David Cotter is ready to be up all night – answering calls, listening to concerns, and, ideally, not rushing to the scene of too many fires. The 23-year-old Savin Hill native is the new Dorchester Coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (ONS).
Public service is a natural fit for him, the genial Cotter told the Reporter. His father, Bill Cotter, has been an active community leader, serving as the deputy director of the Department of Neighborhood Development for about 20 years, as well as getting involved with a number of local and state committees.
So David Cotter grew up going to those committee meetings and watching the neighborhood gradually change. In a way, he said, “this is kind of what I’ve always wanted to do without really knowing what I was doing… making sure that people in the community have a voice in how their community’s future looks and having some ability to shape that.”
He has taken over the position from Alec Bonelli, who is attending law school while working with the Boston Redevelopment Authority in a legal aide capacity.
The biggest chunk of wisdom passed along to Cotter from his predecessor is simple. “He said to keep an open mind,” Cotter said. “At the end of the day, [residents are] just trying to take care of their community, and they’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Jerome Smith, the mayor’s chief of civic engagement, said in a statement that Cotter will make a great addition to the ONS. “As a lifelong Dorchester resident, David is committed to serving the community and his passion and experience makes him a good fit for this role” Smith said. “I look forward to working with him [on] various community projects as he establishes a direct pipeline to City Hall for the people of this great Boston neighborhood.”
Cotter has lived in the same Savin Hill house his whole life, attending Boston College High School and interning under then-state Rep. Walsh at the State House. He was a fixture at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester as the president of the Keystone Club.
While in Washington D.C., he studied political science at American University and interned for Congressman Stephen Lynch. Another constant for him, along with interning in government – hockey, both in high school and college.
After graduating last year, Cotter came right back to Dorchester with some experience under his belt and looking around at a neighborhood wrestling with gentrification and increasing development.
Adding affordable units is a city priority, he said. But with tall apartment complexes seen as threatening to overshadow the “historical flavor” of the area, Cotter said he shares other residents’ concerns between weighing local preservation against improving the area.
“It’s tricky to balance between the people not wanting to lose their identity and wanting to be responsible for the future,” he said.
To the greatest extent possible, Cotter hopes “to make sure the neighborhood doesn’t feel like anything’s radically changed from how the neighborhood looks” while focusing on issues like affordable housing and making sure that residents have enough parking on streets that don’t flood.
The liaison’s responsibilities can be significant as he serves as the bridge between those who live in Dorchester and the interests of developers and City Hall. With a heavy civic meeting schedule on tap in in the coming weeks, residents can look for him to be on hand at every one, Cotter said.
He will be there, he said, as a local, to “be a face in the neighborhood, and be somebody anybody can walk up to and say ‘we’re having this issue, we need it done, can you help us?’ ”