City Council Candidate Chat: Frank Baker
This is the 43rd in a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. Frank Baker is the City Councilor for District 3.
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for a second term as District 3 City Councilor?
Frank Baker: To give my neighborhood a voice. I’m running because I feel like I’m in touch with the people of the neighborhood, and their needs, and I want to continue working for them and their interests at City Hall.
As you’re talking to people there now, are you finding that those needs are any different than when you were running for office two years ago?
Most important are the schools and the crime. That’s what we have to get a handle on, and that will be big in this mayor’s election. But on the streets, in Dorchester, people are wondering about a lot of transients that seem to be new in the neighborhoods—up toward Columbia Road area, and then all along Dot Ave. That leads to prostitution. It’s those sorts of things that we’re getting a lot of calls about lately. And clean streets—people want their streets cleaner, up around Fields Corner and Ashmont. We ask the mayor’s office for hoakeys all the time; hoakeys are on the street all the time, cleaning up different areas.
I remember having a conversation with you about hoakeys when you were running in 2011.
Yeah. Street sweepers can only go so far. You go to other places and see them—I don’t know if they’re privately paid for, but it just seems like we need to be in front of these dirty streets.
The problems with the transients—do you have any sense of why that’s happening now?
Well, we have some methadone clinics around us, some shelters around us. I think different shelters have drop-off near us. When people get dropped off they start walking someplace, and it seems like maybe they’re walking there. These are not just your harmless homeless. These people seem like addicts, they’re looking to get seven, eight bucks in them, whatever they can, to go get a fix, and then they’re off and running. It just seems like there’s more and more popping up all along Dot Ave. And you don’t want to hurt people. It’s about helping people. But the families that are living here, and new people who are coming here, they don’t necessarily want to see that constantly.
Well, helping them requires more services, which means more resources; does the city have the funds to do more?
I’m looking to redirect some of the services into my neighborhood. I’m sure they have enough, but as certain neighborhoods get more development and more money pumped into them, it seems like the other things are being pushed my way.
That’s a good point; there certainly is a lot of development in South Boston, Roxbury—
—All around us. And down by Mass. Ave., that whole corridor. And I’m all for it, but we need to get paid attention to. And that’s another thing I’d like to see—some sort of development plan for Dorchester. Everybody talks about the successes in Fenway. That’s all well and good, but what’s going to happen over here to us in Dorchester?
Do you feel like Dorchester has been forgotten in all of this—is Dorchester going to get the benefits of those developments, or are you just getting left behind?
That’s going to be part of my job, to make sure that we don’t get left behind. We tend to be a very tolerant neighborhood—there are areas that make a lot of noise, but not for what’s going to be good for the whole stretch of Dorchester, from beginning to end, and for District 3.
Do you think it might help to have someone from Dorchester elected mayor? You’ve got several candidates in the race, and some Dorchester City Council candidates, too.
Yeah, absolutely. I’d like to load the whole place up with Dorchester people.
Are you backing any particular candidates?
Yes I am: Marty Walsh.
Are you backing anyone in the at-large City Council candidates?
I have people that I like. I don’t think I’m going to publicly back anyone, just because there are so many people there, and when I was coming in there were councilors who backed people in my race. I’m not someone to hold a grudge, but if I back someone and they don’t get in, then you’re working with someone else.
You just said you don’t hold a grudge; but other people in this city do—
—Oh yeah. You’re familiar with that?
Well, I’m wondering if that’s been a problem for you. You were in such a contentious race; has that been a problem, in terms of your effectiveness at City Hall?
It’s tough to say. I’d like to say no because I think people take me for what I am when I come through the door. I’m just trying to get services for my neighborhood.
And when you said that you’d like to see all of Dorchester working together, that was really part of the split in your race, was between different parts of Dorchester.
Yeah, and it’s because there’s so many different people that we have in District 3. The needs are so different from up around the Savin Hill area, the JFK area, up to Bowdoin Street to the Adams Corner area, and Neponset. They’re really different. To advocate for better business and more restaurants along Dot Ave., I think would help everybody overall in Dorchester, but some people might not see that just yet. It might be like, Are you just trying to help Dot Ave.? But to me, Dot Ave. is the spine. Like any main street that runs through, whether it’s Centre Street through West Roxbury, or Dudley Street. If we helped Dot Ave, we would help all around.
I’ll be honest, I was surprised you don’t have an opponent, given how contentious that race was two years ago. Do you attribute it in part to you reaching out to those other parts of Dorchester that didn’t support you last time?
Yeah—the way we run the office is whoever calls us gets a call back, and we do the best we can. We have a hard-working office here, and that’s the bottom line. Most people, when the election’s over, they say let’s move on, and if they need my office for something, and they call, they’ll get a good response.
In your voting record, it’s been difficult to categorize you—you don’t always vote with one group or with another group.
I think that frustrates both groups, too. I vote what I think is right. I’m not aligned, really, with anybody. I try to pay attention to the votes, and what’s going on. Like the rental ordinance. I was against that from the beginning, and I think I was right about it. Some of the people that voted for it, I think maybe wish they had that vote back—because it’s a little muddy, a little gray. Things like that. If there is a vote that’s important to me, I don’t go around lobbying. I say something to people and leave it at that. I like to let people make their own minds up. I went in there saying I’m going to be independent, and I think I am.
For people who have sort of a set image of Dorchester, tell me something that would surprise people about Dorchester.
That we have a Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park. Dorchester Park. I’m going there Sunday, there’s an antique car show there. It’s a great park. They have a good friends group that’s very active, and they have a clean-up once a month.
That’s one thing about Dorchester I’ve found—those sorts of almost micro-local groups that care very much about their little area.
We’re so big, that it’s hard to wrap your mind around what do we work on in the District 3 office that’s going to benefit the entire district. That’s the difficult challenge, because it is so different, and there are so many groups.
That brings me to the subject of redistricting. Were you satisfied with it? You supported a couple of different plans over the course of it.
Right. I voted in favor for what I thought would be the best for District 3. For me going in, I had done a lot of work in my precincts, and to just lose a good chunk of them was difficult for me. I wasn’t crazy about the redistricting process. It was very, very difficult. It seemed to be run by a lot of outside groups, and not by the people that were taking the votes.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.