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Opinion: Boston Proper Needs Its Own City Councilor

Boston's 13 city councilors all live outside of Boston Central, the city's downtown neighborhoods. How does this hurt us?

All 13 Boston city councilors are up for re-election this year, and not one of them lives in any of the downtown Boston neighborhoods. The nine district councilors and four at-large councilors are elected for two-year terms.

In my opinion, we suffer from not having a "Boston Proper" resident - meaning someone who lives in the South End, Bay Village, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, North End, West End, Waterfront or Chinatown neighborhoods.

Five of the 13 city councilors live in the same, distant part of Boston. Councilors Murphy, Connolly, and Consalvo live in West Roxbury or Hyde Park, while Councilors Arroyo and O'Malley live in Jamaica Plain. Councilor Ciommo lives in Brighton, which is as far away from downtown Boston as is Medford, Everett, or Revere. Councilor LaMattina has to take a boat across the Boston Harbor to get here.

It's not the individuals involved; I have no issue with them. All are good, solid persons. It's just that, with the downtown neighborhoods being the ones that most people think of when they think of "Boston", it's vital that we have representation by those who not only go to work here (at City Hall) but who live here.

A Disconnect with Urban Issues

Boston Proper district councilors presumably have more interest in what goes on in our neighborhoods, but Councilor Ross seems preoccupied with keeping Northeastern from intruding on its Roxbury and Fenway neighbors. Meanwhile, Maureen Feeney, Tito Jackson, and Charles Yancey spend their time attending to the needs of their fellow Dorchesterians. (To be fair, it's not always this way; for example, District 2 Councilor Linehan has always been a big supporter of South End baseball and has recently co-sponsored a hearing on that neighborhood's .)

Issues of the suburban neighborhoods can be quite different from us, in here, who deal with crime and gritty city issues more than they do in their bucolic areas.

For example, street sweeping, trash pickup and parking fall into that category. The noise issue in the North End can't be appreciated unless you're trying to sleep in your Salem Street apartment while "yahoos" from the suburbs are waiting for éclairs at Bova's.

Likewise, you can't understand what it's like to be accosted by seemingly mentally ill persons falling out of recovery unless you walk by them on a daily basis on Harrison Ave. or on the Copley Square mall. The councilors' opinions, therefore, are based on third-hand information and their decision-making processes formed by random, infrequent interactions.

I think that, by and large, the councilors want the city's urban problems to remain downtown. The Boston Housing Authority has more developments in the South End than in any other neighborhood, but how can city councilors understand the needs of these residents without coming into contact with them on a regular basis?

Councilor Murphy would probably be less willing to into paying "voluntary" property taxes if he lived near any of the universities or hospitals in downtown Boston and could see the immense positive impact they have on our city.

We Need to Take Responsibility Too

While you might think the councilors would focus on Boston Proper since the downtown neighborhoods are where the serious money is made in tax revenue, both residential and commercial, sadly, the reason that councilors ignore downtown Boston is most likely because fewer residents vote here than elsewhere.

It doesn't help that the South End is split into two districts or that the North End is aligned with East Boston. The lack of cohesiveness is one of the major reasons that the downtown Boston neighborhoods don't have full representation. Perhaps the promised redistricting of Boston's districts will actually happen and we can fix this problem.

It doesn't have to remain like this. You still have an opportunity to make your voice heard. The final day to take out city councilor nomination papers is May 17 and the last day to submit voter signatures is May 24.

Districts have very nominal signature requirements; you can qualify with just 150 signatures in District 8, for example, while all the other districts require just 200. At-large candidates have to get at least 1,500 qualified signatures. (A requirement that should be lowered, by the way.)

So, go pull those papers.

John A Keith is a South End resident and real estate broker. He ran for State Representative in 2009 (but lost). You can reach him at john@johnakeith.com.

Pat Galvin May 12, 2011 at 05:54 AM
While this is a well informed and written article, it does not mention, nor involve Charlestown at all. I would suggest submitting this to a South End, Bay Village, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, North End, or Chinatown neighborhood, or as you call it "Boston Proper" news organization. To me it comes off as a sly ad for your Real Estate agency.
Carolyn A. Gritter May 12, 2011 at 06:12 PM
During the last redistricting, I headed the Ellis Neighborhood Association of the South End. We joined with Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Bay Village, and Chinatown to propose the Downtown Disrict Plan. We made our case before the City Council with documented presentation material and testimony, but Councilor Fred Langone's redistricting committee was deaf to the logic, and political fairness of the downtown plan. Internecine conflicts among the South End's many neighborhood associations and the socioeconomic diversity of the area, which should have been a strength, weakened the South End's one-voice lobbying effort. In addition, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and Bay Village with their single-representative associations were uneasy with the fractiousness of the South End. Result: A fair and politically sound plan fell victim to the powerful political self-interests of councilors from vote-rich districts. The cautionary tale is that lack of cohesion weakens strength of purpose and results in political impotence. Political impotence is the reason urban renewal nearly destroyed the historic fabric of the South End and why the neighborhood became the repository of more public housing than any other neighborhood. Instead of fairly siting public housing projects throughout the city, planners singled out the South End despite HUD guidelines for the number of units in a given area. Some South Enders sued HUD over this violation of their own guidelines and lost. Carolyn A. Gritter
John Keith May 12, 2011 at 06:15 PM
Quick correction: six of the nine districts require 200 valid signatures; three are different. District 8 requires 150 signatures, District 4 189, and District 9 166, according to a city-issued bulletin.
John Keith May 16, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Dennis, why did you delete your second comment?! Regarding Charlestown being left out, it was an oversight on my part. I have written for Back Bay Patch for the past five or six months and am only now having my columns posted to the other Boston Patch sites, including Charlestown. I will make an effort to be more inclusive in the future.

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