Liz Malia has been a JP resident since 1970 and for almost 20 years she has served as a Massachusetts State Representative. Today we are talking with Representative Malia about her career in politics, the importance of the Francis Grady Apartments, and the one time she was arrested for a boycott.
K: Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
L: I am originally from Endicott, New York. I came to Boston to attend the School of Education at Boston College in 1967. My senior year, I moved to an apartment on Hall Street. It was my introduction to JP, where I’ve lived since 1970. I’ve lived in Hyde Square and down by Forest Hills. Today I live on Child Street.
K: How and when did you start your work in politics?
L: I have kind of a mish-mash background. Way back, I did outreach to migrant agricultural workers in Upstate New York. I got a great education in Boston, but there weren’t a lot of public school jobs available when I graduated. The Boston Center for Blind Children was one of my first jobs. I worked in several advocacy positions and frequently with special needs youth. Eventually, I made my way to what is now SEIU-1199. I worked for them back in the mid-’80’s when there wasn’t much of a presence in the area. Anti-war activism and the bargaining table gave me my first tastes of organizing power.
JP was where I lived and such a home for activists that I got involved outside of work, too. We had the first neighborhood council in the city, and I was appointed to it. The Lesbian and Gay Neighbors of JP was another place I got really involved. Large national organizations didn’t exist, but JPers supported the gay rights movement, even in the beginning. We met up on a regular basis and connected with each other to provide some mutual support. One of our biggest accomplishments was a float in the Pride parade. It was unusual and very JP.
Around the end of the ’80s, I heard about and was intrigued by the Women in Politics and Government Program at BC. There were a couple of real hot shot woman running the program named Elizabeth Sherman and Betty Taymor. The program was a great place for me to gain some academic skills and a better understanding of crafting policy. When I finished, I needed a job, and someone told me there was an opening at State Representative John McDonough’s office. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work ninety hours a week with minimum pay even though I loved John. I had to be pushed a bit but I wanted to get started and I knew working for him was a great opportunity. I took that job, and I’ve been working at the State House ever since.
John’s background in housing and healthcare helped start JPNDC. He worked a lot with JPNDC around housing issues. He had deep ties in Egleston Square which was a neighborhood that was being overlooked at the time by almost everybody. There were some early plans that John was involved in that included economic development in Egleston Square. That was how I got to know JPNDC. John was a part of the 1986 Health Care Finance Reform bill which was the basis for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or Obama Care. I was working on issues that I really cared about. It was worth ten years of college to be there for just one year. When John’s seat suddenly opened I decided to run for it. The first few campaigns I ran, I had some challenges, but I really grew into it and learned. I had a challenger this past election cycle. I believe challengers can be restorative, and they help me to connect better with my constituents.