City Council Candidate Chat: Mark Ciommo

This is the 37th in a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. Mark Ciommo is the District 9 city councilor representing Allston and Brighton.

David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for re-election to your district seat—and did you give any thought to running for mayor, like several of your colleagues are, or perhaps running for an at-large seat?

Mark Ciommo: I really love working for my district. I was born and raised here. To be able to advocate for the needs of my community, a community that’s been exceptionally good to me growing up, it’s a great honor.

Are there things happening in the district you are trying to see through to completiondevelopment projects, those sorts of things?

What comes to mind right off the bat is the commuter rail stop, that we’ve been able to work with our great neighbor Jim Davis and the New Balance team to finance. That commuter rail stop is a game-changer for our neighborhood in so many ways, from transit-oriented development to just basic economic development for the area. Then you have the challenges that come with Harvard’s developments, Boston College’s, and BU’s, kind of squeezing us from all ends of our neighborhood. But, they are challenges that also present opportunities and excitement for our neighborhood. Those are just a few; we’ve got a lot going on in our neighborhoods. I’m excited to continue to work on those issues.

It’s only been six years or so since you joined the council, but you’ve been working in the neighborhood for years; with some of these developments, are you seeing changes in the makeup of the district, both in terms of the residents and who’s coming there because of those new businesses?

It’s evolved, certainly from when I was a kid—but that was a long time ago, David. [Laughs] It’s not unlike other parts of the city. There’s a vitality to our neighborhoods, like there are to other parts of the city, that are drawing young people. But we still have our long-term residents. We have a sizable elderly population, with all of our elderly buildings. It’s evolving, but there’s still a lot of elements from years past.

There have been concerns about bicycle safety there, and of course always transportation issues with the Green Line. Do you think there are major things that need to be done to improve things for people trying to get around Allston-Brighton?

There are many things that can be done. We do have a very avid cycling community, and absolutely Allston-Brighton has seen a sizable increase in the number of people cycling. We’ve had our share of tragedies too, which is terribly sad. We have to continue to work on the infrastructure around cycling, and pedestrians, and other modes of transportation, and how the T plays into that. We need more efficient and faster service, on the B line especially. The buses are constantly running. But the commuter rail stop, we hope will add a positive to that mix of different transportation outlets. The commuter rail stop will attract a sizable group of people who want to be close to downtown.

Mayor Menino gets high praise from a lot of corners for his fiscal stewardship. You’ve been part of that process for several years now, as chair of the Ways & Means Committee; how active a role do you feel that you’ve played in that success?

When I take any issue on, I really dive into it, and want to become as expert in it as I can. Because of the tone I set, and the information that I present to my colleagues, I have earned the respect of my colleagues over the years. I’ve been doing it for the past five years, during the most difficult economic times in decades. I think the fact that I’ve run substantive, informative hearings, and people were able to get the information they needed to make an informed decision, that’s the role I’m supposed to play, working with the administration. We’ve disagreed on where resources should go, especially during the times when we were doing layoffs, and particularly the library closings. The way we worked together, we were able to get to yes all those years, and have the city in as good fiscal shape as any major municipality in the country, I would venture to say.

It’s very likely that a new mayor will come in, along with new city councilors, after campaigns in which they promise a lot of things for the city – things that ultimately will cost some money.

I’ve had my calculator ready. I’ve been adding them all up, you’re absolutely right.

So, A) do you want to stay in that Ways & Means chair, and B) do you feel that you’re going to have to stand in the way, to some extent, of fulfilling some of those promises?

It’s a negotiation throughout the process. [The budget] is a reflection of the mayor’s priorities, but also the eyes and ears of each district and at-large city councilor out in the neighborhoods, that reflects the voices of the neighborhoods as well. I believe I can play a really positive role, because of my experience. There will be at minimum four new faces on the council; that’s a pretty dramatic turnover in one election cycle.

You’re going to be one of the most senior people on the council; do you have any interest in moving to be council president, if you can get the votes?

Certainly, we all have that aspiration. I’ll cross that bridge when it comes. Like we said, there will be many new people on the council, and that won’t even be determined until November. At that point, people will probably carve out a strategy to see if they want to pursue that. I’ll be one of them, probably. I’ll think about it, sure.

When I interviewed your challenger in this race, he suggested that you might be compromised or have a conflict of interest with BC, because of one of your sons; do you want to respond to that?

I really don’t. I want to run, as I did before I was elected, on my accomplishments working in this neighborhood, for this neighborhood, in various capacities, both professionally and volunteer. I’m proud of my kids, period.

That aside, do you feel that you’ve been successful at balancing the needs of those schools, that as you said are kind of crowding from all sides, with the needs of the neighborhood?

Yes. My staff or I attend every single community meeting related to development, whether it’s university development or just local development. I approach every issue the same way—I get as much information as I can and try to be thoughtful about the impacts, how we can mitigate those impacts, how we can improve those projects, and at the end of the day we try to get to yes to a project that will make our community better. Building more dorms has always been at the forefront of our goal working with the universities, especially those universities like BU and BC in particular, who have more of their students out in our neighborhoods than we would like. Building more dorms would have an impact on the housing market in a positive way, I believe, and it would also have a better experience for the university as well.

You didn’t get in this mayoral race. You didn’t get into the state senate race a couple of years ago. You haven’t run statewide like Steve Murphy, or county-wide like Sal LaMattinna. Are you the rare city councilor who is happy just being a councilor?

I guess the short answer is, I’m very happy being a city councilor representing Allston-Brighton. But the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself to me. So I won’t say that I’ll never look at another position, elected or non-elected. But at this point in my life I enjoy what I’m doing very much. I feel like I’ve made positive contributions in the time that I’ve been in office. And at this point, today, I’m running for re-election to be district councilor representing Allston-Brighton, and I would be honored if the voters let me continue to serve.

The last councilor from Allston-Brighton said the same thing, and then one day he packed up, moved to Westwood, and ended up working for Republican Scott Brown.

[Laughs] I think I know that guy! You think I’m going to go to work for a Republican? Or are you just trying to get me out of the office—do you have somebody in mind for my office?


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