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OPINION

Advice for Boston’s new City Council president

This is no longer your father’s city council.

Boston City Council president Andrea Campbell after presiding over her first City Council meeting in 2018.
Boston City Council president Andrea Campbell after presiding over her first City Council meeting in 2018.Keith Bedford

Two years ago, I was sworn in as the first African American woman president of the Boston City Council. Every time I take my place at the front of the chamber, I am proud to show what is possible in this city — that a girl from a poor family in Roxbury and the South End can become president of the council. I’m equally as proud that this month, for the first time, the council will be a majority women-led body. We will also welcome our first Latina and our first openly LGBTQ woman councilor. This is no longer your father’s city council.

In the last few years, the council has demonstrated its strength and usefulness, and we have made great progress on critical issues facing our city including allocating millions of dollars from the Community Preservation Act to fund new affordable housing, and designing and passing landmark legislation to establish equity in Boston’s billion-dollar cannabis industry. Due to term limits, I am passing the baton to a new president to be elected this month, and want to offer lessons learned during my tenure.

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Set goals that move the council forward together on behalf of constituents.

Perhaps my proudest accomplishment was the establishment of a professional development fund that we used to hold racial equity training for all councilors, staff, and interns. This created a space where we could gain a new perspective on the city’s history on race, how the legislation we pass impacts all people in our city, which is especially important since Boston is now a city that’s majority people of color. We are also on track to put in place new technology that will make our ability to respond to constituent requests more efficient and effective.

Bring your district with you and expand your horizons.

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As city council president, you have opportunities to connect with the city’s wider constituency, which provides a more complete understanding of the issues we all face. None of our challenges or opportunities are restricted by arbitrary precinct or district lines. This is why I sought to bring resident leaders from every neighborhood together for the Boston Civic Leaders Summit my office held last month to build connections across neighborhood lines, and invest in their organizing and leadership skills. From panels and interactive workshops, people left more equipped to engage with our city government and elected leaders. It was especially gratifying to see so many residents from my district in attendance. Showcasing the realities, and deconstructing the misconceptions, of the neighborhoods of Mattapan and Dorchester is as rewarding as it gets in my job.

Make our city government accessible and accountable.

We must continue to work together to ensure our city government is transparent, accountable, and accessible. There are many hard-working and honorable people working in the city of Boston, but as events over the last couple of years have shown, our government is not immune to corruption. We must continue to hold local leaders to a higher standard. I firmly believe that the City Council can continue to lead in creating a new sense of access for every Boston resident. You should not need to know someone in power to access basic city services.

Remember where the City Council’s power lies.

Not unlike Congress, the City Council controls the purse strings in the city of Boston. Our body must approve the city budget. Over the last few years, we have proven we will no longer be a rubber stamp. This need not be an adversarial role. In partnership with Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration, we can identify where and how funds are utilized to ensure equity and transparency. For the last two years I have voted to reject the Boston Public Schools budget — now well over $1 billion — because I believe it doesn’t adequately address systemic issues preventing all students from succeeding. Our role as watchdogs cannot be underestimated.

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I am more energized and passionate about the work before us than ever before. I’m excited by the new councilors bringing fresh perspectives to the council. And I’m as optimistic as ever before about our ability to make positive change in every corner of our city, and will do all I can to support our next council president in bringing proactive, inclusive, equity-driven leadership to our body.

Andrea Campbell represents District 4 on the Boston City Council.