City Council Candidate Chat: Philip Frattaroli
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for this at-large seat this year?
Philip Frattaroli: This is the first time in my life that I feel that I have a perspective, and something to say, on a lot of the issues that we face in the city. I recently got married, and my wife and I are looking to stay in the city, and buy a piece of property in the city, and that’s becoming increasingly difficult and expensive for a young family. As a small businessperson, I’ve been through 1010 Mass. Ave., and I’ve been through the gauntlet we require of new businesses. So really it’s about having something to say, and something to add to the discussion that I think is important.
I hear a lot about the affordability of the city, particularly for people your age. What can be done to make it possible for people like you to be able to stay?
Here in the North End, there’s a limited amount of inventory. Most of the apartments are just one- or two-bedrooms, and my wife and I would like to start a family, and expand outside of that restriction. In terms of what the city can do, we should be encouraging developers to make bigger units, some three- and four-bedroom spaces. A lot of it, too, is school placement plans, and encouraging people to want to live near great schools, and get a better sense of a neighborhood spirit around the school. I definitely would be an advocate for young people trying to stay in the city. The future of the city really depends on keeping the talent that we have in Boston here, and not seeing all these families move to the suburbs.
You mentioned being a small business owner; you have a pizza restaurant in the North End that you’ve owned for about four years. So, what is the secret to making a good pizza?
[Laughs] I grew up in a restaurant family, so we started with a family discussion about a family dough recipe, and I made some changes from that. We’re a neighborhood restaurant, we really rely on the people who live around us to support the restaurant. And you have to be a good neighbor; you have to support local causes, you have to hire local people. You have to give back to the community in every way you can. That’s really the secret of being a successful small-business person in a neighborhood. This is probably the most competitive restaurant neighborhood, definitely in the city, probably in the country. To be open for four years, we’re really fortunate. We’ve really kind of found our niche—people can always afford pizza and beer, and that’s kind of what we specialize in: local beers and craft pizzas.
You emphasize the importance of simplifying the process for small business owners—the permitting and licensing and so forth. Everyone says to simplify the process, but specifically what can be done?
I’m a lawyer; every year when we start to get our license renewal forms, and all the documents we need to bring to renew our license, I break out in a cold sweat. It’s so difficult. So many nuances to it, and procedures—go to this office, and then bring certain documents to another office. With technology and just some common sense, I think there’s a way to simplify everything. A common sense approach, looking at everything and advocating for small businesspeople—I don’t think that really takes place right now. There are no small business owners on the city council, who have been through 1010 Mass. Ave. and created jobs for the city. I really do want to be a voice for small businesspeople—not just restaurant owners, but retail and any kind of startup.
You have described yourself as a moderate Massachusetts Republican [Frattaroli laughs]—you knew that was going to come up, didn’t you?—who has changed your voter registration to unenrolled, or independent. This is a pretty Democrat-dominant city. Do you feel that you are out of step ideologically with people here? Or is the partisan label itself a barrier?
On social issues, I’m pretty liberal. On fiscal issues, growing up in a small business the way I did, and being a small business owner, I’m conservative. I believe in budgets, and staying within our means. I think ideologically I’m in line with most of the people in the city—even more liberal than a lot. I grew up in a Republican household, and I left the party a couple of years ago because I disagreed with a lot of the ideologically motivated bickering that happens in Washington, and I disagreed with the direction the party has taken over the past couple of years. Their only strategy was to oppose everything the President wanted to do, and I don’t think that’s a strong strategy for a national party. I’ve always supported candidates of both parties, whoever I thought was the best person, and that’s not necessarily who the party wanted me to. In local government, the dollars-and-cents stuff, the fiscal conservative stuff, is welcome.
Since the governor of the state is important to the city, I have to ask: in the last election, did you vote for the Democrat Deval Patrick, the Republican Charlie Baker, or the Independent Tim Cahill?
I supported Charlie Baker, because I opposed the governor’s decision to raise the sales tax.
I can’t think of any North End residents who have been elected to the City Council in recent years. Do you know who the last one was?
I think the last one was Fred Langone [who served from 1964 to 1983]. I’m kind of fortunate; when my father and his family settled in America, they settled in East Boston, and same thing on my mom’s side. So I have family in East Boston, which is more traditionally a voting powerhouse than the North End is. There is no candidate from East Boston in this race, and I’m fortunate to have a lot of support there, not only from endorsements of elected officials but also friends, and people who know my family’s businesses, and me and the work we do here on this side of the tunnel.
Do you feel that your area, the North End and East Boston, tend to be underrepresented? The at-large city councilors and mayor tend to come from quite different parts of the city.
Oh absolutely. The four city councilors at large come from sort of the southwest corridor of the city, and traditionally that’s always been the case. In this corner of the city, traditionally there haven’t been as many votes as Hyde Park or West Roxbury. That’s starting to change a little bit, because of development. The Charlestown Navy Yard, which is right across from me, is now full of condos and apartments. Same thing for the West End, which obviously was a neighborhood before, but then for a long time was all commercial and industrial. The numbers for this part of the city are coming up, especially in the Presidential election. The challenge for me is, a lot of those people are my customers, but most of them don’t traditionally vote in municipal elections. We need to make sure we reach out to those new Bostonians, and make sure they’re supporting my candidacy. We need to make sure the City Council reflects where people are living.
One of the potential positive outcomes of this very open election, there are a lot of different candidates – young, from different parts of the city, different ethnicities—who are appealing directly to portions of the city who perhaps haven’t been directly appealed to by a city candidate before. Do you feel that the campaign, which some are describing as a little sleepy or low-interest, may be generating a little excitement among those new Bostonians?
It’s been hard – the majority of people aren’t really paying attention yet. You’re right, this is a very important election. You know, it’s interesting—a lot of the candidates in my race do have a lot of interesting stories and diverse upbringings, but a lot of them at some point worked for the city, whether at the Mayor’s office or someplace else. I’m really one of the few candidates coming from completely outside city government. That’s a really important perspective, and one that sets me apart from the rest of the field.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.