One of the biggest stories about the Boston City Council races this year is not about rent control, police budgets, or bus lanes. It’s about a car crash and whether the driver involved is fit to serve in public office.
Here’s what happened: On a Friday afternoon in June, Kendra Lara, the city councilor representing District Six, was driving down Centre Street in Jamaica Plain when she veered off the road and crashed into a house. Police analysis of the wreck concluded that she was going more than twice the speed limit, which resulted in significant property damage. More concerning was the fact that Lara’s 7-year-old son was in the car and was sent to the hospital to get stitches.
While that story might usually draw some sympathy — anyone who’s been in a car crash knows it’s a uniquely rattling experience — Lara got none. As it turns out, she was driving illegally; her license had been suspended since 2013 because of an unpaid ticket in Connecticut. The car she was driving was also unregistered, and her son was not in a booster seat as legally required. So sympathy was a tall order; she was arraigned on nine charges instead.
Lara apologized, but valid concerns arose about her judgment given that she had ample time to get her license reinstated — 10 years, to be exact. Now her predicament raises a question for voters: Should you get to write laws if you don’t always follow them? I believe the answer is yes because practically everyone ventures outside the law at some point in their life. (Have you had a beer in the park? Texted while driving? Watched a pirated movie?) The real question for me is which laws were broken and why, and the seriousness of the offense.
In Lara’s case, her seeming disregard for road rules was undoubtedly serious and put people’s lives, including her own, at risk. But I don’t think her alleged actions are disqualifying for two reasons. First, this incident reflects a failure in her personal affairs — one that does not call into question her integrity as a public servant. For example, had she misused her position on the City Council to pressure the officers on the scene, then that would be a different story. But there’s no evidence she demanded special treatment.
The second, more compelling reason is Lara’s defense. In an interview with the Globe editorial board, Lara said she drove to meet the needs of her son, who is autistic and diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. When she was married, her then-husband took care of all the driving, she said, but after their divorce, she had to get her son around.
“I [found] myself in a position where I have to make a decision, where I have a child with special needs who can’t get on public transportation,” she said. “How do I get him to school when the school bus isn’t showing up and then how do I make it down to City Hall from Roslindale for a 10 a.m. hearing?”
Lara, first elected two years ago, took steps to remedy her situation, and she’s provided documents to support her claims. A Connecticut license restoration notice shows that she took care of that unpaid ticket in 2021. A screenshot of her Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles account indicates she submitted paperwork regarding an out-of-state license suspension twice in December 2022. (Her answer to why it took over a year to file the paperwork was that she waited until she could afford to pay all of the fees she owed Massachusetts.)
Ultimately, she got caught in a classic bureaucratic mess. The RMV wouldn’t accept Connecticut’s restoration notice, and for months, she said, no one explained why. Eventually, she got an answer: The notice was issued more than 30 days before she submitted it.
Now, some might argue she should have been more diligent. She agrees. But I can sympathize with why she wasn’t: Life can, understandably, get in the way of your one-sided fight with a faceless bureaucracy.
The story of Lara’s crash isn’t one of an entitled politician who thinks she’s above the law. It’s one of a single mother who, yes, broke the rules but did so because of life circumstances that no one can really judge her for. After all, if we evaluate politicians for things like their ability to pay any bill at any time, then we’ll only get representatives who have no idea what life for many of their constituents is actually like.
So if you’re a District Six voter, whatever you think of Lara’s record as a councilor, judge her on that — not her record at the RMV.