This is the second part of an interview with State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, recently appointed Chair of the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee. Catch up with Part I here.
NEWF: Looking at your home neighborhood, how would you characterize the North End today?
Michlewitz: I think the North End community is stronger today than it was ten years ago. I am not saying that is just me, but working together, we have made great strides. We have changed the trend of public property becoming private. When I was first elected, one of the tougher issues was confronting Mayor Menino about saving the North End Branch Library from closing. As a neighborhood, we came together and joined with other communities so that no libraries were closed.
Next, was the city printing plant on North Street. We turned the closing of that plant into a positive by helping save the North Bennet Street School from leaving the city while also expanding the Eliot School in the former NBSS space. That has turned into a complete success especially once the city also bought the property for 585 Commercial Street to be a new school building.
In the latest city administration, I am proud of working with Mayor Walsh as the city invests in the neighborhood through a renovated North Square, Prado (Paul Revere Mall) and a significant amount of money to renovate Puopolo and Langone Parks on the waterfront.
Another recent success was saving the nursing home on Fulton Street where we again came together. We had to pull out all the tools in the toolbox for that one. In that case, I will give the Boston Planning & Redevelopment Authority (BPDA) some credit for standing with us on that.
I am concerned about the North Washington Street Bridge reconstruction and how it will impact the neighborhood. It is a project that has to be done but it will cause pain. We fought back against the “no left turn” on Commercial Street. I will continue to work with MassDot and those in the community to mitigate these types of issues during construction.
NorthEndWaterfront.com: Traffic and transportation are front page concerns in Boston and throughout the Commonwealth. You have introduced a new bill to increase fines, particularly around blocking the box, looking to raise the current fine of $150 up to $500, and add insurance points to the driver’s record. How else would you like the budget to address the transportation and MBTA issues?
Rep. Michlewitz: The House has its transportation committee and my district counterpart in the Senate, Joe Boncore, is Chair of Transportation there. I know they are going to grapple with these issues. From a budget perspective, it is obviously at the top of the list. But, we have to build consensus at the end of the day. For instance, in 2013 we did the gas tax and passed, what I believe to be, a substantial increase. It was not easy. There was hope to go higher, but we had to look at it from not just a Boston perspective. We tried to give the consumers a direct say at the ballot box but that was soundly defeated by the voters the following year. We don’t want to take anything off the table, but I have to keep in mind how this consensus would work.
NEWF: One of your first major bills to be passed related to the Greenway Conservancy, steward to the ribbon of parks that runs through your district on property owned by the State coming out of the Central Artery project. How do you reflect on that now?
Michlewitz: That was a battle where the Conservancy was not seeing things for the benefit of the local community. I remember you coming up here years ago and expressing these concerns. I never thought giving the Greenway to DCR or Boston Parks was going to result in the parks we deserved after living through the Big Dig. So, we had to change the structure of the Conservancy board to bring on locals and figure out a long-term financing plan. Getting the City to the table by using some of the Winthrop Garage proceeds was key. The legislation we put through was not a pure fix, but we had to call out the Conservancy at the time to be more transparent and work with the neighborhoods.
NEWF: Why is re-precincting a priority for you?
Michlewitz: This is something that has impacted my district more than most. The City of Boston has been exempt from re-precincting since 1921. Development over the last century has drastically changed the populations in certain precincts, making the numbers uneven. For example, the North End has four precincts with Precinct 3-1 on the waterfront being the largest at nearly the size of the other three combined. This creates longer lines and voter inequity that could be solved through re-precincting.
NEWF: How is the legislature working to increase its own diversity to reflect that in the population?
Michlewitz: The re-districting process in 2011 created the most minority-majority districts in the history of the legislature. For instance, we created the first Lawrence seat to reflect population growth but also diversity. There will be an opportunity for more of that coming up in the 2021 redistricting. We also have a large number of women elected in recent cycles. The Speaker showed that 48% of House leadership posts are women, greater than the underlying percentage of woman in the chamber. When I look at who I endorse, this is something I also strive to support.
NEWF: When we interviewed you at the start of your first full term, you talked about your passion for the job. How do you stay passionate for public service and the job as representative as you were ten years ago?
Michlewitz: I would say I am more passionate now then when I first started because I have some state and neighborhood accomplishments under my belt. I pinch myself that the people of this district continue to re-elect me. It’s humbling and it is something I hope to do as long as I am effective.
NEWF: Thank you, Rep. Michlewitz, for speaking with NorthEndWaterfront.com.