City Council Candidate Chat: Michael Bronner
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for City Council in Allston-Brighton?
Michael Bronner: I’m motivated to run because of the apparent apathy that’s going on in our democracy. In the recent special Senate election, only 23 percent of registered Boston voters came out to the polls, and that bothers me. So I’m running—maybe you could call it overcompensation. I decided I wanted to get involved. I want to inspire people to get involved in the system, and pay attention more. In many ways, municipal government affects people more than state or federal politics.
What do you attribute that low turnout to?
It could be [that people think] “it’s one vote, my vote doesn’t matter.” With federal elections, like with Barack Obama, there was a lot of enthusiasm: “there’s a new guy.” I think I’m the new guy. What’s frustrating to me—there’s an election, they have to put many municipal resources toward getting these elections going, and then 23 percent show up and 77 percent don’t. I think that’s wasteful. I’m interested in getting legislation going that if you don’t vote, maybe there should be an excise tax put on that. There were 298,000 registered voters who didn’t vote in the June election. If we put an excise tax on each one of those people for $13 – I picked 13 because of the colonies, a symbolic excise tax—the City of Boston would make $3.8 million. It’s to motivate people to vote, but also to compensate our city.
You mention the difference in interest between a Presidential and municipal election. For people in that Allston-Brighton district, what are the arguments you make for why a city council election matters to them?
In Allston-Brighton there’s the homeowners, and there’s the renter-students. The homeowners are really cautious about the relationship between the universities and the residents. Well, there’s the Boston Redevelopment Authority—many of those people are calling the shots on the universities encroaching on their neighborhoods. It’s really important to have an ally on your side for that. I can tell you one thing: I don’t have a conflict of interest with Boston College. My opponent may. I’m a truly independent candidate.
When you say your opponent, you mean Mark Ciommo; what are you suggesting his conflict of interest is with Boston College?
From what I understand, his son goes there. That’s what I’ve read. Some people are calling that a conflict of interest. I don’t know if I particularly look at it as a conflict of interest, I’m just saying what other people have said.
There’s a sense that Allston-Brighton is changing. Do you feel like it’s well planned out, that the changes are going to develop business activity and improve quality of life?
I’m really excited about the development. You have the New Balance project that’s going on, with the new commuter rail stop, that I feel is going to be an exciting project for the area. It’s going to give people from MetroWest a different access to Lower Allston. I’m fully in support of a number of the businesses in the Union Square area to get licenses to stay open later. Deep Ellum opened a patio, and Mr. Ciommo opposed that.
You are a mental health professional; how did you get into that line of work, and how does it translate into what you could bring to the city council?
I work in Packard’s corner, and people come to my office for therapy. I worked for JP Morgan for four or five years, and I was not happy working there. So I went back to school, thinking I was going to become a high school guidance counselor, and I went through that program and had an opportunity to do some counseling, and I kind of got the bug. People say they get the acting bug, well I got the counseling bug. So I got more training, and I am working toward my license. I should have my LMHC [Licensed Mental Health Counselor] at any moment. How it translates to the city council, is that I see a lot of social ills. Much of it comes from people who had poor parents. So if we can boost up the parenting programs in the city of Boston, that would be really valuable. Also, I listen to people all day. I have a little postcard that I hand out, saying that I will be effective, efficient, but also empathetic. In my field I have to be empathetic to my clients’ feelings, and I think that’s what I’m going to bring to the city council.
As you say that, I’m thinking about which city councilors I think of as more or less empathetic. Do you have any city councilors who you look at as role models in that sense?
Mr. [Rob] Consalvo is someone I respect. He said to me that, if you’d like to meet and talk about what it’s like being a city councilor, we can do that. He’s the one guy who was open to that. I look at that as being a good government official—I felt listened to by him. There are several others, that I’ll leave unnamed, that didn’t offer me 10 or 15 minutes.
Well, you are running against one of their colleagues.
[Laughs] That’s true. But, I just wanted to meet with several of them to ask about the job, and several of them refused.
What are some of the other issue areas that you think you can contribute to?
If I was elected, I would donate 10 percent of my salary directly back into the city, for gun buyback programs, and summer job programs. Quote me on that, print it, highlight it. There are critics of the gun buyback, but my view is that every gun bought back is a gun that won’t kill someone, and that’s good enough for me.
You know there’s a guy in the Boston area named Michael Bronner, who is the founder of Digitas; he’s a very wealthy man. He would be able to run quite a campaign; I pictured Councilor Ciommo panicking when he saw the name as his challenger.
I’ve never spoken to him. I have to do a very grassroots campaign.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.