Lex Weaver: Hello everyone my name is Lex Weaver. I am the audience engagement editor for The Scope Boston, a digital news site that tells stories of justice, hope and resilience in the greater Boston area, we practice journalism as an act of service working to connect communities and form civic life and amplify voices that are often overlooked or mischaracterized by traditional media. Today we will be interviewing city councilor and Boston mayoral candidate, Andrea Campbell, who just announced her run last week, congrats to you, Andrea. I know that we do not have much time today so I am going to just go ahead and jump into some questions that have been curated by school staff and also our readers. We have a very close relationship with a lot of people that read our work on the site so we did have them submit questions as well. But I wanted to kind of just start off by getting into your campaign announcement. It was said that you lived the systemic inequities facing Boston residents yourself as a black woman.
Do you think that this background of yours influences what you would bring up front and center to your campaign, or I guess, in other words, what issues would you prioritize if elected mayor?
Andrea Campbell: First of all, thank you for having me. Thank you for inviting me to your platform and thank you for the work you do every single day. Traditional media outlets don’t always cover the things that I’m passionate about. So, thank you.
I think my story is absolutely relatable. I know that from my first run for Boston City Council. I served District-4, which is largely Dorchester and Mattapan, a little bit of Jamaica Plains and Roslindale. I know that as Council President when I travel all across the city and folks said ‘that story resonates with me’. So, what’s the story and why do I do this work, and what are the inequities that I understand and have lived? I’m born and raised in the city of Boston; I grew up in Roxbury and the South End. I’m a proud BPS kid, from Pre-K all the way to 12th grade. I was blessed to go and have a wonderful experience through that system. I went off to Princeton University and then UCLA law school and came back to the city to start my legal career. I’ve worked in the private sector. I’ve worked with Governor Patrick as an attorney. I don’t even give all the credit to Governor Patrick, right, who many know as the first Black governor of Massachusetts, I give it to my twin brother Andre.
We both grew up in the city of Boston. We grew up poor, we lived in affordable housing, we’re often on food assistance. But instead of my brother going after his God-given potential and graduating from a Boston Public High School, he cycled in another criminal justice system and passed away while in the custody of the Department of Corrections. He is the reason I do this work. He had a disease called scleroderma, which is an autoimmune disease with no cure. He had been doing really well. He gets arrested and is in their custody for two years as a pre-trial detainee, and as a result of receiving inadequate health care, passes away in that system, at the age of 29. And so, my life has been connected to the criminal justice system, not just the loss of my twin brother, which changed my life dramatically. It pushed me to think about why I’m here. What are my unique gifts? What are my talents? And so when I ran for office, I asked one question: ‘How did two twins, born and raised in the city of Boston have such different life outcomes?’
I focus on criminal justice reform because of my twin brother, but my biological mom died in a car accident [on her way to visit] my father who was incarcerated at the time. My father and I didn’t even meet until I was eight years old because he was incarcerated. So, my life has been entangled with that system. In addition to criminal justice reform and ensuring that men and women have access to effective re-entry services, I focus a lot on the education system. I had a great experience going through BPS. My twin brother, not so much. I focus on young people; not only ensuring that they have a sense of inspiration, but that even in their hard moments, they still have everything they need to fulfill their potential. I also focus on just the practical things, right; making sure they have a good education, access to programming, housing, of course, you know, that is a major issue, but inequities, generally. My district is a district where every inequity you could ever imagine and maybe some we haven’t even thought about are alive and well. I’m running because I think we’re in a critical moment in the city and in this country where we’re talking about racism, we’re talking about systemic inequities, and I’m sharing a story that relates, but also have done tremendous work on the council to close gaps. I want to continue that work, and not waste any more time.
Lex Weaver: Now, you touched upon a question that I was definitely going to ask you. I know the top issues for your campaign are criminal justice and policing reform. What are your exact plans regarding these issues?
Andrea Campbell: Yeah, so I will tell you the plans that exist now come from the people. I am a firm believer that the government needs to do a better job of listening [and] talking less. I’m often uncomfortable when it’s just like ‘Come on and talk for 20 minutes. It’s like ‘No, can we have a conversation?’ And that the ideas from the people who are living the problems every day that they have solutions, right? And so, when it comes to policing reform, you have folks saying, ‘Let’s take more money from the overtime budget in the city of Boston, from our police department–which is over $70 million–and invest that in getting at the root causes of violence.’ So, programming that addresses trauma, mental health, creates jobs and opportunities, works with our young people, re-entry services, right, with folks who are getting out [of prison]. How do you break those cycles of violence? I mean the list is long. I’m all for taking that money and giving it to programs that are doing the work on the ground, with respect to the root causes of violence. We’re also talking about demilitarizing our police. Right now, I have an ordinance before the council with Councilor Arroyo talking about tear gas. Is that appropriate? Rubber bullets? We’re also looking at the Civilian Review Board. How do we create greater transparency and accountability? Right now if there’s wrongdoing either by a police officer against the civilian or internally a police officer has a complaint, where do they bring that to? How do you know we get some sort of justice, with respect to use cases?
I have an ordinance before the council with respect to that. And there are so many other issues, or ideas I should say. One thing that often doesn’t get attention, that I think is a really creative idea, that came from the bottom up is our vacant lots initiative. For the past couple of years, we’ve been saying we have all these vacant lots in my district, and across the city of Boston, that could be activated for community purpose. [We could] set up businesses, help entrepreneurs have a space, space for young people, youth, housing, you name it. There are [also] numerous studies out there that say vacant lots often correlate with higher incidence of crime in a community. That’s an idea that came from convenings we hosted in the community. So, these public safety ideas have been on the table long before I got to the council. I just don’t like wasting time, right, I’m a mother of two kids [and] I like to get things done. In respect to other issues, education will continue to be an issue that I press. I share the [statistics] that if you are living in downtown neighborhoods in the city of Boston, you have an 80% chance of getting into a high quality school. If you live in Mattapan, where I live with my two boys, it’s 5%. Most folks don’t know the [statistics], or the stories. It’s important to share, but then also to put out plans and action plans, and so I’ll continue to push plans that I have now that come from community, but most importantly, we have a whole year; I have to introduce myself to voters and listen to them as to what their plans and ideas are with respect to all the issues that our city is facing.
Lex Weaver: Since we kind of pivoted a little over to education, I guess my question for you, I know everything with the coronavirus has definitely changed school systems across the nation significantly. I [also] know you’ve been getting feedback and hearing everything that’s been going on with Boston Public School. Where do we go from here, post coronavirus? How do you make sure that students of color specifically are still on track and still able to graduate and get the education that they need? What plans do you have?
Andrea Campbell: Yeah, I will say in the immediate, I was pushing for remote learning, for the most part, because of the higher infection rates in communities of color, that I don’t think were part of the conversation when we were designing our plans for students to come back. I also believe in sort of a phased-in approach; How do we get our English language learners or early learners, special needs students who really could benefit from in person and who really need that, how do we phase them in and do it in a safe way? But I’ve also focused a lot on the digital divide; It has been shocking, I think to many, that the divide exists. There are many in the city of Boston who still do not have access to a good internet connection, who do not have access to hardware and software that we take for granted to do our work and to engage with one another. So there, there needs to be an immediate push to close that gap. And we’re seeing that’s relevant, not just in the education system, but so many other systems, including our jobs. So, in addition to sort of those short term pushes and making sure that parents have support they need to help, a lot of our parents are essential workers, they need programming or other human capital support in the community to help with the remote learning experience. We have folks that are doing that; and of course, I want the district to take the lead on that, so really pushing them to do that.
But long term, I think this is an opportunity, I mean I always like to look at the possibilities, even in the negative and maybe that’s because of my life story, in that right now we have folks on the ground who are saying, ‘If we are in this remote learning experience where we are educating without zip codes or breaking down the walls, how do we ensure equity and access in this remote learning experience?’ I think there are ways in which we could deliver more academic support and more effective programming to our students, because everything is online. We just have to ensure they have the devices to be able to receive it, and that the parents and caregivers have the support and the skills to be able to help and assist. I think we’re doing some of that in a piecemeal fashion. It needs to be systemic and needs to be system wide, so we’re working on that and we’ll continue to push. It’s an issue I am absolutely passionate about because, but for the grace of God and the education system I got in the city, I probably wouldn’t [be doing this interview].
Lex Weaver: The number one question we’ve been getting from our readers, besides housing, is about ‘Methadone Mile’. We have been talking to various groups that have been responsible for the advocacy for everything that’s being going on at ‘Methadone Mile’ and the concern is that we’re hearing a lot of, ‘we should’ and not what ‘I’m going to do.’ We’re curious to know, if elected to office as mayor, what will you do to combat the issues that are happening at ‘Methadone Mile?’
Andrea Campbell: I mean, first of all, it’s a major issue and that’s the area I grew up in. I grew up on Massachusetts Avenue. And I recently went to a walkthrough, and I was, you know, obviously I see it when I drive home from downtown to Mattapan, but it just was devastated, that it continues to get worse and not better. And I think there’s a couple of things; I felt that frustration from residents when I went out there and the beauty is, you had residents of every demographic you can imagine saying, ‘We’re coming together on this, we’re working together.’ And I said, ‘I hear your frustration with the slow pace in response from us [that have been] elected [to council]. I also hear that you have solutions and ideas, and we just need to activate those and implement those in the immediate.’ So there are some great long term plans in the city of Boston. I have to give credit to the mayor and the task force, but they’re long term [plans], right? So in the immediate, I actually sent a letter I think within like 48 hours to the mayor and to the governor to say, one, we need immediate responses to the sanitation issues down there. It is unacceptable that we don’t have temporary toilets or places for folks to bathe. We were able to activate and mobilize vacant city-owned spaces or other spaces for folks who are dealing with COVID-19, to give them testing to place to go a place to quarantine. Why can’t we do the same for individuals down there? We have an opportunity to do that, so that was at the top of the list. A second sort of range of solutions was around decentralizing services. It shouldn’t just be the responsibility of one neighborhood or South End and Roxbury two neighborhoods to bear the brunt of this crisis, which is statewide. And so, in the letter, I talked about how folks have specific ideas on how we bring together our hospitals, our health centers and our providers to say, ‘What services do you offer? How do we make sure that folks down in this area are aware of those? How do we decentralize this location? How do we get smart about where we’re putting locations of recovery?’ You know the safe injection site is down there. So you’re leaving a recovery location, only to sort of be almost drawn in to possibly go and shoot up again. Literally, that’s what one of the folks who participated in our walkthrough said. By the way, the walkthrough included not only residents but also some folks who had substance abuse issues. It was a beautiful moment and someone said it’s really hard to get help, if that’s right there. So, how do we think smart about where services go and how we decentralize? And lastly, this has to be a statewide issue. We have to do greater advocacy to Governor Baker. And I said in my letter, I think it’s a total mistake that he’s sort of leaving it to the municipalities to figure it out. Boston alone cannot figure this out. There are numerous sorts of surveys that suggest that the majority of folks we’re servicing are not from the city of Boston right? Their residence is somewhere else.
So, I’ve been in touch with the governor’s office, as well as the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which oversees our regional planning agency of 101 cities and towns. I used to work there and say, ‘How can we convene other municipalities to say, ‘What is your plan to deal with the opioid crisis, and how are you, and these other communities helping us address and help your constituents? How do we do it in partnership?’ I think we waited too long to have that sense of a regional response. So, that was in my follow up letter and I’ll keep pushing. But, I think right now the focus has to be short term solutions, as well as the long term solutions, and of course reopen the Long Island Bridge. That recovery center or area is critically important to this. So, it will have to involve, of course, conversations with Quincy and other municipalities, but it all has to be on the table.
Lex Weaver: So one question that I have for you, it’s a little bit of a tough one. So, you are a Boston city councilor now, and you were also the council president. What do you think that you can do as mayor that you couldn’t do as a councilor?
Andrea Campbell: Oh, so much, you know, I often say, we are in a strong mayor city, whether we like it or not. And with the stroke of a pen, a mayor has the ability to change policy, practice, and put forth legislation. So, I think about some of the gaps in our education system. And you have to be intentional specifically with communities of color to say, ‘This is unacceptable,’ but then to put forth action. I actually put forth an action plan as a councilor, and I think it was received well, because folks have never seen something so specific on transforming a system; but my frustration is [that] I need the district and the mayor to adopt it. Or, at least to work in partnership with me on that. There are a lot of limitations you know on some of the public safety responses. I voted ‘no’ on the mayor’s budget to say, $12 million is not enough to cut from our overtime. We have over a $70 million overtime police budget. We should cut more and reinvest that money into something else. I’ve been talking about the lack of diversity in our public safety agencies for years, and put out a plan over two years ago. Now, it’s sort of popular in the traditional media space to say we need more women and people of color in these agencies,and in our city departments. I was like, ‘I had a plan two years ago.’ And so, the mayor has this ability to act on that. Just like that. And so, those limitations that frustrate me on the council side can immediately go away. I also think as council president I was really proud to bring that institution through racial equity training, when folks didn’t really get ‘racial equity,’ and what does that mean. I said, ‘Every inequity we are talking about, the foundation of that is race and racism; whether you like to hear that or not. They’re painful, often uncomfortable conversations, but we in government cannot shy away from that, we have to step into that.’ So, I was able to get external funding to make that happen. It was a six month training folks. Some folks got uncomfortable, right, but for the most part it was shocking to me how folks in government didn’t know how that GI Bill, for example, discriminated against people of color. [They] didn’t know that Social Security and other programs that were designed to help actually excluded people and that was intentional, and the systems in which we find ourselves and we have to say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Or, that folks who live in poverty, that is largely people of color, that it didn’t happen by accident; People don’t have that historical context, and yet they’re working in government. So, I am at the foundation of the work, and as council president was really proud to say, ‘I’m going to talk about that, and then do something about that.’
I will say as mayor I would make sure every department has a similar training and that is the foundation of the work we do. Let me tell you, it’s not always easy; but, I think growing up here and being able to speak to the personal effects of our city, with respect to our own pain and racist history and division, that [it] allows me to bring that to bear in many of these conversations that are hard.
Lex Weaver: So I have two final questions because I know we have to wrap up. Like I mentioned earlier, housing is a top question. I’m sure you get it in every interview.
Readers really just want to know what is your plan to combat the high rent and living costs in the city and how much of a priority is that for your platform, especially because we know that you focus a lot on criminal justice and policing reform. Just where does housing fit into your plans?
Andrea Campbell: So, housing is a major issue. So I tend [to focus on], at least from the outside, it looks like criminal justice reform, policing reform and education, but housing has always been on the list. I will say as a candidate when I was running for office we talked about the Community Preservation Act. And I remember my first day in office there was a group of advocates making their rounds and I said ‘Excuse you, I campaigned on that. So, let’s get the Community Preservation Act, [or CPA], done.’ And so that was my first piece of legislation. I did it in partnership with Councilor Flaherty. And I was not popular, I got a lot of hate emails, ‘How dare you come to the council and raise my taxes,’ and I said, ‘Hey, this program works to create more money for what? Not only green space and historic preservation, but housing.’
If you go across the City of Boston now, we are dishing out millions of dollars for housing projects, including for our seniors, veterans and vulnerable populations. That’s because of the CPA and the push for that when it wasn’t popular, maybe even when the mayor didn’t necessarily want to do it at the time. And so, from the outset, it has been a major issue. We are also getting creative and we’re going to have to get creative when dealing with the housing crisis, in terms of the vacant lots that I spoke of. City-owned vacant lots that we could build on, they’ve been vacant for decades. Excuse me city, get rid of that, develop it in such a way that we have intergenerational housing opportunities; we can set the price point in terms of affordability, so it’s truly affordable.
I’m also in conversation with a lot of development projects and developers in my district with respect to ‘what does affordability really mean?’ But it feels very piecemeal at different times, so I think there just has to be a great intentionality across the City of Boston and from the executive leadership to say market rate mixed is okay, but it cannot all be market rate. We have to get creative on whether it’s vacant lots or other creative initiatives that people have. There’s so many, and I like to think outside the box. The home in which I live in Mattapan was because a resident who has lived here for almost 45 years walked the community, met my aunt and uncle who are my parents and said: ‘Isn’t your daughter looking for a home?’ And we were able to purchase this home for a very fair price because she wanted to pass it on to allow a family to stay here in Boston.
Those are the kinds of solutions in the community that I think the government can do a really great job of lifting up, actualizing and making more sustainable for more people to have access.
Lex Weaver: Now my last question for you today. What do you want people to know about you or about your platform, or just your general goal or mission for running for mayor?
Andrea Campbell: This is purpose driven. Never in a million years would I ever have thought I was going to run for office, I had a mentor of mine who suggested maybe 10 years ago, ‘Ever think about running for office?’ and I’ll be frank, I was like ‘Hell no.’ It wasn’t until I lost my twin brother Andre, and I share his story, a lot, because it’s a story that would never get told. So, I’ve been going to a lot of rallies lately where people say you know ‘No justice no peace’ and technically my family should have no peace right now, because we still don’t know what happened to my brother, in terms of the circumstances under which he died. And my peace comes not only from my faith. I read my Bible every day and live that authentically in a loving way. But, my peace also comes from turning pain into purpose. One way I did that was running for Boston City Council, and asking that question: ‘How did two twins born and raised in the city have such different life outcomes?’ That is the question that still fuels this work, it will continue to fuel my work in this next endeavor of becoming mayor of the City of Boston, and I’ve never lost focus on that question.
If anything, now, I’m realizing that every system has some inequity. I’m not afraid to talk about Black and brown people who have to deal with the brunt of those inequities because of the foundation of this country, which said to us, right, that we are lesser, that we were inferior, that we should be marginalize, and that we should be oppressed because of the color of our skin. And I say it in such a way that it’s like, ‘White allies, I’m not excluding you from that I want you to understand that, but now we have to work together to transform this city in such a way that it works for everyone and that everyone has the same access to the same opportunity that all of us take for granted.’ And that’s what this campaign will be about, but I can only do it in partnership with folks on the ground and residents. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and introducing myself to more voters and earning this support.