City Council Candidate Chat: Keith Kenyon

This is the 26th in a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. South Boston attorney Keith Kenyon is running for an at-large seat.

David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for an at-large seat on the city council?

Keith Kenyon: I have a belief that the city council, and maybe our elected officials in general, need to do more for the everyday person, and focus attention on the everyday problems that residents face. As candidates we can all generalize: we need safe, affordable places to live; we need good schools in our neighborhoods; we need resources for our seniors. But my focus is on what we can do to help more on an everyday basis. I’d like to see us help unemployed residents find jobs. I’d like to find ways to make it easier to afford the rent or the mortgage. I’m not a politician. I’m a first-time candidate. What I’ve been telling people is: I’m your neighbor.

You talk about these being everyday problems, but solutions might have to be very big to help people get employment, or avoid foreclosure. Are you prepared to look for big solutions to the underlying problems, or are you talking more about smaller ways to help people get through the immediate situation?

Both. Obviously little ways are great, when you can have a resident come in and help them, one at a time, find a job or help them with assistance on a monthly payment. But the bigger focus is on a fundamental improvement of all problems. What I’d like to do is propose some ideas that are going to help fix the problem with affordable housing; and also things that are going to push job creation in the city.

I hear a lot of people talk about the need for affordable housing in the city. What do you think the answers are?

We need to work with developers and banks, and have them invest more in Boston. If a developer is coming in, and they’re going to make X amount of dollars off a certain project, then I believe a percentage of that needs to be put into an organization that’s going to help with affordable housing. I’d like to see a build-up of programs like MassHousing or the Boston Housing Trust Fund. They are underfunded, and under-communicated to our residents. I also think we need to talk about zoning. It’s a tough conversation to have, because zoning laws are in place to protect the residents. At the same time, I’d like to see it relaxed a bit. I know the mayor recently released that they’re going to start looking at smaller dwelling units; HUD calls them “accessory dwelling units.” I support that. I’d like to see more of that.

In South Boston where you live, and other parts of the city, don’t some people have the attitude that more affordable housing in the city is a great concept, but not if it brings new people into my neighborhood who I don’t want here?

I think people are accepting of affordable housing in all areas of the community. People are accepting of community members when they come into their community and they participate, or they show a worth of some kind to the general community. It doesn’t have to be financially, that they’re coming in and throwing big money at a house – it can be that they are participating in a community event, that they’re friendly to their neighbors. The city is changing, and those that are open to it, and welcome it, are going to do well with it.

Do you have connections to other parts of the city? I believe you have family in Hyde Park.

I grew up outside the city. But from the time I was little, every weekend I would go over to Grandma’s house in Hyde Park. She would take me on the T and show me all of Boston. She was also very active in her community; her family were founding members of St. Adalbert’s Parish. We would walk to Cleary Square to get groceries, and people would stop and talk to her, and thank her. I was a young kid; I thought Grandma’s so popular! I asked her about it, and she said “no, it’s just using the resources of our family to help others.” That resonates in me today.

You talk about bringing your perspective on issues like housing, development, jobs, public safety. Do you think the lack of progress in those areas is due to officeholders lacking perspective, so they don’t understand the problems well enough; or do they know what needs to be done but there’s no political will, and we need new people with the will to make changes?

And maybe I can add a third answer. I think when you’re in a position such as city council for a long time, sometimes you lose sight of the outside-the-box thinking. That’s what I’d like to think I’m bringing.

What can you say to make people think that you’re the person to break through that, and find ways to leverage the position to influence action?

It’s about hard work, and communication. Those are two things that I’ve had in my life since day one. I started in Boston in a union shop, put myself through grad school and eventually law school. On an everyday basis in our law office we bring people together through communication and hard work, and the willingness to work with each other and solve problems.

Speaking of communication, your education is in journalism. You realize journalists are just about the only people more distrusted than politicians?

Yeah, I do. [Laughs] I think you’re getting a bad rap on that one. Journalism, newspapers, shape the city in an equal way to politics. When I was 16 I got the job at the Boston Globe in the press room – I wasn’t writing, I was mixing ink and sweeping floors. But I was able to read the paper and get an education in the city from the Globe. I believe the papers and the journalists in this city do a great job, recognizing issues and holding people accountable.

Do you have any reaction to the news that John Henry is buying the Boston Globe?

I don’t, because it’s too early to tell. I will tell you this: one of the worst experiences I had was when the New York Times bought the Boston Globe, and that’s because they went in and tore it up, and I think they let corporate greed control over working-class values that had worked in Boston for many years. I was sad to see that the Taylors sold it, and I do believe that the quality of the paper went down.

When you run city-wide for the first time, you end up spending time in parts of the city that you’re not as familiar with. Are there any things you’ve learned about a specific neighborhood or part of the city during this campaign?

My trips out to JP and West Roxbury have been great. I’ve learned about some different areas. The amount of green space out there is really impressive to me – I’d like to see more of that both out there, and closer to the areas of South Boston and Downtown. JP is incredible, with some of the restaurants there – I had some of the best fish tacos I’ve ever had, right on Centre Street. It’s nice to see some of the development on different routes. I was on Dudley Street the other day, seeing the community centers popping up; same with Dorchester Avenue. To see these beautiful community centers taking the initiative to redo an entire block of those streets, it’s nice to see.


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