City Council Candidate Chat: Gareth Saunders

This is the 23rd in a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. Former district councilor Gareth Saunders is running for an at-large seat.

David S. Bernstein: You looked at the possibility of running for mayor, which you’ve pursued before as well. Why have you ended up running for an at-large seat on the City Council?

Gareth Saunders: I want to make sure that Boston is a more livable city for all of its residents. My tenure on the City Council was from 1994 to 1999, and a lot of the issues we fought for, we are still fighting for today. There seems to be some sort of vacuum, I would say, in city leadership. And there will definitely be new leadership at the end of this year, with a new mayor and possibly five or more new city councilors. I think that it would be a great idea to have some experienced leadership in the city government. I have experience. I have watched the city grow over the last decade. A lot of good things have happened in our city, but there are some glaring gaps in our progress, and I feel that I have the know-how, I have lived life here, and I want to combine my education, my work experience, and my governmental experience, and try to help make Boston a better place for everyone to live in.

When you talk about the glaring gaps in progress, do you think those gaps are primarily the fault of the mayor? Are they the combined failures of the people as a community?

I think the majority of the critique has to go to the mayor and the mayor’s administration. He is the CEO of our city. From my view over the last few years from the outside looking in at city government, there has been a loss of focus. And his administration has dealt evenly with all the different neighborhoods of our city. As I’m campaigning, I hear that from the people in Roxbury, Dorchester, Charlestown, and other parts of the city—that disparate treatment of how the government has dealt with different communities and different people.

You were a district councilor, and were seen I think as something of a critic of the mayor—after you ousted Anthony Crayton, who had helped to get Tom Menino elected council president, which led to him being mayor. Do you think there are not enough councilors who are critical of Menino, and are you worried that will be true with the next mayor?

With the current mayor, I think generally I’ve had a good working relationship with him. When you look at my voting record, I would say that 90 percent of my votes are supportive of initiatives that Mayor [Tom] Menino set forth. The problem is when I had to disagree. When I disagreed, then there were some problems and a disturbance in our relationship. Whoever the new mayor is, whoever he or she may be, I understand the dynamics of the City Council. It’s a legislative body; one person alone can’t push any legislation. You have to have the support of at least six other councilors and the mayor. I look forward to whoever the new mayor is, when I’m elected, to work with him or her and try to push some of the ideas that people that I speak with in the city think are very important to them, and the ones that I have started that are very important.

It’s been a number of years since you’ve been in office; tell me a little about what you’ve been doing since then.

When I first left, I started a small consulting business based on community relations and some business development and youth development. I worked on some contracts with religious organizations, with the Boys & Girls Club, and with some local developers on development opportunities in my old district in Roxbury. I did that for a few years. Also, I’m very involved in the ministry; I am a minister-in-training right now. I attend Greater Love Tabernacle Church in Dorchester, where the pastor is William Dickerson II. As part of my ministry passion, I did some traveling. I went to the Middle East and did some work with Israelis and Palestinians. I went to West Africa, and got involved with some ministering opportunities there; and even in France. I earned a short time of unemployment, so I had to stand with the working man and woman in the city. [Laughs] And lastly I have worked for the state Department of Transportation, in the Registry Division.

A lot of ministers and churches, like Dickerson’s, are both politically involved and also trying to help tackle many of the city’s issues. Is the city making the best use of those religious groups and individuals, or are there better ways that the city could make use of that strength?

The city could better utilize the faith communities here in Boston. There are a lot of eager people of various faiths, whether it’s Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or other faiths, that really are invested in what we call the social gospel, to make sure the plight of the people is a positive one—make sure that people who are homeless have shelter, people who are hungry have food to eat, that they have warm clothing. When you look at who the constituents of the government are, they are the same parishioners of these faith institutions. So I think it makes good sense to have stronger, and maybe even wider partnerships between city government and the faith community.

On your website you mention housing as an important piece of your agenda. What do you want to see done?

I want to make sure we continue to tap into the limited resources of our federal and state governments—and I understand deficits are growing, so those sources are going to be limited. But also, looking at the rehabilitation of abandoned properties that the city has taken for tax purposes, how we can plug in with DND [Department of Neighborhood Development] and the BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority] and work with developers, both non-profit and for-profit developers. I believe that we have to change the formula, and make sure that the developers build in more moderately-priced and affordable-priced home ownership, as well as rental units, when they propose rehabilitation-type development in our city.

As you are running citywide, are there any parts of the city that you feel like you’ve learned something new about?

I was campaigning in East Boston, and a couple of people said we don’t have enough urban gardens, and fresh vegetable and fruit markets in East Boston. That’s something I would have never thought of myself, but to have residents say that was very interesting. One thing that is clear across the board in the city: people are not happy with how the city deals with abutters; how they deal with residents in relation to certain types of development. The people of Boston feel that we should play a greater role in partnership with the city, and not just have a community meeting just to say you had a community meeting, but listen to the ideas. Really take to heart what the people say and incorporate it into the proposed development, and not just rubber-stamp the process and just do what the developers want. I’ve heard that in all the neighborhoods.


Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.