This is the second part of an interview series with State Senator Anthony Petruccelli at his office in the State House. Petruccelli has been in the Senate since July 2007 representing the First Suffolk Middlesex District. In addition to the North End, the district includes Beacon Hill, Cambridge, East Boston, Revere and Winthrop.
In this part of the interview series, the Senator talks about local issues including hazardous material truck routes, public libraries, healthcare, public safety, crime, trash, green tickets, neighborhood congestion and alcohol licenses. Read Part 1 and Part 3.
Do you see any reason why hazardous material trucks should come through the North End / Waterfront neighborhood?
No, not at all. As we await patiently the results of the public safety analysis and the alternative routes, I don’t think there is any question of where the haz-mat trucks should not be. Representative Michlewitz, Councilor LaMattina and I are bound at the hip on this issue. When the time arrives, we will make sure the decision by MassDOT is the right one.
Would you accept a compromise to use Congress St. at least during certain times?
It is definitely more removed from the neighborhoods, but I would like to see what the “more removed” alternatives are and how that would work. I would like to see them out of the area totally.
You supported the legislation to encourage the City of Boston to keep all the branch libraries open. What is your current view on the future of the library branches in your district?
Orient Heights is open through the Fall. With regards to East Boston in general, we have had a review committee for over a year to find a location for a new library. The Meridian Street branch is tough to renovate and not in a central location. So, if you took away the Orient Heights location, you would actually have a further distance for residents than another other branch in the entire city. The case that I was making to the city is that you have to keep that branch open until we can find a more suitable location. That process has gone well. There has been a site identified in East Boston on a former NStar location on Prescott Street that the city is in the process of acquiring and will hopefully form the solution for a new modern library in a central location for that community.
But the library branch closing was an issue in general that struck a nerve with a lot of people. I received a lot of letters and emails from the Friends of the North End Branch Library. I responded to every single one of them which is what I do most of the time.
This was one of those instances where I felt I had to go against Mayor Menino. As you know, I am very close to the Mayor and a strong supporter. But that proximity and friendship did not get in the way of me speaking out to keep open the library branches in the North End, the West End and elsewhere in my district. I didn’t think it was the right idea. I think that is important in political leadership to be able to stand up for what you think is right even if you make a friend mad. For me, that is important as we move forward to the election and the next session.
Should the Friends of the North End Branch Library feel comfortable that their branch will stay open?
Yes, at least in the short-term. I know that the President of the BPL has a vision of changing what your branch library does. I respect that vision, but I think branch libraries also help form the fabric of our communities and we need to make sure we have them.
I think the larger question is about the fiscal health of our cities and towns. The budgets are not getting any easier. We have to come up with ways to give cities and towns the tools to create cost savings.
That leads us to the issue of healthcare costs.
When I first ran for the Senate three years ago, I ran on the issue of cities and towns being able to come into the Group Insurance Commission (GIC). The Town of Winthrop came in the municipal program and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the time, it required 70% of the municipal union employee participation. But not enough cities and towns bought in. So we need to make changes to that to break through that logjam.
I was proud to support “plan design.” It allows for some of the cost savings to be passed on to the municipal employees. So, they have a seat at the table. I think that it is important to have that conversation. We have to move the ball down the field and get more cities and towns on board. It gets back to the question of libraries and a lot of other public services.
There is no one total answer. Casinos are not the total answer either. But reducing healthcare costs is a very important piece for cities and towns.
Although still relatively low, crime statistics have recently increased over the summer in the North End. Does that concern you?
Economic downturns tend to correlate with an increase in crime statistics and I think that is relevant to those numbers. I think that we have to provide the tools necessary to police officers. At the State level, we work very closely with the City and Boston Police. We let them do their job without getting in the way. We ask them what resources they need to get the job done. I think we have done a good job at that. I have not heard they need anything more, although I think it is a challenging time.
With regards to the trash issue, is the Green Ticket law working?
I think it will work. It might take some time for the implementation for those folks that don’t do as good a job as we would like them. It might take the charges hitting the first quarterly tax bill to make landlords realize this is new. Remember, the tickets are not new. I am keeping in touch with Rep. Aaron Michlewitz on how the Green Ticket Law is working. We think it is important to try and create a new behavioral pattern. Landlords need to be held accountable and talk to their tenants.
The summer crowds in the North End have been large and it has been referred to as a sort of “Disneyland” environment. This has created some tension between residents, businesses and college students. Do you think the neighborhood is over-saturated?
I don’t hear anything negative about it. The thing I hear the most is the trash and rodent issue. That is why Aaron and I pushed so hard for the Green Ticket Bill. I think there needs to be a balance. Today, I think that exists. It really is a wonderful fabric with the feasts and the restaurants on the Freedom Trail. I realize the people also have to live there.
Do you believe the North End should have a cap on the number of alcohol licenses?
That’s a loaded question. I understand the concern about a saturation point. The situation has existed for a long time. When I was doing neighborhood services for the North End, it was an issue going way back. I would yield to the various neighborhood groups as to whether they think a certain person deserves a liquor license. I don’t live there so I lean on those that do.
On the licensing issue, I want a neighborhood-friendly appointee by the Governor to the City’s Licensing Board. Daniel Pokaski served that role and was good to the neighborhoods. We want someone that is mindful of the balance.
In the third part of this series, hear Senator Petruccelli’s view on education, charter schools, parks, Greenway, shadow bill, LNG tankers, technology, the election and today’s political climate. The Senator also shares some personal aspects of growing up in an Italian-American family.