^ Jeff Ross ; has impressed a lot of activists already

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We met at-Large Council candidate Jeff Ross at Club Cafe, where a short while after our interview, he attended an affair for Marty Walsh and was introduced to the gathering.

This is what candidates for Boston’s four at-Large Council seats are doing, as often and as diversely as they can. Even as a veteran worker in Boston political campaigns, Ross must do the same, and as a practiced campaigner, he knows it. He’s also ready with detailed, though usually succinct, answers to the several questions that we ask of Council candidates. Not surprising that he has gained much good press in Boston’s media.

He currently holds office, as the Democratic State Committeeman representing the State Senate seat now held by Sonia Chang-Diaz. (All elected State Committee members are elected by State Senate District at the Presidential Primary every fourth year.) He lives in the South End part of Chang-Diaz’s district — in Ward 9, Precinct 2, for political junkies — and, as he tells us, is “the first LGBT person elected to the State Committee from this district.”

He will also, if elected an at-large Councillor, be (to the best of our knlowledge),the first LGBT person to hold that Boston office.

As he represents one of Massachusetts’s most progressive-voting Senate Districts, he too holds progressive views. But the range of campaigns that he has worked on these past seven years — Ayanna Pressley, Felix G. Arroyo, Gloria Fox, for example — has taken him to old-line politics (Fox) and business-oriented mainstream (Pressley) as well.

“I have lived in Boston for 20 years,” Ross tells me. “I grew up on the West Coast in a working class a family; my Mom worked for minimum wage; often we used an oven to heat our house.

“I was the first in my family to go to college. I was on the waiting list at U(niversity of) Penn(sylvania) but got into Northeastern. So to Boston.”

Ross’s bio answers Here and Sphere’s standard first question, “what about you uniquely qualifies you to be a City Councillor ? Thus we proceeded directly to our other usual questions.

Here and Sphere (HnS): What can you do as a Councillor to advance your concerns for the working wage that some have proposed ?

Ross : “We can propose home rule petitions and testify for them at the State House. I have testified at legislative hearings. I’m ready to do it again.”

HnS : Do you support Ayanna Pressley’s Home Rule petition (to give Boston control over its own liquor licenses) ?

Ross : “I do support it. Some neighborhoods have too many licenses, some too few. The point is to create destination neighborhoods. Many neighborhoods need supermarkets … that are within walking distance for people who go about on foot.”

HnS : Abolish the BRA or reform it ?

Ross : “reform it. Development should be neighborhood-driven. They should include affordable housing.”

HnS : Lift the charter school cap or not ?

Ross : “If we’re going to lift the cap it should be an innovation type of school, a school free of state-mandated curriculum. For the lowest-testing twenty percent of schools I support after-school programs in art, music and woodcraft. These help (a kid) to reconnect. And innovation around sports, because (these kids) need more student interaction.”

HnS : Do you favor an Elected school committee, as some are now proposing ?

Ross : “I do not support an elected school committee. The schools have improved a lot under the appointed committee

HnS : You live in the new Boston, thus we have to ask ; do you favor late night transport and a later closing hour than the current two A.M. ?

Ross : “(of course) there’s the need to extend the cloing hoyfrs in he Downtown area, Financial District, and Waterfront. The concern in other neighborhoods is the noise, though. Late night transport, yes; people who work late in the buildings need a way to get home.”

HnS : Do you agree with something Marty Walsh said, that there’s a heroin epidemic in the city ?

Ross : “There is an uptick in ‘STI’ and (as we know) Molly. And heroin (too). We need public health education in the schools, plus, (better) outreach to families. We need to have these conversations with young people. it gets back to what I said about early evaluations and early intervention as treatment and recovery. I have a family member, same age as me, who died (like that) and who needed that sort of social safety net…”

And so ended the Q and A, and both of us joined the Marty Walsh affair beginning in the next room. Jeff Ross to campaign, we to be the newsie in the room.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ At-large Council hopeful Jack Kelly at a recent “friend raiser” in Dorchester

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Note : Here and Sphere will make an effort to interview as many City Council candidates as we can reach. This effort must, unfortunately, come second to our coverage of the Mayor race — coverage which starting on Monday will continue every day right through to the September 24th Primary. We will, however, do what we can with the time that we have. First up is Jack F. Kelly III, who was born and grew up in Charlestown, the son of two working patents : a Verizon worker Dad and a Mom who has worked for Boston Public Schools for over two decades.

We first met Kelly at a block party in West Roxbury early last month. About two weeks ago we attended a “Mondays for Marty Walsh” town hall in Charlestown, where we heard first hand the concerns that that neighborhood has with the City’s powers that be. Given the smallness of Charlestown — but its long significance in Boston’s political life too — it was our decision right then that Jack Kelly would be our first City Council interview.

We talked to Kelly at a fund[-raiser event in the Savin hill section of Dorchester — an event he prefers to call a “friend raiser.” What follows was the substance of our talk :

Here and Sphere (HnS) : “What’s your campaign’s chief issue ?”

Kelly : “public health; fighting drug addiction, HIV and hepatitis C. It’s what I do currently, working for Mass General (Hospital). We have to increase the presence of community health workers.”

HnS : “so you agree with what Marty Walsh said that night in Charlestown, that there’s an heroin epidemic in Boston ? He didn’t overstate ?”

Kelly : “Absolutely. No, he did not overstate things. Drugs are everywhere and I see it in my work and know of it in the ‘Town. (Keep in mind that) fighting the drug plague is fundamental to (public) safety.”

Note : Kelly knows the drug menace personally. as his campaign bio puts it, “After graduating from high school, my life took an unexpected turn. Like many kids in my generation throughout Boston, I became addicted to…Oxycontin. for several years I struggled with …addiction… (until) on October 12, 2003…with the help of my community, prayers, and addiction programs, I became sober and began my life again.”

HnS : “fighting drug addiction and diseases like HIV and hepatitis is hardly the usual City Councillor undertaking.”

Kelly : “That’s why i can be heard. It has to be addressed.”

HnS : “Turning to other issues, the various casino proposals are an issue in Charlestown. What is your position ?”

Kelly : “it’s an issue everywhere in the city. I favor an East Boston vote only, not city-wide.. Traffic’s an issue; we will deal with it. The one casino I do NOT want in any circumstance is the Everett proposal. The traffic impact would be intolerable. Any casino has to be in Boston, but you know what ? Why not have it on one of the Harbor islands ? Doesn’t that make the most sense ?”

HnS : “School improvement has been john Connolly’s big issue, one that has given him citywide strength. And that means charter schools. What’s your position on legislation to lift the ‘cap’ on how many charter schools we can have ?”

Kelly : “Definitely school improvement. I favor increasing the number of charter schools but not eliminating the cap entirely.’

HnS : “Partial ‘cap’ lift ?”

Kelly : “Yes.”

HnS : “one thing that John Connolly specifically cites in his school improvement agenda is that the school day should be longer. Your view  is ?”

Kelly : “i agree; but teachers must be compensated for a longer day.”

HnS : “The Boston Globe two days ago focused on the various mayor candidates’ positions on the BRA. Changing the BRA seems on everybody’s mind. What do you think should happen ?”

Kelly : “i want more transparency and for the city council to have a vote on who the new director will be. And by more transparency : all meetings with developers should be videotaped and shown online to be posted on (the websites of) affected neighborhood(s) and their civic association(s).”

HnS : “But you don’t advocate replacing the BRA ?”

Kelly : “correct.”

HnS : “Lastly, a numbers question. You come from Charlestown, one of the City’;s smallest neighborhoods. How can you win citywide ?”

Kelly : “It’s not just Charlestown. It’s the entire City Council District that I’m from, that includes East Boston and the North end. We haven’t had anybody elected city-wide since John Nucci;. It’s about time.”

HnS : “How can you do it ?”

Kelly : “I’m strong in South Boston, Dorchester, West Roxbury. I have friends all over the city, from labor. I was an ironworker after I became sober, a Local 7 member. I also know people everywhere in Boston from being Charlestown Neighborhood co-ordinaor for Mayor Menino. Look at my union endorsements !”

NOTE: Kelly has major union support. His campaign website notes the following union endorsements : Teamsters local 25; Teamsters 122; Laborers 223; IBEW Locals 103 and 104; Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers local 6; Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12; Plasters and Cement Masons local 534; Custodians Local 1952; Pipefitters Local 537; Sprinkler Fitters Local 550; Sheet metal workers Local 17. (Of these, the most significant might be the Custodians union. Most custodians live in the city — unlike the members of many construction Locals —  and they are numerous; and almost all of them vote every election.)

HnS : “Thank you for talking to us !”

We will likely cross Kelly’s campaign path often as we go about Boston neighborhoods this alt month of the Primary campaign. (indeed, we have already met up with him often.) Still, it’s an uphill fight for the first time candidate, even given his already wide-ranging political resume: in addition to being a neighborhood co-ordinator in Mayor Menino’s administration, Kelly was an elected Hillary Clinton delegate to the 2008 Democratic Convention — considering the size and strength of the Council field. Incumbents Stephen Murphy and Ayanna Presley are running for re-election; former Councillor Michael Flaherty seeks to return to that body. To win the one remaining at-large seat, Kelly must top Lower Mills native Catherine O’Neill (now a resident of Savin Hill); Marty Keogh, a well known West Roxbury attorney; , former Senator Warren campaign staffer Michelle Wu, a South End resident, North Ender Philip Frattaroli, former District Councillor Gareth Saunders; neighborhood co-ordinator Ramon Soto, a Mission Hill resident; and nine others.

His unique candidate profile and personal witness of major public health issues just might do it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

CORRECTION : this article has been corrected. The original article said that Kelly favored a city wide vote on a casino proposal. In fact, he favors only an East Boston, neighborhood vote. This change has been made in the article that you have read.