This is the third and final part of an interview with Democratic State Representative Aaron Michlewitz for the Third Suffolk District. In this part, we talk about education and schools, potential new development in the neighborhood, initiatives for Hanover and Cross Streets and his working relationship with Councilor LaMattina and Senator Petruccelli. Use these links to catch up with Part I and Part II of this interview.
The Eliot School in the North End has been a city and neighborhood success story. So much so, there is a waiting list to enter and parents are looking for more classes in the neighborhood’s public school. But, the school’s facility is completely full and out of space. Ironically, there are schools being closed in other areas of the city due to excess capacity. Do you support more downtown public school space?
I think that there is a need for another downtown public school. Marty Walz, my neighboring legislator (Back Bay, Beacon Hill, West End), has worked on some of the most important education legislative issues over the past few years and she does not even have a public school in her district! We are very lucky to have the Eliot School in the North End and to have Principal Tracy Walker-Griffith who cares about the school deeply and the North End as a neighborhood.
I would like to see the downtown neighborhoods have a school of their own, but as the representative of the North End, I would oppose anything that would hurt the Eliot School. It has become a victim of its own success. When I was growing up, not everyone chose to go to the Eliot. That has changed and the Eliot has become one of the best schools in the City of Boston.
I think we have to figure out how to best accommodate the growth of families in the neighborhood. Ironically, people complain about how this neighborhood has changed and the negative impacts. But the amount of families that are staying in this neighborhood displays, to my 32 years of knowledge in living here, a desire to live and stay here. You were not getting that 15 years ago. Before, couples would live here for 2-3 years, have a baby and moving out to the suburbs. Now they are staying here. I think that is a great thing and we need to foster that growth. I think it also shows that some of the neighborhood naysayers are inaccurate.
There are increasing signs that 2011 may see more development proposals. In the North End, areas to watch seem to be the empty City buildings on North St., as well as potential projects for Hanover St., Harbor Garage, 585 Commercial St., the Fulton St. parking lot, among others. How will you advise developers and residents as the consider these projects and their impacts?
I think the first and foremost issue is the 55 foot height limit. Anything over that in the North End, should not even be proposed. That has kept the feel, quaintness and character of our neighborhood. I don’t want that to ever get lost in the debate.
After the 55’ height limit, the second most important point would be to take each one on its own merits. The proposal at 585 Commercial St. was very controversial and now it is sad that the property has been dormant for so long. I don’t know if the economy will take the development forward in the short-term. I think we need to talk long-term about what should go there.
When we talk about the North Street printing building, I know there was mention of a hotel going there. With due respect to Mr. Gallo, who I respect for his contributions to the neighborhood, I don’t think a hotel should go there.
I support the North Bennet Street School’s expansion to the North St. printing building and I believe that should be explored. I don’t know if it is logistically possible, but we should fully vet that option. That location is a gateway to the neighborhood and an important piece of land. We want it to put our best foot forward. I just don’t feel the neighborhood needs a hotel at this point in time.
The Hull Street restrooms lost their state budget earmark a few years ago. With no public restrooms along the North End’s Freedom Trail, is there any chance of a solution or a public/private plan?
I would be open to discussion on that. I think all parties would have to come to the table. It is going to be tough this year to get anything in this year’s budget. Earmarks have not been part of the budgets for the last two years. I would look into some grant possibilities to lessen the blow. A lot depends on whether the Freedom Trail Commission and business community comes together.
There has been speculation about a new Hanover Street initiative sponsored by you and Councilor LaMattina? Can you provide an update on a possible change in traffic patterns or improving the street and sidewalk infrastructure?
That is something that I am going to look at in this upcoming budget, at least to study it. The way Hanover St. is set up now, it is no secret that it is not working especially on the weekends. I would like to find the best solution to allow for the same excitement and activity, but to prevent any major issues or catastrophes.
Regarding the Cross Street sidewalk, how is the pilot program going that went into place last summer removing traffic and parking from one section of the plaza?
I think it has worked. I have received positive feedback on the pilot. If we do move forward, we have to figure out what to do with that space. I feel that using it as a street is not safe.
am working with Councilor LaMattina regarding the appropriate use of the space as a pedestrian walkway or some other elements that would enhance the area. It is also a gateway to the North End and needs to be treated as such. This is perhaps where the Greenway Conservancy can be very helpful. Getting through the pilot program was an important short-term goal.
In the North End, residents talk about the trio of three young, up and coming politicians leading the community including yourself, Senator Petruccelli and Councilor LaMattina. Is it true there is more teamwork between the three positions than in the past? What do you talk about with each other?
Just to be clear, I am the youngest <laughing>. Sal will appreciate that you called him young.
With all due respect to our predecessors, I think there has been more cooperation. Out of the three, I am the only one that lives in the North End. It’s easy for me since I live here. This is the neighborhood that I grew up in and love and would do anything for. For them, they have really welcomed me to find issues where there is common ground. Cross Street is a good example. Sal and I immediately went to work on that. We had the public meetings and came up with a better plan than initially envisioned. I really credit the Councilor for his work on that.
From the Senator’s perspective, the Green Ticket Bill would not have happened as quickly without his pushing on the Senate side, knowing what it meant to the North End. For that, I give him credit for seeing that and moving fast.
The short answer is that the two of them deserve a lot of kudos for supporting the North End. I think we have worked well in the past two years. They both have both worked in the North End in the past, so they know the key elements as to what makes our neighborhood successful.
You did a March 2010 North End forum with Senator Petruccelli. You have done several coffee hours in the South End. Will you be doing a community forum this year or some other type of formal outreach?
Since I live in the North End, I talk to residents all the time. The best way to reach me is to call my office at 617-722-2488 or email me at Aaron.M.Michlewitz@mahouse.gov. (You can also view more contact information on our Elected Officials page.)
I plan on doing some more community outreach. It is probably what I enjoy most about the job, reaching out to the community, talking to people and hearing their perspective. I hope to do another forum with the Senator in the future.
When I ran for office, I knew I was going in as a freshman rep., taking over the position held by the Speaker. I was not able to promise much. Luckily, we were able to get some bills done that were important to the neighborhood. But I knew I could offer accessibility more than a Speaker who is looking out for the entire state. I pride myself on being accessible and I will continue to do that going forward.
You have been involved in various sports leagues in the neighborhood. Will you continue that?
Yes, I continue to coach baseball and I will do that again this season for the 15-16 year old Dodgers. I enjoy it and I see it as a responsibility as a North Ender. I was brought up in this neighborhood with adult figures that looked out for me and taught me a lot through sports. They were doing that to help the next generation. It looks nice now that I am an elected official, but I have done it for 7 years and would do it regardless of my job.
Creating the North to South game that we did last year was one of my favorite moments of being an elected official. It was something that I could do because of my position. Hopefully, it will become an annual event and help bring the two neighborhoods together.