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Downtown View: Introducing Nils Tracy

Three Democrats are running for state representative in the Eighth Suffolk District, which includes the Back Bay, the West End, most of Beacon Hill and Cambridgeport. A Republican is supposed to be running, but we haven’t unearthed him yet. Nomination papers are due April 16 so we’ll know for sure at that point.

This column introduced Jay Livingstone and Josh Dawson over the past couple of weeks. This week Nils Tracy, age 26 and a resident of Beacon Hill, gets our attention.

Nils is a graduate of Miami University of Ohio and Suffolk Law School. He says he has little interest in private practice. Instead he is more concerned with how the law can influence policy.

Although he is campaigning full time now, he has been working for two non-profits. He did policy research at the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, an independent non-partisan research organization based at Harvard Law School that makes recommendations to Congress about such regulation. He’s also been working at the Recirculating Farms Coalition, which employs a vertical, stacked, sustainable system of fish tanks on the bottom, fruits in the middle and vegetables on the top to bring fresh food to underserved neighborhoods. This effort could be fascinating in itself, but there’s no room to describe it fully here. Google it.

In addition to these jobs, Nils is enrolled in the MBA program at Boston College.

In college he did a stint for U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy at the Senate Judiciary Committee. That made him want to do more Senate work. So when an opportunity came about for a five-month job as a legal intern for former Senator Scott Brown handling constituent services in the Boston office, he took it. It was non-partisan, mostly helping people negotiate with power companies to keep their power on, helping someone get a bank loan or helping veterans get benefits.

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose to see the problems coming at you,” he said. “I was there to help people get the benefit of these social programs, but the Democratic Party is where that gets done.”

Working in Brown’s office made him a stronger Democrat, he said.

He says he is not a traditional candidate, with a history of participating in campaigns, but believes he would bring to the legislature experience in getting results through crafting good policies.

Nils grew up primarily in Florida and Maryland. He is devoted to social justice solutions, partly because as a child who qualified for the free lunch program, he has seen how public programs save people who need a hand.

The job of state representative appeals to him because the legislature deals with local matters with which people quickly feel the impact.

Nils’s experience with policies reveals itself in his nuanced approach to many of the matters the legislature grapples with.

For example, Nils decries the brain drain that sends MIT graduates to California, where non-compete clauses are looser. “Most people are unaware how our [tighter laws] affect our state,” he said. Some legislators are trying to change such laws to make Massachusetts more competitive, but the Kendall Square and Route 128 companies resist such changes that might keep more talented people here.

Nils recognizes the need for more downtown schools, but he points out there are many practices we make it hard for Boston to achieve quality. Chapter 70 funding, for example, provides an equal amount to each school no matter how much a school needs to improve, he said.

He would prefer a formula focused on helping the schools that most need improvement. He also wants to promote sex education in schools, which he recognizes has caused controversy in some quarters.

That said, he says Back Bay must have a school if families are to stay in the downtown. “More people want to move into cities permanently,” he observed. Without schools, Boston will lose out.

Governor Patrick’s revenue plan worries him. It’s not that he objects to raising taxes. It’s the sales tax reduction that bothers him.

“It’s not a good time to cut the sales tax,” he said, “when we’re about to get a big boost in revenue from big online retailers that will soon have to start paying a sales tax.”

While there’s not yet a time-table on Amazon paying taxes, Nils believes it is coming.

Besides, he said, Massachusetts already collects no sales tax on food and less expensive clothing, two items on which low-income earners spend the bulk of their money.

“Low-income people could be better served,” he said. That would be with better education, more reliable, expanded and up-to-date transportation and remedies for climate change.

Small businesses are hurt in Massachusetts because of zoning practices. One example he cites is on Newbury Street where the same zoning regulations concerning fair market value increases in rents are the same along the whole street. That puts the small businesses at the Mass. Ave. end of the street in the same position vis-a-vis rent increases as the large retailers at the Arlington Street end. “Newbury Street needs to be rezoned,” he said. He says a state rep can advocate for municipal changes even if they can’t pass laws about such changes.

Is Nils’s youth an asset or a hindrance in this race? It’s a little of both, he believes. “Am I too young? he asked. “But going against the grain like that makes a good legislator.”

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at