City Council Candidate Chat: Mimi Turchinetz
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for district council out of Hyde Park?
Mimi Turchinetz: I have been working as an activist and an organizer, and working to make the community safe and fairer and a better place to live for over 20 years. I have been in public service as an assistant district attorney; as an officer of the court and a lawyer; as a community organizer in public housing; working for the Senate Committee on Insurance as staff council; and then finally for the past 13 years working for Mayor [Tom] Menino, running both the Living Wage Division, and I started a public/private partnership on behalf of the community and the mayor to help stabilize people’s finances, called the EITC Campaign—the Earned Income Tax Credit. So I’ve kind of been out there every day doing work to serve the community, and it felt like this was an opportunity to step out. I want to serve. I want to be out front and play a leadership role.
In your years working on that EITC effort, as well as the Fair Wages effort, what did you learn about the city that helped you understand the city better?
People are struggling every day. They’re working two or three jobs, and they’re not making a lot of money, and they’re continuing to work hard and try to play by the rules. The other thing we discovered is how much you can do without a lot of resources, but with human capital, goodwill, institutional support, and public/private partnerships. I started that tax campaign with no resources whatsoever. With the mayor, and with the Chamber [of Commerce] and the CEOs and the banks, we built an effort to assist low- to moderate-income folks, and bring back millions and millions of dollars. And we were able to keep that together because of my ability to provide leadership and hold those disparate entities at the table, to move forward and meet some goals. The other thing, I was doing credit advising last year. You would expect that people have bad credit scores because of their credit cards. That’s not what it is. People who are unemployed or underemployed, they’ve been going to predatory schools because they think that is an easier ticket. They get a loan to the predatory school, they don’t finish, they owe all this money, they get bad credit, and they still have bad jobs. So part of it is, let’s look at workforce development, real training. Trying to figure out how to get the life sciences into the community. Different things. Most of the low- to moderate-income folks who live in the communities, a lot of them have some college, and they’re still way underemployed. So how do we use that “some college” as a way to really build a job creation strategy? Because people are struggling, and they want to work, and they’ll do whatever they have to do to raise their families.
As you talk to people on the campaign, is there a sense that the city council and city government can do things like that—link education with jobs, and that sort of thing?
It’s not the fundamental priority of a city councilor. But it is true when you think about the kind of city councilor that Mayor Menino was, when he was a district councilor, he started Main Streets. He pushed that program. You can do it if that’s who you are. The thing about the city council is that it, at the end of the day, reflects the person that’s in that position. You can use leadership, use the office, help to craft, help to bring people together, help to shepherd ideas, and kind of help empower people—and help convene things that put people in the room to work out strategies. So I think you can do it. You’re not going to necessarily run the program, but you can be the catalyst to do a lot of things.
What are some of the other issues you think are important as you talk to people in the district?
Commercial revitalization is an important thing. In this district we have kind of the model in Roslindale, with Roslindale Main Streets; and Hyde Park and Cleary Square and Logan Square and Walcott Square and Mattapan Square are struggling to get acknowledged. We saw some successes in Hyde Park, and had a series of ribbon-cuttings and some new openings. There’s an inkling of that stuff, but really helping to shepherd that along. Affordable housing, and transit-oriented development. Crime is a major issue—trying to do more to bring back community policing. And then obviously schools. Schools are the issue that everybody is concerned about. And my feeling is that it’s about equity, and making sure that every child has access to a good public education, looking at the models that are working. But we have to find a way to get more slots for the younger children, because there are not enough slots for the younger families.
It’s such a diverse district in a lot of ways, with pockets that in a lot of ways don’t belong together; is there a difficulty in trying to represent the district on those issues, when the different parts of the district might have different ideas about what the priorities should be, or what approaches to take?
I don’t see that. People want to live in a neighborhood that is safe, where they can send their kids to a neighborhood school, where they can feel like the kids can play—there’s not a real divergence of what it is that people want. They want safe, affordable housing, they want a nice place to go have lunch or go the restaurants, they want to have their kids able to play in a safe park, and they want to feel like their community’s safe. People share that. That’s universal.
You worked for Ralph Martin, both in his campaign and in his DA’s office, and it is a known fact that Martin at the time was a Republican.
Are you, or were you at the time, a Republican?
I have never in my life been a Republican! No, the only way that Ralph won was that the Democratic Party came together and we put together a Democratic-driven, grassroots field organization. He was the more progressive of the candidates. So, no, I am not a Republican. I do not share the values of the Republicans. There are some decent Republicans in this state, but I certainly don’t share the values of the national Republicans.
What other candidates’ campaigns have you worked for?
I was Alice Wolf’s campaign manager in Cambridge. I helped put the organization back together for Michael Flaherty. And I’ve been a volunteer on many campaigns. I’ve supported a lot of women for political office.
There are a number of strong female candidates this year, who could increase the number of women on the city council from just one today. But you’re in with a couple of other women in the race, which could split up the vote and make it tougher. How is that dynamic playing out so far?
There are eight people in the race, and we’re going to carve up the electorate. My history and experience, and the work that I’ve done for many, many years, I think trumps where the other women are. We just need to get the message out.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.