Aaron Michlewitz is the Massachusetts State Representative for the Third Suffolk District, the Boston area that includes the North End / Waterfront, South End, Chinatown, Bay Village and parts of Beacon Hill/Downtown. This January, he was inaugurated for his first full term, having already serving for 18 months after winning the 2009 special election to fill the seat vacated by former Speaker Sal DiMasi.
The following is the second of a three-part interview with Representative Michlewitz. In this part, we talk about the Probation Department investigation and then move into neighborhood issues including hazardous material trucks in the North End, loud parties, problem properties and alcohol license closing hours. If you missed Part I of this series, you can read it here.
Probation Department Investigation
The Probation Department investigation has been garnering headlines. Have you been contacted by investigators and what do think of the allegations being made regarding the department?
I have not been contacted by the investigators, nor do I believe I will be contacted. Having only been in office for 18 months, I have only voted on one budget (including the Probation Department). The people being contacted have a much longer history.
I think that we will have to wait and see how this plays out. The Federal Government and Attorney General have opened up investigations. If they find something illegal, they could move forward with indictments. The investigation has been well documented through the Globe and some by the Herald. I think we need to see what all parties are going to say.
Hazardous Material Trucking in the North End
The City of Boston is in the midst of a public safety study regarding the trucking of hazardous materials through the city, including the North End. Many residents are concerned about the safety of having these trucks on our streets. The State will ultimately make the route recommendation to the Federal regulator. What is your position and can you give us an update on where the process stands?
I haven’t heard anything new in the last several weeks. I was very clear to the Boston Transportation Department Commissioner that we would like to see this move forward as quickly as possible. However, I think it is important for these studies to get their full vetting since moving too fast in the past has put us in this position today.
My position has always been to keep these trucks out of the neighborhood. I don’t think they belong here. They create an unnecessary hazard to our quality of life in the North End. Being such a congested community right in the middle of downtown Boston, we deserve a little reprieve from this hazardous issue.
We already have LNG (liquefied natural gas) tankers that go through the harbor on a continuous basis. That is problematic enough. I would like to see the trucks out of the City of Boston. I don’t know if that is realistic, but my primary concern is to keep them out of the neighborhood.
At neighborhood public safety meetings, residents consistently complain about loud parties and late night mayhem. In Beacon Hill, many of the landlords have informally banded together not to rent to students. What is your view of the situation?
For Beacon Hill, it took them a long time to get to that point. I don’t think we should ban renting to college students. I think we need landlords to be accountable for their tenants. There are a lot of college students in this neighborhood that are a good aspect of the North End. Some work at the Nazzaro Center, NEMPAC, restaurants and the pool. Many students put in as much to the neighborhood as they take out.
There are some buildings that are “problem properties.” That is why Councilors Ross and LaMattina have the task force. I actually have some on my street on both sides of my building. It is not just college students, but young adults that are oblivious to the effect they have on people’s quality of life.
We have to be more diligent. People thought this was going to go away. The fact is that we have to find a way to coexist and live together. I will continue to work on the issue.
If you see a building that is a problem, I want you to call me (617-722-2488) and let me know. The only way we can change this culture is by being diligent as a community.
Alcohol License Closing Hours
The restaurant owners are increasingly requesting later closing hours on their alcohol licenses. This was a issue when you were President of the Neighborhood Council. What would you say to both sides of the debate?
I don’t blame restaurant owners for maximizing their ability to make money. They are businessmen and that is what they do. One reason we are one of the safest neighborhoods, if not the safest, is because we have neighborhood businesses that care. By keeping their doors open, serving customers and shining lights on the street, they help keep this a safe neighborhood.
With that said, this is a residential neighborhood. People come here for the great food and atmosphere, but they also come here because it is a historic neighborhood. The reason that it is a historic neighborhood is because of the people that have lived here in the past and continue to live here. There needs to be a better balance between the business and residential community.
When I was President of the Neighborhood Council, I tried to bring a balance. I did not support extensions of restaurant hours past midnight. That is something that I continue to stand by. You head down a slippery slope on deciding which businesses would be better to handle late night situations and which are not.
The police will say they don’t support any closing hour extensions because they are not equipped to handle all the problems that can take place late at night. I feel they are best able to make that assessment.
Licensing Board Appointment
You were part of a group of State Representatives that wrote a letter to the Governor regarding the upcoming Boston Licensing Board appointment. Why do you think that is important?
Because I feel that the Licensing Board is important to our quality of life, particularly in neighborhoods that have many bars and restaurants like the North End. I feel that former Chairman Potaski kept that balance.
This is probably one of the most important appointments for me and other downtown representatives like Marty Walz and Byron Rushing. We face this issue on a daily basis. Having a strong Licensing Board is an important part of keeping our high quality of life.
To be perfectly candid, I don’t feel that Suzanne Iannella was a good appointment by the Governor. For her to support a business like Jacques in Bay Village (Herald commentary) which is also in my district, shows how out of touch she was with the situation. That is my concern. The next appointment will hopefully be a little more balanced in their thought process.
Coming up in the final part of this interview series with Rep. Michelwitz will be education (including the Eliot and N. Bennet Street Schools), potential new development in the neighborhood, initiatives for Hanover and Cross Streets and his working relationship with Councilor LaMattina and Senator Petruccelli. If you missed Part I of this series, you can read it here.
Continue reading on to Part III of this interview.