Have you heard about the City Councilor who has been encouraging youth to shovel out fire hydrants in exchange for ice cream gift cards? That would be Councilor Matt O’Malley of District 6! Today we are chatting with Councilor O’Malley about his work with JPNDC, the importance of Boston’s Latin Quarter, and his sunscreen dispenser’s cameo on The Simpsons!

K: Where did you grow up?

M: I was born in Roslindale on Ardale Street. When I was 9 my parents bought a house Centre Street which, at the time, was Roslindale but it was originally West Roxbury. When they moved the West Roxbury post office they changed the boundaries back to West Roxbury. So I say that I am from the Parkway originally. I have lived in Jamaica Plain for 9 years.

K: How and when did you start working in public service?

M: I’ve always had an interest in it. I came from a family that was always very politically active. No one in my family ever ran for office before I did. I have such fond memories of my Dad bringing me to rallies in West Roxbury. When I was a student at Boston Latin I began volunteering on a couple of campaigns. I worked on a local State Representative’s campaign and former City Councilor At Large Peggy Davis Mullen’s campaign. After I volunteered on her campaign I interned in her office in high school. I got my undergraduate degree at George Washington University in D.C. A lot of my politically minded friends were chasing me to take a White House internship but I saw the power and importance of local government so I sent a resume and a cover letter to a number of council members. I was hired by Jim Graham as his Latino liaison which was quite a feat for a red-headed kid named O’Malley. It gave me an appreciation for what local government means and how it can be impactful in people’s day to day lives. I came back here and ran for office unsuccessfully, worked on campaigns successfully and then I was elected to this seat in 2010.

Councillor O’Malley’s District 6 tattoo

K: Which neighborhoods do you serve?

M: My district is District 6. I got a tattoo for District 6 when I was re-elected. It is the neighborhoods of West Roxbury, almost all of Jamaica Plain, a little bit of Roslindale, the back of Mission Hill and a little bit of Roxbury. It’s actually the biggest district in terms of population.

K: Do you think there is a big difference between JP and West Roxbury?

M: I wouldn’t say that there is a big difference. The commonalities between the two neighborhoods far outweigh the differences. Every neighborhood has different issues not even on a block by block basis but a house by house basis. I think the issues that transcend these two neighborhoods and the entire city are wanting strong schools, safe streets and vibrant parks. I am someone that grew up in West Roxbury and Roslindale and then moved to JP. I love all of the neighbors in my district deeply. I think there are a lot of concerns that are shared and a lot of pride that we have for living in Boston. We all have a shared desire to see the city move forward.

K: Do you have a favorite event in Jamaica Plain?

Councillor O’Malley’s wedding in The Arboretum

M:  I am going to choose three events: Lilac Sunday, the Lantern Parade and the Doyle’s Road Race. I love Lilac Sunday in the Arboretum. I got married the day before Lilac Sunday in 2016. The Arboretum is more than a botanical garden, it is a living museum. There are trees that are hundreds of years old. There is a certain type of Bonsai tree there and there only two in the world. One is in Japan and the other is in Jamaica Plain.

I also love the Lantern Parade that Spontaneous Celebration does. Seeing all the kids from around the neighborhood walking around the Pond is so great. I love the Pond. One of the reasons I wanted to live on the Jamaicaway was so that I could be in close proximity to the Jamaica Pond.

The Doyle’s Road Race is a great day. If I’m training for the Boston Marathon it’s the last race before I taper down. If I’m not training I push myself to go faster. The party afterwards has great music and food. It’s something I always look forward to every April.

K: What are some projects you have worked on with JPNDC?

M: The team at JPNDC does such great work. I am proud and honored to partner with them. We’ve supported virtually everything that’s come down the pipeline these past six years. The thing that I am most proud to have supported and really admire the leadership of JPNDC on is the work being done in Jackson Square. We still have a lot of work to do but what has been done so far in Jackson Square is amazing. My mother taught at Blessed Sacrament School in the ’80s and ‘90s so I grew up knowing and visiting Jackson Square. JPNDC and Urban Edge taking leadership to provide safe, beautiful housing for people of all incomes is something that is crucially important.

[The redevelopment of] Jackson Square has been something that I am really proud and happy to support JPNDC in trying to make it a reality.

K: What are some projects you are currently working on that Jamaica Plain could benefit from?

M: I am the chair of the Environment Sustainability Committee. I am an environmentalist at heart. We are continuously working on some major pieces of legislation in that space.

One piece is establishing a curbside composting program that I believe would be piloted in Jamaica Plain. I’ve been working on that for years with Ayanna Pressley.

Another is a gas leaks ordinance that would repair the 2-6,000 gas leaks that exist in the City of Boston which are doing incredible damage to the environment and public health. We work with a group called Mothers Out Front and other coalition members to try to fix the gas leaks and come up with a better time-table for addressing better classifications and better coordination between our utilities.

In terms of specific capital projects, this February or March, I will be at the grand opening of the Jamaica Plain Branch library. This has been something I’ve been working on since before I took office. The day after I won the election I had advocates and friends of the JP library reach out to me on how we could get that started. It took us a couple of years and we finally got support from Mayor Menino and then Mayor Walsh. It’s an incredible ten million dollar renovation that’s happening. It’s going to look great.

K: Why do you think it is important to have a Latin Quarter in Boston? Why in Jamaica Plain?

City Council Hearing on the redesignation of the Hyde Jackson Square section of Jamaica Plain to Boston’s Latin Quarter. (Photo courtesy of The Bulletin)

M: This was a project that I was proud to work on with the Hyde Square Task Force. I met with some of the youth last winter and we had a hearing at the Connolly Library. It’s incredibly important to recognize the diversity, particularly of the Latino community in Hyde Square for generations. It’s important to both recognize the strength and the diversity that makes up this neighborhood while also giving a special designation that can help with local businesses and tourism. Hyde and Jackson Square been unofficially known as Boston’s Latin Quarter for as long as I’ve been alive. For us to be able to pass an official resolution to designate that would then allow for some state funding and cultural council funding mechanisms and help with tourism. We have some incredible restaurants and shops. I’m proud of the youth of the Hyde Square Task Force who played an instrumental role in getting this rolling. It was voted on unanimously in early 2016.

K: People are worried about small businesses being displaced by Plan JP/ROX. What do you think could be done to prevent displacement?

M: This is a worry that I share as well not only for businesses but for people. The JP/ Rox Corridor study is something I have been asking for years alongside Rep. Malia, Rep. Sanchez and Senator Chang-Diaz. We were trying to get some sort of corridor study rather than look at each development piecemeal. This is a good step. Some very positive things came out of the draft proposal which I supported certain aspects of. I do think there is an opportunity to make it a little bit tighter and little bit more effective and that’s why I’ve been working with the advocates and the BPDA to make it better.

I can tell you specifically we had a well-known landlord that purchased a large building that housed seven small businesses. They were then moving to raise the rents which would displace these businesses. JPNDC, Egleston Square Main Street and City Life got involved to help them, and I worked closely with Rep. Malia to help the landlords come to an agreement to keep rents at a more reasonable place to support these businesses.

Sometimes it’s the advocacy of this office and this job to try to always push for higher affordability percentages or ways to incentivize and encourage the affordability aspect because it is something that is significant. The diversity of our city is one of its great strengths. Boston is growing at a rate we haven’t seen in our lifetime. It shows that we are doing things right and we want to encourage smart growth but we also want to protect the integrity of our neighborhoods and show that not only are we diverse in terms of gender, race, creed, ethnicity but economically diverse as well. How do we push that so we can be sure that there is support for small businesses? One thing we can do is underscore the importance of shopping locally which is something that I try to do as much as I can because 68 cents of every dollar spent at a local business goes back into the community. Another thing is to work with the development community to provide for and have opportunities for middle-income and low-income individuals. It’s a fear that I share and I think because of organizations like JPNDC we’ve been able to provide more opportunities for business owners, homeowners and tenants but there is still a lot of work we have to do.

K: What would you like to see happen in JP in the future?

M: I would say that there is a lot! I would like us to have a thriving working class and middle class by having housing options at different levels so not just the very poor or the very wealthy have options. I would like us to continue to have one of the biggest areas open space in the city. I’d like to see a real thriving local business district. We want to see our schools continue to make progress. I want to make sure JP continues to be a vibrant, diverse, exciting and eclectic place that is filled with civic activists who aren’t afraid to get involved and make a difference. I feel lucky to live in a neighborhood that represents diversity and differences.  The fact that we may not all agree on everything but that we can have spirited respectful debates about issues, development and ideas and, at the end of the day, we are all Bostonians who love this city. We feel that we need to move forward collectively together and make sure that no one is left behind and that is the JP sort of credo that I try to live by.

K: I have one burning question for you. How did you get a shout-out on The Simpsons?

Sunscreen dispenser featured on The Simpsons

M: Thrill of a lifetime! I have been a fan of The Simpsons for my entire life. The Simpsons was a short on The Tracey Ullman Show which I was too young to watch but I was aware of it. The first Simpsons episode was a Christmas episode in 1989. I can’t quite say that I’ve seen every Simpsons episode because I’m sure I’ve missed one or two but I’ve seen 98% of them. I love the show and I think it is an American institution. I was really excited when I heard they were doing this Boston themed episode.

I was up in Ogunquit, Maine with my family on Columbus Day weekend. I asked to go to a late dinner because I really wanted to watch The Simpsons.  We watched it and then all of a sudden there was that scene and not only that but the dialogue I may adopt as my new campaign slogan. Marge Simpson says ‘Free sunscreen? So progressive!’  Then a woman walks by pushing a baby in a stroller and Marge says ‘Excuse me, do you vaccinate your child?’ The woman says ‘Of course!’ Marge says ‘But not stupid progressive.’ So progressive but not stupid progressive is what I want to be known as. It was a thrill and then my phone starts blowing up. I couldn’t believe it. I took a picture with my phone and put it on Facebook. I went home the next day and I had the show recorded so I shot the clip with my phone and uploaded it onto YouTube because I wanted to preserve that forever. The next morning I wake up and see that I have been mentioned by Matt Selman, one of the executive producers, on my Twitter. I thought he was going to tell me to take the video down because I didn’t have proper copyright clearance but he wrote ‘Thank you for keeping the citizens of Boston healthy and pale.’ It was the icing on the cake.

K: Anything else?

M: I want to say that I have six years on this job and the opportunity to serve the people who I know and love. I consider myself lucky to have partners like the JPNDC who, for decades, do incredible work and literally save lives in terms of providing opportunities for folks. We will continue to work and push to make sure that we have a thriving neighborhood and a thriving city for all.