Candidate Chat: Althea Garrison
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for an at-large seat this year?
Althea Garrison: I’m running because most elected officials are not getting the job done the way I would like to see it. Most have compromised their office so they can get elected. They take their money from some unscrupulous people, so in office they become a rubber stamp.
Is that particularly true on the City Council?
I do think so. The recent legislation Menino pushed through, the green energy ordinance—there were quite a lot of people against that, and they pushed it through quite sneakily.
You’ve been following politics, and running for office, for a long time. Do you think the City Council has changed at all? Gotten any better or worse over that time?
I think it probably has stayed about the same. I don’t think it has changed all that much, no.
Even with so many new members coming and going?
Well like I said, they take donations and compromise their positions, so when they get there, they’re like rubber stamps.
Do you think that this year there’s an opportunity to really change that, with a new mayor and several new councilors to be elected?
I believe there’s a great opportunity for change. There will be a lot of new city councilors, as well as the mayor.
I know you thought about entering the mayoral race. As you look at the mayoral candidates, are there particular things you’re hoping to hear them talk about, that will help you decide whether they’ll be good for the city?
The schools. They’re turning out students who can’t read and write. They can use computers, but when it comes down to basics, they can’t do it. And we need jobs in the city of Boston. That’s not being addressed very well.
You’ve been running for office for many years; I met you a couple of different times on a couple of different campaigns. Do you feel like you’ve grown, in your view of politics, or of what’s needed in the city, over those years?
Not really. I’m consistent. I’m very consistent.
You’re sort of a trivia answer in the mayor’s race this year: you were the last person Charlotte Golar Richie defeated in a political campaign. She knocked you out of office in 1994. Do you have any good relationship with her now?
When I see her now, we embrace and kiss each other’s cheek and everything. That’s about it.
Do you think other candidates running city-wide ignore Roxbury and Dorchester, or has that changed because there are more active voters in those areas?
I don’t think they pay that much attention to any of the areas, including their own. [Laughs] I don’t think they pay that much attention.
I’ve always found you, and I find you now, very straightforward, but I’ve also heard you say that you don’t like dealing with the media. Why is that?
They have a tendency to distort my views. They talk to me and I say one thing, and then they write what they want to write. That’s the reason.
Do you think that your campaigns over the years have had an effect on the city, and on policy in the city, even when you haven’t won?
Oh yes, I know that I’ve had a positive effect. Because I constantly fight—like I’m fighting the MBTA. They’re trying to eliminate stops on bus routes. I’m mainly concerned about bus 15, and I got over 1,000 signatures to petition them not to eliminate the stops.
You’re always able to get signatures to get on the ballot, and as you mention for other petitions for things you’re supporting. But I often hear from others about how hard it is to get signatures. Do you think other candidates aren’t trying very hard, or aren’t willing to do the work?
Because I’m working for the public, people know this, so it’s very easy for me to get on the ballot. They know me, and they don’t mind signing and doing what they can do to try to help me. A lot of [candidates] probably don’t know how. And you know, maybe if they were constantly, not just when they want to run, but if they constantly worked for the people they are trying to represent, they might have an easier time getting signatures.
If they were doing more outside the election cycle you mean?
Yes, exactly. Don’t forget, I work, I’m the vice president of the Upham’s Corner Health Center, I go to community meetings—I’m busy all the time.
I wanted to ask you about your work at the health center, and in health care administration generally—you don’t mention health care among your main issues, but do you think there is more the city needs to be doing in terms of health issues?
Yes I do. For one thing they could reduce the cost of insurance; it’s really terrible I think. The new health care law is not affordable health care. They call it affordable health care, but it’s not affordable. A lot of people are struggling just to have insurance. They would have been better off if they had just left it alone, I think.
Would you describe yourself as a conservative? I know there are no party labels in the municipal election, but do you think of yourself more as a conservative than a liberal?
I’m more conservative—and independent. I’ve been registered independent for five or six years, and I’m conservative as well as independent.
Have you thought about re-joining the Republican Party?
Oh, no, I was a Republican—no, no. Republican and Democratic parties are just the same, as far as I’m concerned; there’s very little difference.
Are there any politicians, in Boston or elsewhere, who you think do a good job, who you think of as possible role models for other politicians?
Senator [William] Bulger did a good job. When I was a state rep, I used to work with him. I thought he did an excellent job. We used to work quite well together. He represented part of the 5th Suffolk district when I was a state rep.
What was it about him that you thought made him effective?
A lot of times, if something was going on that I should know he would call me, and we’d meet and do whatever we had to do to correct the problem. Which is the way it should be, really. There’s not enough of that.
Do you think Tom Menino has had a bad effect on people working together in the city because decisions all have to go through his office?
Yes, I do, I definitely think that.
Are you optimistic that will change under a new mayor?
I’m just so happy to know that we’re getting a new mayor! [Laughs] A lot of people are happy too.
Are there any other issues that you’d like to see talked about in this campaign?
As you said, I am conservative, so I think a little differently. I’m going to be calling for an independent municipal audit of the City of Boston. I would like to see all the departments audited. And another thing—when I was a state rep, we had walking policemen in the neighborhoods. We don’t have that now. They ride around, but they’re not on foot in the neighborhoods. That’s another thing that I’m going to cite, is to bring walking policemen back, because I think that would cut down a lot of the crime, drug selling, and the killings.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.