Cooper Makes City Services an Issue in Challenge for District Three Seat

He's an long-shot candidate for district three city council who is virtually unknown outside his Codman Square neighborhood. Nathan Cooper seems to relish his role as a city hall outsider, though, and isn't shy when it comes to taking his message to points far and wide of his own Bailey Street home.

And what is that message?

Cooper says it's time for a kinder, friendlier city hall, one that is more responsive to the simple, quality of life problems that he says often go unsolved.

"I think city hall can be a little more accessible and friendly to residents," says Cooper. "Over the years, I've been told to make calls to the city, only to have the calls bounced around. It's frustrating not to have any of those calls returned."

Cooper says he's running for city council on behalf of other residents whose calls go unreturned. And while he doesn't blame the current councillor, Maureen Feeney, for any particular failure, Cooper clearly thinks he can do it better.

"The city needs to do something to restore that faith," he says. "People want a better city hall, not a bigger one."

And, lest anyone think his challenge of a third-term incumbent councillor is a flight of fancy, Cooper is quick to set the record straight.

"I never do anything unless I'm serious," he says.

Cooper's confidence is grounded in his own experience as a community organizer in Codman Square, where he has served as the president of the neighborhood council. A UMass Boston employee by day, Cooper has spent the last decade toiling in Codman Square's busy civic circuit by night. His civic career was highlighted by the Codman Square Millennium Project, which he planned and co-chaired in 1999. The planning document produced from the initiative gave a detailed outline of the area's wants and needs in the coming years- and won praise from local elected officials, including Mayor Tom Menino. Cooper has also been a driving force behind a series of voter education forums in Codman Square- and has served on the city-sponsored Main Street board in the village. Cooper says that Main Street is a model that has worked well, but he says that more city funds will be needed to continue that work.

Roger Greene, a friend who has worked side-by-side with him on several community issues, says Cooper has excelled at bringing Codman Square's residents together across racial and other lines through the Millennium Project's East-West committee. The group has helped residents who live on opposite sides of Washington Street to meet and socialize on a regular basis.

"He selected that as an area of interest," says Greene. "He's tried to get people on both sides of Codman Square together socially. And it's certainly opened my eyes. I'd like to see it be a lot broader."

Cooper's activism has occasionally put him at odds with the mayor's office, though. Last year, he was one of several residents who fought a Boston Police plan to convert an old Talbot Avenue garage into a taxi inspection station. Cooper argued that the police station would bring more of what Codman Square has already: too much traffic and air pollution.

"I don't think anyone would tolerate that in any part of the city," says Cooper, who has helped to organize picket lines outside the garage. "I just have an outlook that it's not enough to sit and squeak about issues."

Cooper- who is the first African-American candidate to seek the district three office since its creation in 1983- says he has found like-minded voters in all parts of the neighborhood. Some, he says, have raised concerns about larger issues, such as the public schools and the lack of affordable housing. Others, though, are more worried about having their recently re-paved street ripped up once again to make way for another utility project.

"I believe people are not communicating," says Cooper. "It's the confusion that people are tired of. It's the simple things."

Cooper says he does not "blame (Feeney) specifically" for such frustrations, but so far he has made the issue of constituent services the key point in his campaign.

"Hopefully I can get people working together and restore faith in the city council," says Cooper.

(The city council preliminary election will be held on Tuesday, September 25. The last day to register to vote is September 5. If you have any questions call the Boston Election Commission at 617-635-4635.)