Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara didn’t have a driver’s license because it was revoked and was driving an unregistered and uninsured car at more than double the speed limit when she crashed into a home in Jamaica Plain on June 30, police said. Her 7-year-old son allegedly wasn’t in a booster seat, as required by law. But at a recent court hearing at which a not guilty plea was entered on her behalf, she told reporters, “I know that as an elected official I have to hold myself to a higher standard, and I intend to do that.” She added: “I understand intimately the challenges my constituents are struggling with.”
She couldn’t be more wrong. She doesn’t have to hold herself to a “higher standard” — just the same standard as everyone else. Moreover, to try to spin the basic, ordinary obligations of the average, responsible adult into something extraordinary shows she does not “understand intimately” the challenges faced by her constituents.
“It’s a simple standard. Take care of your license,” said Jeffrey Sánchez, a former state representative from Jamaica Plain who is now a senior adviser at Rasky Partners. Sánchez said he has heard from others in the Latino community who are noting that at a time when undocumented immigrants are applying “in droves” for their driver’s licenses under a new Massachusetts law that gives them that precious right, “their representative on the Boston City Council doesn’t have one.” Because of that, he said, “the community is engaged and asking questions.”
Besides calling this incident a “mistake,” Lara isn’t answering many of them. Meanwhile, if her transgression is a mistake, it’s a long-running one, since, according to the Globe, she “regularly” drove to work at Boston City Hall even though she has not had a valid driver’s license for a decade. City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who has called on Lara to resign, also called her “arrogant.” For sure, there is a certain arrogance that goes along with flouting the law, as Lara has apparently done for quite some time. Flaherty, a veteran city councilor from South Boston who recently announced he would not seek reelection, also said Lara “has zero self-awareness.”
While Flaherty may be right about the need for an attitude adjustment, I am not in the Lara-must-resign camp. It’s up to voters to decide what kind of representation they want, whether they are electing a president of the United States or a district city councilor. It’s up to the voters to set the political standard for what is acceptable behavior and to draw the line between right and wrong. But when Lara says she’s “hopeful that my constituents will send me back to City Hall to represent them,” she sounds like she’s counting on the same unfortunate combination of identity politics and partisan indifference to law-breaking that now seems to fuel politics at every level to overcome the specific circumstances surrounding her crash. If she’s right, that’s too bad. The voters should want to know more about her willingness to proceed in life as if the rules don’t apply to her.
Instead, she represents the promise of progressive and diverse representation, undercut by personal misconduct she has yet to fully acknowledge.
When she won election to the council in November 2021, Lara became the first person of color to represent District 6, which covers Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and West Roxbury. The race drew headlines because of a flier sent by rival Mary Tamer’s campaign that juxtaposed a color photograph of Tamer, a former school committee member and Arab American, and Lara (then running as Kendra Hicks) in black and white, with the line, “There are stark differences between the candidates for District 6 City Council.” There were also news reports that Hicks had been sued by landlords alleging she was in arrears in paying rent at least three times in the past eight years, which she explained at the time as being “housing insecure” as a young, single woman. She also lived in an income-restricted unit, even though her income appeared to exceed the cap. The Boston Herald recently reported that her current residency is being challenged, but Lara denied the allegation and said she lives in Jamaica Plain.
Lara, who is up for reelection this year, describes herself as a socialist and, according to her Twitter account, is “Using my head, heart and hands to bring the margins to the center.” Now all of her constituents, on the margins or not, have to decide whether she represents their interests or merely her own when she ignores laws others are expected to follow. After all, she holds a seat on a legislative body that sets policy for others.
Again, expecting her to adhere to laws about driver’s licenses and car insurance and registration is not setting a higher standard — it’s just holding her to the same standard as the people she represents.