By Seth Daniel
When Councilor Michael Flaherty walks the streets of Boston’s neighborhoods, whether Charlestown, Beacon Hill, Eastie or Jamaica Plain, he said he often encounters folks he’s known for years.
It goes with having grown up in South Boston and worked in Boston all his adult life.
Perhaps he coached their kids in youth sports.
Some he went to high school with years ago.
Maybe he helped them when he was an assistant prosecutor in the DA’s officer.
Most likely, he’s encountered them through his years on the Council, and in those encounters, Flaherty, 46, said during a recent interview that he’s generated several issues he would like to tackle if he is re-elected to office in this November’s City Election.
Chief among the issues that have grabbed his attention is development – and making sure the boom in Boston development helps the neighborhoods.
In particular, Flaherty said he is calling for a separate planning agency to make sure that the City follows the old adage, ‘Plan your work, and work your plan.’ Too often, he said, good plans have gone by the wayside when a prominent developer has submitted an attractive plan to the City.
“I’d like the City to have a stand-alone Planning Department where a plan is created through the community process and then the plan is handed over to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), which would be the economic development arm,” he said.
Flaherty said he believes that the BRA has entered a new era of becoming more of a planning agency, and he praised Mayor Martin Walsh’s pick of former community activist Brian Golden to head up the agency.
Having been on the Council for 10 years prior to running for mayor in 2009 (and having been re-elected to the Council in 2011), he said he’s had a front-row seat to the BRA under the last two administrations.
“The new BRA is currently working better with the City Council and neighborhood groups,” he said. “That said, the expression ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ still applies. We need to put more emphasis on planning with communities and hopefully the mayor’s 2030 initiative will keep the BRA focused on planning…Brian Golden as the head of the BRA is extremely good for Boston residents and neighborhood concerns and civic groups. He’s going to take what they say seriously.”
That, he said, will hopefully play out in Eastie, where a huge planning process for major acreage at Suffolk Downs will play out in the next few years.
“It’s important to have a conversation with the community and developer about what they’d like to see in the area,” he said. “There’s been talk about a potential soccer stadium, about resurrecting Suffolk Downs and getting Thoroughbred racing going again and about some type of big box store. The first order of business would be to have a conversation with East Boston to see what would be there. I would support the will of the people I represent in East Boston.”
On the other side of development, he said, is focusing on keeping the City affordable.
“We’re witnessing the Manhattan-ization of Boston,” he said. “It’s a City of the rich and the poor.”
One thing he has pushed is including “linkage” or mitigation payments from developers that would go into dedicated funds for affordable housing and for senior-only affordable housing.
Flaherty said he has also taken a lead on the opioid crisis and drug and alcohol addiction issues – often being the point person on the Council when there’s a need to get someone into a rehabilitation facility.
“I think we need to expand our community policing efforts, particularly as it pertains to the heroin epidemic that is within our neighborhoods,” he said.
Policing efforts on the community level, with familiar faces and new techniques, he said could make a difference in the larger epidemic.
Along those same lines, Flaherty said it’s time for Boston to prepare for the possibility of the legalization of recreational marijuana – a drug largely considered to be a gateway to other drugs like heroin.
“It took us a long time to clean up the Combat Zone and I want to make sure no one neighborhood is overrun with recreational marijuana outlets,” he said. “That question is expected to be on the ballot in 2016. The time is now to prepare for that fall out. My hope is the mayor and the Zoning Commission will support my proposed text amendment so we can protect the quality of life and diversity of our business districts.”
Flaherty’s text amendment would call for no medical marijuana dispensary or recreational sales outlet to be located within 2,500 feet of another. A proposed medical marijuana facility on Milk Street, he said, would serve to protect many neighborhoods around it and prevent numerous similar outlets from dominating a business district.
“That means neighborhoods like the North End and Beacon Hill and the West End and the Leather District and the downtown Waterfront are safeguarded,” he said.
Switching gears, Flaherty had much to say about the schools – and seemingly it seems that there is great energy in the city to take another look at the public schools and implementing innovations.
As the father of three high schools students, a senior and a set of twins that are freshmen, Flaherty said he has had an inside look on the schools.
One of the key issues, he said, is preparing students in Boston to be able to qualify for and compete for scholarships to the numerous esteemed universities that are in the city.
He is calling for SAT test prep in all high schools.
“It can’t be just that they graduate, but that our kids get into the best colleges and universities that call Boston home,” he said. “If you’re from Mission Hill and can see Northeastern from your bedroom, but have no shot of getting in and no connection at all to the school, we can do better for that kid. It’s the same in every other neighborhood where great schools are close by. We have to include a college prep curriculum and SAT prep for our high school students. They should not only get in those schools, but also compete and win great merit scholarships.”
Flaherty lives in South Boston with his wife and four kids. He is a graduate of Boston College and the Boston University School of Law. Prior to his first election to the Council in 2000, he was an assistant district attorney with the Suffolk County DA’s Office.
He is running for one of four at-Large City Council seats.