Interview: Boston City Councilor Matt O'Malley

The new kid
By PETER KADZIS  |  December 8, 2010

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Age 31, recently elected Boston City Councilor Matt O'Malley is a member of a new generation of local politicos who are more at home in coffee bars than in smoke-filled rooms. Gay voters, minority voters, and blue-collar voters are not to this generation discrete interest groups. Rather, they have one thing in common: they are all constituents. A newcomer to town might say, "What's the big deal?" But long-time residents recognize this as a welcome sea change in attitudes.

Your district ranges from socially conservative West Roxbury to vegan-friendly Jamaica Plain, and it has substantial Spanish-speaking and African-American constituents. How elastic does an elected official have to be to represent such diversity?
I remember as a kid going to Christmas Eve Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hyde Square. It was a bilingual Mass, and it lasted three hours. I just remember loving the richness of all the different cultures. My mother was a kindergarten teacher at the Blessed Sacrament church school. I have roots in every part of the district: grew up in Roslindale, worked and volunteered and coached Little League in West Roxbury, and have now lived in Jamaica Plain for four years. I have worked to bring people together. I did it in the sheriff's campaign where, as a white Irish guy, I helped elect a woman of color, Andrea Cabral. I certainly did it at Mass Equality as the straight guy who worked to bring marriage equality to Massachusetts and bring it to other New England states.

Less than two days after being sworn in as a city councilor, you had to cast a vote on whether to expel or retain Councilor Chuck Turner, who had been convicted in Federal Court on what in essence were political-corruption charges. What was that like?
It was certainly difficult. The hearing itself was very tough. There was a huge crowd of Councilor Turner's supporters and family and friends. He gave a stemwinder of a speech in his own defense. But I had been pretty consistent, saying all along that while it was a sad day for Chuck and his family and friends, Councilor Turner did commit a very serious breach of the public trust. He was found guilty on four counts. And since by his own decision he was not going to appeal the verdict, I felt that it was the best thing for my district and the city to remove him.

In between your being elected and your taking office, there occurred that grisly incident of three murders at the Same Old Place pizza parlor on Centre Street in JP. How did that feel when you found out?
It was a shock. So many of us JP residents and beyond have stories. When I was coming home from Latin School, I used to take the 39 bus route, get off at Monument, and run over to Same Old Place for a slice before I'd hop on the 38 bus to get to my parents' house. It was, obviously, a travesty. The fact that it was so brazen — 7:30 on a Sunday night when the Patriots were playing. It was an unseasonably warm night, and a lot of people were out, some jogging by. One of those passing joggers was hit with a stray bullet. It didn't, I believe, even puncture the skin, thank God. It was horrifying. It also shows the prevalence of gang violence in our district and in our city. It shows why we need more community policing, emulating some of the tried-and-true successful measures that worked particularly in the mid-to-late '90s: more cops walking and biking their beats. But it also illustrates the need to strengthen re-entry and reintegration programs so that felons don't return to lives of crime.

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