After representing Dorchester, Mattapan and parts of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain for more than four years in the Boston City Council, Councilor Andrea Campbell announced her candidacy for Boston mayor on Thursday. If elected, Campbell would be the first Black and first female mayor of Boston.
In an interview with The Daily Free Press Tuesday, Campbell discussed how she hopes to address systemic racism and listen to community members when looking for solutions, as well as how she is campaigning during a pandemic.
Read the transcript of our interview with Councilor Campbell below. Excerpts have been edited for clarity.
What made you decide to run for mayor now?
I think we are in a profound moment of reckoning in this country in the City when we’re talking about systemic inequities, race and racism, and police brutality. And I think Boston needs leadership that not only understands those inequities, but has lived it.
And so I’m running for mayor to be that leader, to bring us together to confront our own painful history of racism and division right here in the City of Boston, and to work really hard to eradicate inequities, so Boston works for everyone.
Why should voters elect you? Why shouldn’t they stick with the incumbent if Mayor Marty Walsh seeks re-election?
I have a great working relationship with the mayor. We’ve come together to work on obviously COVID-19 and this pandemic, and he’s been intentional in working with the Council and vice versa.
For me, the piece that is often lost is that Boston still sadly remains one of the most profoundly unequal cities in America. And that’s because inequities in every system you can imagine, whether it is education, health care, access to jobs, access to parks and green space, still are very much a part of the reality of so many communities of color and residents of color and low-income residents.
For me, this campaign is about not just saying we’re going to do something about those inequities, but taking action to transform those systems, so that everyone has the same access regardless of your zip code, your neighborhood or however you identify.
What would be your first priorities if you are elected?
One is just confronting the fact that even equities exist. There are still many in the City of Boston who do not, for example, know that if you live in certain Downtown neighborhoods in the City of Boston, you have an 80-percent chance of getting into a really excellent Boston Public School. But if you live in Mattapan, where I live with my two sons, for example, it’s 5 percent.
So there’s so many equities, whether in data or in numbers, in terms of racial wealth gap, access to good education, access to jobs, opportunities for our young people. On the one hand, I want to make sure that people understand that this reality is real for so many in the City of Boston, but then say, ‘Okay, what are we going to do about it?’
I am passionate about bringing people together to talk about tough issues like race and racism, which is the underbelly of all of those systemic inequities. And then, of course, we create plans, strategies and action plans that come from the bottom up, from residents themselves as a solution to eliminating those inequities and those gaps.
I think one big distinction between me and the current incumbent is not only our story and what we bring to the work in our background, but also the way in which we talk about inequities and the action I anticipate taking that I think has been lost in in recent years.
How would you address these inequities and systemic racism in policing and other City institutions?
I’ve focused a lot on policing reform, even before it got popular in the media. Right now, folks are putting it out there and focusing on it in the media space because of, sadly, the death of George Floyd and so many others. Folks obviously are continuing to rally, even around Breonna Taylor.
For me, though, policing reforms has always been at the top of the list. And that includes ensuring that we have resources to help our young people, getting at the root causes that violence involves, setting up and ensuring that we have good education and good programming and good opportunities for youth so they do not choose a path that will bring them into violence.
[It includes ensuring] that we also invest in programs that are on the ground and that have been getting at the root causes of violence for a really long time. And that means dealing with trauma, dealing with mental health and ensuring that there are supports, ensuring people have jobs and economic opportunity, that they have resources if they want to start a business.
And sadly, the resources and opportunity that exists in some parts of the City do not exist for certain communities of color. For me, pushing to change that is critically important.
How do you plan to address the opioid crisis in the City of Boston?
I was just actually at a walkthrough recently, meeting with residents, as well as those who are actually currently dealing with substance abuse issues, specifically in the Mass Ave.-Melnea Cass section of our city. We have great long-term plans, and I want to give the administration, including the task force and the mayor, credit for that, but we need short-term solutions.
And so after that walkthrough, I listened to the residents, I heard their frustration, I also applauded them because they had specific ideas in the short term that we could address. I immediately sent a letter to the mayor as well as the governor to say we need, in the immediate, infrastructure to deal with the sanitation issues down there.
Folks should have a place to use the bathroom. We should have places to help those who are homeless or at least offer places to bathe. If we were able to set up that infrastructure for those dealing with COVID-19, we should be able to do the same for folks down there.
We also talked a lot about decentralizing services. So in that follow-up letter to the administration, I talked about ways in which we could decentralize it so that every part of the City of Boston is responding to and playing a part in dealing with our opioid crisis, and that no one community or two communities are bearing the brunt of that.
There are ways in which to pull in our community health centers and our hospitals to respond effectively in decentralizing but ensuring that everyone who needs services has access to that. Also being creative about where we place these services. Many folks we were engaging with in the walkthrough have dealt with substance abuse issues, and they were courageous enough to share their stories.
One individual talked about it’s really hard to recover if you’re leaving a recovery program and there’s a safe injection site right in the same neighborhood. So how do we think differently about where we place services in the city of Boston?
And lastly, the letter really addressed this idea that it has to be a statewide effort. Right now, the governor has a plan where it suggests that every municipality should develop their own plan and deal with it locally. And I said in the letter that I think that’s a total mistake, that every single municipality has a role to play because this is affecting every single municipality in Massachusetts.
But yet Boston is the city that is having to bear the brunt in terms of the response. There are many surveys out there that have suggested that many of the residents down in Mass Ave. and Melnea Cass Boulevard, for example, are not from the City of Boston.
So I’m in touch with the Governor’s Office, as well as the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which is a regional planning agency covering 101 cities and towns in Massachusetts, to say, ‘How do we work as a collective? How do we listen to and hear from other municipalities as to what their plans are, both long term and short term? And how do they play a role in helping us here in the City provide services to their very residents who are here in the City of Boston looking for support?’
This is focusing more on the short term, which I think people need to see now, and I’ll keep pushing for that every step of the way.
I’ll add on the long-term plan, of course, is the Long Island Bridge and setting up that campus that offered a lot of important recovery services. But that’s long term, because we have to work with the City of Quincy and others to make it happen. Continuing to push short-term solutions, I think is critically important.
It seems like something that keeps coming up in your plans is community outreach and getting their input before executing plans. Why is it so important?
The only way for government to be effective and impactful is to have residents at the table. Not after we’ve developed a plan and say, ‘Here, implement this,’ but at the beginning. The very residents who are living in our City of Boston understand the problems. They’re living them. They get it. They also have solutions and ideas. I think if we invite them to participate, we might be shocked by the solutions and ideas they come up with.
And many of these ideas are so creative they don’t even necessarily involve the City of Boston spending any money. They don’t involve, necessarily, new resources from the City. They involve us listening and saying we’re going to be a partner in making that happen. I’m excited to run not only a grassroots campaign, get out there and talk to folks and share my story and let folks know who I am, but more importantly, to listen to folks share their stories and to share their solutions on how we address the many issues affecting our city.
I think we’ve done that in many ways in our district thus far. We work in partnership with our civic leaders. We have between probably 45 and 50 in my district, which is largely Dorchester, Mattapan, a little bit of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale. These are residents who volunteer their time to organize and to convene residents. I think that partnership is critically important in order to listen to the ideas and what the problems are and what the solutions are, but to co-create policies so that we’re not talking about the same inequities years from now.
How do you plan to address climate change?
Where do we begin? So I will tell you, I’m not an expert, but what I do recognize is the environmental justice piece and the fact that communities of color, just like every inequity, are living the effects and the brunt of the systemic inequities every single day.
Whether it’s air pollution, lack of access to green space in parks and so much more, I am confident that the City of Boston, with all of its incredible partners on the ground, including organizations that are at the forefront of our response, that we will absolutely continue to be a leader in this regard.
I’ve worked in partnership with many of my Council colleagues, including Councilor [Matt] O’Malley, who I think is the longest-serving councilor right now on the Council and chairs our environmental committee.
I’ve also worked in partnership with Councilor [Michelle] Wu on ensuring that our city is doing everything we can to reduce greenhouse gases and to also ensure that our infrastructure, whether it’s our buildings, new development projects, our cars, all of that, is that we’re mindful of the crisis we’re in with respect to the climate and that we are doing everything we can to address that issue.
It’s critically important to me, too, that we get into communities of color in particular. The district I represent is predominantly of color, and many do not feel like they’re a part of that conversation.
Or if they are, they want those who are focusing on the threat of the climate crisis to also understand the threats of violence and poverty that these communities are also facing and to have an approach or response that takes into account all of those threats and all of those issues.
I think that’s an incredible way to get communities of color who don’t necessarily see themselves in the climate justice movement, to be a part of it and to say, ‘This affects you too. It has to do with our planet, our Earth and the next generations to come.’ And I think that’s the way in which I’ve been really good at pulling folks into that conversation that come from communities of color.
As mayor, how would you address the economic and social impacts caused by the pandemic as the city recovers?
My goal is to get out into every neighborhood in the City of Boston and to listen to residents, not just talk about the social and economic devastation this pandemic is having. I know it firsthand, because my low-income district, predominantly a district of color, is bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unemployment numbers are high. Folks are losing their jobs. Folks are unsure about the certainty of getting another one. People are dying regularly. And it’s shocking to me at moments how this isn’t necessarily getting the attention of the mainstream media. People are still getting sick. Health disparities still exist.
I know this from my district lens and perspective, but my goal is to get out there into other communities outside of my district to hear from folks what they are feeling and experiencing with respect to this pandemic, and then for us to create a response that ensures that there is an economic recovery that is equitable across the City of Boston.
We’re not just focusing on the big companies and corporations or the big hotels that either have shut their doors or closed, but we’re also focusing on the small businesses, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs and how we get them back online in terms of either the same business that they were doing or a new business endeavor. Just ensuring that economic recovery is equitable.
And on the social piece, there’s so many layers to that. Of course, health disparities have to be at the top of the list. We’ve been talking about health disparities for decades. COVID-19 has only exacerbated them. There needs to be greater intentionality in closing those gaps and ensuring that all the other systems: education, health, just social connectivity.
We’re seeing a lot of folks who are feeling very isolated. They shouldn’t have to feel that way when you think about our city and how diverse it is and there are platforms in which to connect. The social pieces will be just as hard as the economic pieces, so looking forward to developing plans in partnership with residents with respect to all of that.
How would you work with the state to make sure changes are made in the City and the needs of Boston residents are being met?
I used to work in the state. I was deputy legal counsel for Gov. [Deval] Patrick when he was governor. My agencies actually included the [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] and the Transportation Agency, so MASSDOT. Also, all of the education agencies were within my purview. The Commission Against Discrimination was in my purview. And I drafted and reviewed all legislation for the governor.
And so I come with a rich and robust experience, not only doing the work at the state level, but also seeing how it connects the municipalities. I had to work with all 351 municipalities, especially with respect to legislation, in my time serving with and for the governor. That experience will absolutely be relevant to this campaign, but also to the work of being a mayor. I have great relationships, as a result of that work with folks who are still working in state agencies and state government, and I continue to stay in contact with them on the pressing issues.
With the opioid crisis, I was able to pick up the phone and say, ‘What is the plan? What is the response?’ There are some parts that are working well and there are other parts that are not. I’m not afraid to advocate, to fight for the state to do more with respect to our city, not just in terms of making sure we have funding and resources, but also thought leadership, their expertise and that they’re a partner in every step of the way with respect to us addressing the issues.
Sometimes those conversations go well, sometimes not so much because I’m advocating fiercely to ensure that they’re doing their part in helping us meet our needs here in the City of Boston, particularly because the City of Boston is such a major economic engine for the whole state.
During these unprecedented times, how are you approaching the campaign process and how might it be different?
In my first campaign and in subsequent campaigns, it wasn’t in a virtual world. I’m blessed to have an incredible team, including a campaign manager that just had to run a congressional race in this virtual reality we’re in. I have folks who have done it.
And our goal is to build a grassroots campaign, getting out there into communities, masked up, and doing it as safely as we can while also, of course, using our online platforms to connect with folks and to meet voters across the City of Boston. There are different ways we’re thinking about running a people-first grassroots campaign that we think will be successful.
We don’t have all the answers. So we’re also looking for folks to connect with us, not just to share their stories of what it’s like living in the City of Boston, their ideas, their solutions, but also to be a part of this movement as a way to stay socially connected to something that is positive because we are going to run a positive campaign, even though there are dark moments right now in our country.
We want to hear from folks and we want to make them a part of this endeavor. It starts with connecting with folks on our campuses, folks living in our communities, to say, ‘We’re all in this together and look forward to doing it in partnership.’ So I’m excited for the possibilities.