood schools seems to be on everyone’s mind right now. I don’t know if that’s because the kids are on vacation and are going to be going back to school soon. Will their concerns change as the season changes? I don’t know that yet—it’ll be a learning process for me.
There are council candidates who go in with big plans that they want to tackle; you seem to view yourself more as a fix-it guy – let’s see what needs to be improved, and see if we can go about improving it some.
I’m not a legislator, so I’m not going to be able to write laws. And I’m not the mayor, so I’m not going to be the guy with the most influence at City Hall. I’m going to have to work as a team to try to get to the answers that I’m working for. It isn’t like I can just walk in there and do things because it’s what I think is right, or that’s what people tell me they want. They can tell me what they want, and I have to find a way to implement it. And it might not be as simple as OK, let’s make that happen.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.