In an effort to educate Boston College Law School students about career paths after graduation, BC’s Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy hosted 40 students and law professors to listen to a panel of mayors from Massachusetts Feb. 4.
The event, titled “Urban Mayors: Challenges of Municipal Governance,” featured mayors Setti Warren, BC ’93, of Newton, Dan Rivera of Lawrence, Joseph Curtatone, BC ’90 of Somerville, and John Mitchell of New Bedford, with questions and comments moderated by Lisa Wong, former mayor of Fitchburg.
“Mayors have the best job in politics because [they] know what’s going on in the city today and can envision what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Warren said.
The panel included mayors of towns with different economic statuses and mayors with a varying range of experience and terms served as mayor. Rivera is in his first term, while this is Warren’s seventh year in office.
When the mayors were asked how they got to be where they are today, Curtatone answered that his family had a history in senior health care, so he ran for mayor because he did not think the city was doing enough for seniors and children.
Warren recounted the story of walking into Curtatone’s office and inquiring about worn shoes hanging on the wall.
“Mayors have the best job in politics because [they] know what’s going on in the city today and can envision what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
-Setti Warren, mayor of Newton and BC ’93
“Those are the shoes I wore when I went door-to-door while I campaigned,” Curtatone said.
Warren remarked that his parents’ story is one that has rough beginnings in a tough neighborhood, but that they were able to build a better life through hard work and opportunities.
“That story needs to continue,” he said. “It needs to continue in Newton, and it needs to continue in all cities in America.”
Drawing on his experience as a prosecutor in order to relate to the law students, Mitchell, who worked briefly at the attorney general’s office, said that he initially wanted nothing to do with the mayor’s job and felt he had “no relevant skills.” But he eventually found deep gratification in his job because of its personal interactions with the people.
“In this business, trust from the electorate is invaluable,” Rivera agreed.
The United States has a federalist system, which means that the people interact first with their local governments before going to the state and then the central government, Rivera said. This is why, Rivera believes, doing small things for the people allows mayors to have conversations with the federal government about how to get more funding for towns in order to make them a better place to live.
Wong also asked about how the mayors decide which issues to focus on during their terms. Everyone agreed with Warren when he answered that it is all a question of economic mobility.
“Economic security in our cities is the one main issue,” he said.
In closing, the panel held a question-and-answer session in which mayors answered specific questions about their policies and cities.
Curtatone spoke mostly of his plan, Somervision 2030. In progress since 2010, Somervision has been useful in slowly turning around the reputation and quality of life in Somerville.
“The plan establishes shared values, creates measurable goals for job creation, opens space, housing development, and transportation, and illustrates the areas of the city to conserve, enhance, and transform,” Curtatone said.
Warren spoke of the use of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to diversify housing in Newton because the cost of doing business and the cost of living in Newton have gotten too high.
After some closing comments from all the mayors and a bit of reminiscing from Wong and the others at the conferenc, the panel was dismissed for some food and mingling, where students and professors had the opportunity to approach the mayors that stayed behind.
Wong proceeded to say that though she was not a mayor anymore, the position and all it does is still near to her heart.
“Once you’re a mayor, you’re always a mayor,” she said.
Featured Image Courtesy of Aram Boghosian / Boston Globe