City Council Candidate Chat: Margherita Ciampa-Coyne

This is the 39th in a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. Margherita Ciampa-Coyne of Hyde Park is running in the 5th District.

David S. Bernstein: Why did you want to get into the race for this open seat?

Margherita Ciampa-Coyne: I’ve always been politically active, even as a kid. I grew up in Dorchester in Ward 15. I was a precinct captain back in the day for Mike Whouley. My mom was very engaged in community. She wasn’t an elected official, but she did a lot for the neighborhood. So I grew up with that, and always believed you should be somebody who’s engaged in community, and as you said it’s an open seat, and I think I can make a difference. I have a business background. I’m not like a lot of the other candidates, who have either worked for the city, or for an arm of the city. I think a business background makes a difference—you’re sort of results-driven, there are expectations, and if you don’t do well, you’re gone. I think people should expect the same from their elected officials.

There does seem to be a divide of sorts in these City Council races, between those who have worked for the city, and those like you from outside. Isn’t there an argument to be made that those with city experience know how City Hall works, have relationships in City Hall, and are going to be able to get things done for people in the district?

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing—knowing how government works, and being someone who is in the thick of it and knows the nuts and bolts of it, is a good thing. But I also think that new energy and new ideas come from people who are on the outside looking in. I have worked with public/private partnerships: I have done things with Mass. Housing, I’ve done things with Operation HOPE, and DOVE Inc., a non-profit. I’m a former board member [of DOVE]; currently I’m on the fundraising committee—we have a gala coming up. I’m going to send you an invitation, David, I’m going to look for your name on the response list. Those are mutually beneficial programs, where the corporate partner worked with the city or state agency, and everyone did well in the end. Again, it’s results-driven.

Those kinds of public-private partnerships are a way to get things for the city without spending more of the city’s budget; are there areas where you think that kind of activity can be expanded?

Absolutely. One of my key issues—if I’m elected I hope to do—vocational schools in the city for high schoolers. Outside of nationally ranked Boston Latin, which is a superb school, I think there is a real void in what we offer high school students in Boston. We fail these kids. Vocational programming, done with corporate entities—I mean next-generation vocational schools, schools that focus on technology, medical training, engineering, financial planning. We’re the mecca for medicine, we’ve got technology; Google’s coming in. Why can’t these corporations be the sponsors for vocational high school programs in Boston? I’m the mom of three, I know all kids learn differently—believe me, I think every child should have the opportunity to go to college, but for some people, that’s just not what they want to do. They don’t want to enter a four-year program, they want to learn real skills for a real job that’s going to create a real career that creates lifelong opportunity. My father came to this county; his skill was cabinet-making. And because of that, he lived the American dream: he bought a house, he sent his kids to school. He did that because he had a real trade. He never went to college; he had a fourth-grade education coming out of Italy.

What part of Italy did your father come from?

He came from Naples. He spoke no English. The story goes that my grandmother, Grandmother Francesca, took my mother and my aunt, when they were in their 20s. They lived in Boston in the South End, and supposedly my grandmother was beside herself that they were not married, so she takes them to Italy where they have an arranged marriage. This was in the ’50s! It wasn’t: you have to marry this person. It was more: these are the acceptable gentlemen who you can marry. So, my father courts my mother, and my aunt gets courted, so the two sisters marry these two guys from the same town—whose families were arch-rivals, and they hated each other. So picture Thanksgiving and Christmas in our house when we were kids!

You said you have three children; what was your experience with the Boston Public School system?

My kids did both. The boys went to all-boys school, Catholic Memorial. My daughter went to Boston Latin. From sixth grade on, the other two did not attend public schools. I’m fortunate that I have the resources to send my kids to the schools that were best for them. And I think that’s what every parent wants to be able to do—to have the choice to send their kids to the best school so that son or daughter gets the best education for that child. All kids are different; they learn differently.

You said you have a business background; currently you are in real estate, right?

I was an operations manager for a company that was based out of California; I was the operations manager for the division here in Massachusetts. My background is as a real estate paralegal. The company that I worked for is a data-information service provider; they provide all of the information for real estate transactions. I learned my chops as a commercial real estate paralegal. That’s what I do now; I work on a contract basis. I was an instructor for Northeastern in their paralegal program, so I trained folks on how to become a residential real estate paralegal. My specialty is titles. I also, as an operations manager, I did a lot of education programming for realtors in Massachusetts.

As you’ve been thinking about this campaign and talking to people, what are some of the issues that are coming up, that you feel you’d have some insight into or skill at solving?

When you ask people, what do you expect from your city councilor? The answer they kept coming back to is constituent services: I want someone that’s going to be able to listen when I talk about the park, or will help me with the waiting list for a school. Those are all real, practical requests, but I think as a city councilor, I’m certainly there to advocate for them, and I certainly believe that I’m someone who is results-oriented, and customer-focused; but just because of how the charter works, we’re limited in what we can do. When I explain that to folks, I think it’s an eye-opener to them. Boston Neighborhood Services really champions these requests, and the city councilor is the liaison with Neighborhood Services. You definitely want to make sure that the mayor knows who you are, and that you are very supportive of all aspects of what he’s trying to do. People have said that to me, too: I don’t know so-and-so, so that’s why we don’t get this. There’s some level of: he’s got mine and I don’t, or they’ve got theirs and I don’t care, which is kind of disheartening to see. There was more of that than I expected to hear.

Tell me about your activism in domestic violence; you mentioned your DOVE Inc. affiliation.

I’ve been involved for a number of years. It’s a personal issue—not for me, but for people I’m close with, people I love. With everything that’s gone on in the last few weeks, it’s just absolutely heartbreaking that these things happen over and over again.

Is that an issue you would prioritize; is there something the city could be doing, both programmatically and in raising awareness?

Sure. There’s a program DOVE provides, called the Yellow Dress. It’s a play that’s geared toward high schoolers. In it this young lady goes through an incident: how you prevent it, what to be aware, how to talk about. There are things like that, that can be done at no cost to the city. If people know what to do, know what to look for, and know how to extricate themselves—if they’re educated, or if they’re surrounded by resources, or people who are educated about it, it makes things a lot easier and a lot safer. The funding for it is so limited, and there should be more.


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