City Council Candidate Chat: Matt O’Malley
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for re-election—and why not take a shot at one of those open at-large seats that you have coveted in the past?
Matt O’Malley: I absolutely love being the district City Councilor. I love representing District 6, with Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, a little bit of Roslindale, the back of Mission Hill, and a little bit of Roxbury now that we’ve gone through redistricting. It’s where I grew up, it’s where I’ve lived, it’s where I’ve spent almost all of my life. I’ve been in office now about two and a half years, and we’ve done some really thoughtful and innovative legislation. I’m proud of my record on constituent services. And I think we’re just getting started. I hope I’ll be able to get re-elected, and continue to focus on education, safety, environmental issues, business development, as well as constituent services. And, there are projects that I fought for successfully that I want to see through to fruition—we were able to secure $8.5 million for a full renovation to the Jamaica Plain Branch Library; that’s been one of my top priorities. We were able to secure $3.5 million for a sports renovation at the West Roxbury Educational Complex, which is going to put in tennis courts, a half basketball court, a new turf football field, and a running track. I want to make sure that they are done, and done right.
You chair the Government Operations Committee, which many people might not know much about. How does that chairmanship allow you to serve the district?
It’s probably, second only to Ways and Means, the most busy committee as well as the most impactful. Every home rule petition goes through the Government Operations Committee. We’ve worked on the transliteration of our ballots; an ordinance limiting the satellite dishes on the front facades of buildings; and one of the things I’m most proud of this year, the Boston Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), which is a really innovative piece of legislation that will allow Boston to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050. It’s an ordinance that we’re going to use on some of the larger buildings, 35,000 square feet or more; some of the office buildings, which accounts for a huge percentage of our space in this city. One reason I enjoy chairing the Government Operations Committee so much is you can really delve deeply into the weeds on these important issues. One thing I think we’ve been able to do well is strike the right balance; solicit feedback from all stakeholders; and put forward a product that makes sense, is good policy, and is the right thing to do.
You talk about balance—some environmentalists think there’s not enough teeth in that BERDO to force compliance. Is that a fair criticism?
I don’t think that is a fair criticism. The pushback from this bill was from some of the real estate developers and larger landlords. They brought some legitimate concerns; obviously there would be a cost associated with this, and they had some questions they needed answers. So I made sure they had a seat at the table. I think it’s fair, and I think the results will speak for themselves. It is Boston, once again, leading the way in the nation on good green initiatives and legislation.
You mentioned that satellite dish ordinance. When that passed, you said to the press: “I am very excited about this ordinance.” [O’Malley laughs] Very excited about the placement of satellite dishes. That says something about what kind of councilor you are, doesn’t it?
I am a wonk. I really delve deep into these things. It’s these small issues that really do affect the quality of life. That’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed this job so much, and why I believe that we’ve done some great work, is because it’s about striking that right balance of working on those small quality-of-life issues, as well as the big-picture issues.
When you first ran for that seat you talked about wanting some changes, such as a line-item budget veto, a hybrid school committee – do you still think there should be changes, maybe even more significant changes, and perhaps with new councilors and a new mayor coming in this may be the time to make those changes?
I absolutely do, David. This is a very exciting time in Boston. Tom Menino has done incredible work, has been a fantastic mayor, is leaving the city in far better shape than it was, and we’re a better city because of it. But I do think there is an opportunity, with several new councilors coming in, from diverse backgrounds and diverse life experiences, that this council can take a more active role, in exerting more power and influence with our next mayor, whoever he or she may be.
Would an attempt to get a city-wide vote for the casino in East Boston need to come through your committee?
I’m unsure on that. I certainly support the citywide vote.
You mentioned that your district changed a bit because of redistricting. The votes mostly split the progressive and minority councilors, versus the more, if you will, traditional, old-Boston councilors—and you ended up on one side for one vote, and the other side for another vote. How did that happen?
I certainly took a leadership position on that, and you’re right, I voted for all three of the maps—councilor [Frank] Baker and I were the only ones who did that. The first map I voted for because it kept Jamaica Plain whole. The second map I co-authored with Tito Jackson, that also passed, we ended up losing one precinct in JP; I was sad to lose that precinct but it was for the greater good. Redistricting was obviously a long, difficult process. I fought for districts that reflected the vibrancy and diversity of the city, and was proud that what Tito and I worked on together did pass, and then the final product was largely built off of that.
You are openly backing John Connolly for mayor; should voters and constituents in your district be concerned that if somebody else ends up being mayor you could be marginalized in City Hall?
No, I don’t think that’s the case at all. We have terrific candidates running for mayor, many of whom are my friends, and will continue to be my friends. I am backing John, I think he’s the best candidate, I have worked well with him, I have known him for years, pre-dating either of us getting elected. One thing I’ve been able to do well is to work well with the administration on issues on which we agree, of which there are many, and I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe when it may be at odds with someone else. And that will continue, with whoever wins.
This election, both for mayor and council, is a unique chance for the city to have a discussion about the priorities going forward. Are the conversations so far about the right things? Is there anything missing from the discussion that you think needs to be added?
One focus I’d like to see, that I’ve really tried to focus on as a district councilor, is support for our small businesses—working with our Main Streets programs to try to bring more small businesses, more locally-owned and -operated stores, into our neighborhoods. It’s development outside of downtown. We’ve seen the benefits; Roslindale Square, I would dare to say, is the national model of the Main Streets program working well. And we’re also seeing it in West Roxbury, with so many new restaurants coming in, as well as Jamaica Plain. I would like to see more focus on that—bringing a more thriving local economy out to our neighborhoods.
You have, in the past, expressed support for the idea of bringing the Olympic Games to Boston. I’m curious: are you insane? [O’Malley laughs] You think it’s feasible for Boston to host the Olympic Games?
I think it could be. I’d like to have a feasibility study. I testified in support of senator [Eileen] Donoghue’s bill in the state senate to do just that. The city needs to have a role in the conversation if we are going to go forward. I can tell you, though, the United States Olympic Exploratory Committee is very keen on Boston, and this may be our best opportunity to win a bid for the Games.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.