Flaherty: ‘No limit’ to what we can do with next council lineup

Councillor Michael Flaherty of South Boston says his “greatest strength as a citywide councillor is that I take no neighborhood for granted. I work every constituency.” Flaherty was first elected to the council in 1999 and ran for mayor in 2009. Chris Lovett photo

Incumbent at-large City Councillor Michael Flaherty finished third in last month’s preliminary election, earning just under 14 percent of the overall vote behind second-place incumbent Annissa Essaibi-George. 

“I got a great vote of confidence across the city, so I’m excited as we head into the final election,” Flaherty told the Reporter in an interview last week. 

“Turnout [11 percent] wasn’t great. I try to tell people that when something happens in your neighborhood you don’t call the president of the United States,” he said. “It’s all about municipal elections, and for some reason we take those elections for granted.”

One of the main points Flaherty made is that it’s extremely important to connect the neighborhoods communities of Boston to opportunities.

“We’re an opportunity and resource-rich city,” he said. “We boast of having the best colleges and universities in the world, we have the best hospitals and a network of community health centers, and CEOs around the world are moving their companies here. The other side of this is that if you can’t afford a place to live, if your kids didn’t get into the school of their choice, if you don’t feel safe in your neighborhood, or if you’ve found a needle in a local park, you’re not feeling so great about things in our city.”

He added: “The challenge we have moving forward is to make sure that all of that hope and opportunity is trickling out into our neighborhoods.”
Flaherty is optimistic about the council’s ability to effect change in often talked-about issues like transportation, affordable, housing and education. 

“I think the role of city government – especially the city council – is to connect folks to opportunity,” Flaherty said. “In terms of what the council can do, I think the sky’s the limit.” 

Creating more affordable housing, making improvements to the city’s schools, tackling transportation issues, and addressing the opioid and substance abuse epidemic, are also issues that local government must work to address, he said. 

Flaherty has proposed a voluntary “Year 13” for BPS students, something that he says will “help close the achievement gap.” A “Year 13” would function as a voluntary option that students could take advantage of that includes intense college-prep curriculum, exposure to college-level courses, and SAT prep.

All of this, Flaherty said, will focus efforts aimed at giving local students a better chance at attending some of the prestigious colleges and universities in their own backyard. 

“So many great colleges and universities call Boston home,” he said. “I think it’s an absolute tragedy that students from the neighborhoods of Boston see these schools every day, get chances to use their fields and other facilities, but never have the chance to go to them and get a degree.” 

Flaherty also said that he would look to change the BPS assignment process, which now operates based on a lottery system. “Fixing the school assignment process to allow kids who want to go to a vocational or trade school the opportunity to do so is the first step. Students and their families should be able to select the school that is best for them,” he said. “We’re in a global economy, and there are so many companies moving here that need a workforce. We need to prepare our kids for those jobs.” 

He added that he would support initiatives to identify wasteful spending within BPS and redirect funds into supporting teachers, focusing more on art, music, after-school programming, and athletics. 

In terms of transportation, which councillors have actively led efforts to address, Flaherty called for a “public transit system that is safe, efficient and accessible, particularly for working families in Boston, as well as our third-shift workers.” 

As to the opioid crisis, he said he will “continue to fight for treatment on demand, more treatment beds, and for longer detox periods.” He added: “I am not on board with safe injection sites. No one is getting sober and straight that way.” 

Flaherty, who is chair of the council’s Committee on Government Operations, has led efforts to amend the linkage formula and use the City’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) to create more affordable housing.

“Those are a couple of very useful tools that we have at our disposal,” he said. “Linkage and IDP. The council has increased the linkage formula, he noted, and that will generate millions more for affordable housing and job training.”

Flaherty is a strong proponent of lowering the threshold for IDP permitting, which currently requires any developer of a property with more than ten units to allocate one third of the overall units to low-income housing. “Right now the IDP trigger is 10 units or more,” he said. “I think we should lower that,” he said. 

The councillor also cited the high value of the Community Preservation Act (CPA), which, he says, “will generate millions for the creation of affordable, workforce, veteran and senior housing. I’ve directed more than $5.5 million to 14 Dorchester CPA projects that include Garvey Park, Joseph Lee K-8 schools, and affordable housing on the Talbot commons, among others.”

With many of the at-large candidates addressing concerns over lack of community involvement and corruption allegations that sometimes are attached to the city’s approach to the planning process, Flaherty noted that he’s been an advocate for an independent planning department for several years now.

“Ten years ago,” he said, “I called for a stand-alone planning department because I personally feel that there is an inherent conflict between the planning and economic development. I’ve always felt that we should have urban planners who are closely aligned with our environmental and transportation experts come up with a plan for each of our neighborhoods and our city as a whole, and then hand that plan off to the [BPDA].”

Going into the vote on Nov. 5, Flaherty said he’s confident that constituents will recognize his involvement across the city.

“My greatest strength as a citywide councillor is that I take no neighborhood for granted. I work every constituency. I’m excited to get through the election then get back to work for the residents of Boston,” he said.