Earlier this month, Mayor Martin Walsh appointed William Christopher to serve as the next commissioner of the city’s Inspectional Services Department. A longtime Savin Hill resident – and a Tuttle Street neighbor of Walsh’s – Christopher, 58, is known to friends and neighbors as “Buddy.”
An architect by training, he worked for the city in the 1990s as an assistant director for architecture and engineering in the Department of Neighborhood Development. He is the founder of Roche-Christopher Architecture LLC, based in Neponset Circle, which he founded with fellow Dorchester resident Eddie Roche.
Together, they worked on residential and commercial jobs in Dorchester, South Boston, and other parts of the state, including Cape Cod and Martha’ Vineyard. Most recently, Roche Christopher worked to renovate a prominent brick building in Edward Everett Square at 1299 Massachusetts Ave.
Christopher’s son James and partner Chris Drew will be managing the company going forward as Buddy steps into the role of ISD commissioner this week, replacing former commissioner Bryan Glascock, who has taken on a new role as Senior Advisor for Regulatory Reform, a position created by Mayor Walsh within the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
The Reporter discussed Christopher’s background and new job in an interview with him last week.
Q. Buddy, please tell us more about your Dorchester roots and about your family?
A. I was born in Boston and I then I lived in New York, in the Bronx, for grades 4 through 9. I graduated from South Boston High and Boston Architectural Center. I have six kids and ten grandkids. We’ve lived in the same house for 33 years and my wife Mary (Ward) grew up in the house next door to us on Tuttle Street. Her mom still lives there.
Q. How did you get into architecture and design?
A. It’s a fairy tale story. When I was 14 I was in school in New York and one of my English teachers gave me a book on Antoino Gaudi, the Spanish architect. It was love at first sight. I started taking mechanical drafting and at 15 I knew I wanted to become an architect. I’m one of the luckiest people in world, because here I am 100 years later and I never regretted going into the profession.
Q. You played a key role in designing and building the McLaughlin Center for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester in the late 1990s. What was that experience like?
A. It was a labor of love. We worked on the McLaughlin Center pro bono. [Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester director] Bob Scannell and [programming director] Mike Joyce are two of greatest people I ever met in my life. And it just came out so well.
Q. You have been active in civic affairs in the neighborhood for many years and once served as president of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association. What impact did that have on you?
A. My feeling has always been that you can’t criticize unless you get involved. And, then, with all the kids, I got active around Savin Hill Little League and school and that led to the civic group. I ended up becoming the president and did that for a few years. I was absolutely thrilled with the whole process and became very involved with [former City Councillor] Maureen Feeney, whom I very much like and respect.
Then I worked for [Dept. of Neighborhood Development] as the asst director of architecture and engineering. That was just a phenomenal experience. At DND, we would do police, fire, schools, libraries – any project under the city’s capital plan that year. My job was the architectural review, design and selection, budget management. There were four of us who worked as assistant directors.
Q. You have been out of city government for some time. What is it about this job that has brought you back into public sector work?
A. One of the reasons is that I didn’t leave [city government] with bad taste in my mouth. It’s yeoman’s work. … For 30 years I’ve been working the other side of ISD, the consumer side, so I have very real ideas about the problems and opportunities that exist. … We wanted to change some of the culture here and make it better for the customer. The permitting process will be streamlined and more friendly – so you’re not waiting four-five months for a Board of Appeals hearing. Its aggressive, the approach we’re hoping to take. I have the deepest respect for people who work here. It’s a delicate balance with the community and the zoning codes, and they do a great job. Also, it’s a great opportunity to pass my company on to younger guys. Another reason is that I really do love Boston and anything I can do, I’m in. The mayor has illustrated that he really wants to be proactive in these processes.
Q. Did the mayor approach you about taking on this position?
A. He and I have talked about it for a long time. I told him I would be willing to do anything I can be helpful with and I told him that I had a lot of experience with the building department. It was in the course of conversations that this [position] surfaced- and the more I thought about it the more I wanted to do it. I have the credentials and the desire to do it. It works out well because Brian [Glascock] is going to become the zoning czar and brings a wealth of knowledge and work to that role.
Q. What, if any, reforms do you expect to implement at Inspectional Services?
A. The number one priority is the image of what ISD is. It has a stumbling block reputation. And that’s not a totally true statement. People have to understand the complexities and I want the attitude to be that this is one of the most helpful city agencies. That’s the first two-three month priority.
I don’t plan to make major changes in first two-three months. I have to look at it on the inside and see what improvements need to happen. I don’t believe in change for sake of change.
Q. What sort of instructions have you received from Mayor Walsh about his expectations for your leadership?
A. He wants the same leadership from all of us in the administration: transparency. He wants people to see how process is done, and to have fair expectations. And he wants it done in a professional, friendly manner.
Q. You’re his neighbor on Tuttle Street. Does that give you special access to him?
A. He’s not on Tuttle Street as much as he used to be. But I do have the ability to communicate with him. He is very responsive.
Q. Next Sunday is Dorchester Day. How do you like to celebrate it?
A. It’s one of those holidays where all my kids come in and do the parade and then hit the barbecues. Mary and I like to sit out in the yard and have a nice quiet afternoon. The diversity in our neighborhood has been so enriching. All of the people who move in come here with positive things and I think everyone appreciates that now. In the old days, if you lived here 40 years, you were somehow entitled. But now the neighbors are very interactive and everyone knows one another. Last winter, I loved seeing everyone out doing everyone else’s walk with the snowblowers. Savin Hill Little League has advanced by leaps and bounds. The program they’re doing with the kids with special needs , it speaks so well or the caliber of the people here.