Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

New Boston city councilors emphasize need for collaboration and cultural shift in upcoming term

DJ Mara
District 6 City Councilor Benjamin Weber delivers his maiden speech at last week’s City Council meeting. (DJ Mara/Beacon Staff)

The Boston City Council welcomed four new members in January. Each of the newly inaugurated members has emphasized the need for collaboration among councilors to make impactful progress during the coming term.

Enrique Pepén and Benjamin Weber serve as the District 5 and 6 city councilors, having received 53 and 60 percent of the vote in their elections last November. Additionally, John FitzGerald represents District 3 after winning more than 58 percent of his race’s vote. Henry Santana earned the fourth at-large seat on the Boston City Council, serving alongside incumbents Ruthzee Louijeune, Erin Murphy, and Julia Mejia in this role. 

FitzGerald has begun his term advocating for issues similar to those of the other freshman councilors. Such issues include housing, education, public safety, climate resilience, and access to basic city services. He did not respond to the Beacon’s request for comment.

Six weeks into their respective terms, each new member has shown an interest in collaboration amongst the council and bridging political divides in interviews with the Beacon.

“I really want us to get to know each other and be able to collaborate,” said Santana. “We have a great group that really gets along … and I think we’re already changing the culture.”

Weber reflected similar sentiments, stating, “I have a good feeling about the work that we’re going to be doing on the council.” 

Weber also shared his respect for and common bond with his new colleagues.

“I feel like I have an immediate bond with the other three new people, ” Weber said. “We’re all sort of new at this … it’s kind of like first year in law school … we’re adults thrown into this new situation together.”

Further commonalities between the councilors lay in their priorities for the beginning of their terms. Each noted housing affordability as being on the top of their to-do lists. Weber’s maiden speech to the full council furthered his advocacy on this issue, where he introduced an order to explore a right-to-counsel pilot program for tenants facing eviction.

Weber noted how in housing court, approximately 95 percent of landlords are represented by attorneys in non-payment of rent cases, whereas less than five percent of tenants have counsel in housing court.

“[This program] benefits the taxpayers because by funding attorneys for tenants and keeping them in their housing, [the city] saves money by not having [these tenants] enter the shelter system.”

Santana mentioned how rents have steadily risen across Boston, and that residents have chosen to move elsewhere.

“It’s extremely expensive to [live] here in the city of Boston, and we’re losing professionals, young people, families, and our seniors because of increasing rent prices,” said Santana. “Every neighborhood cares about making sure that its residents can stay in their homes and afford to live there.”

Pepén recalled a constituent’s personal experience in the struggle to afford housing in the city.

“A moment so far that stands out to me is [the story of] a homeowner in Mattapan, where she didn’t know what was next for her because taxes were increasing so much on her house,” said Pepén. “You feel this sense of investment where you don’t want to leave your home.”

The councilors also noted their determination to continue their advocacy for Boston Public Schools (BPS) students, staff, and families. 

As a parent with kids in BPS, Weber emphasized the desire of many parents to have their children attend top-notch schools.

“I want to make sure that families all across the city have access to a world-class education,” said Weber.

Santana and Pepén both attended BPS and resonated with the point of making education accessible, safe, and comprehensive for all students.

“On education, when we’re talking about our youth, we’re talking about BPS, or we’re talking about setting up our youth for success, as a whole, we’re not doing that in every neighborhood,” said Santana. “I’m really going to take a holistic approach, a collaborative approach to addressing these issues.”

Pepén noted that questions regarding BPS transportation, safety, and budget cuts are most frequently asked over the phone and email. 

Regarding higher education, Pepén and Weber further commented on the need to hold college institutions accountable when it comes to affordability and financial aid opportunities. Santana has previously discussed this matter with the Beacon at the Boston University College Democrats candidate forum during the campaign.

“By giving more financial opportunity [to students that] may have the talent, but just not the resources to go to [a] school like Emerson, you’re just making the school better,” Pepén said in an interview with the Beacon.

Pepén remarked on how many scholarship programs, such as Bottom Line, the program he went through, depend on cooperation with schools. 

“I invite universities, not just Emerson, but any university to be more mindful, more thoughtful of their scholarships in their financial aid process,” said Pepén.

According to WCVB, the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) program was established in Boston for tax-exempt institutions with property valued at more than $15 million, and that in lieu of paying taxes, they would contribute to programs that better the lives of residents across the city.

“I want our universities to chip in and help the residents of the city,” Weber said “And I hope to work with those with the universities to have them be more involved in the communities here in Boston.”

Looking to the months ahead, the councilors noted their desire for the council to make meaningful and intentional changes throughout the city. 

“I want the council to work,” said Weber. “I’m going to spend a lot of my time and energy having the council do things that can make the city a better place.”

Pepén desires to be an accessible councilor for his constituents and urges them to contact his office. 

“It’s our job to make sure that we are reminding residents of what we’re working on,” said Pepén. “It’s so important to keep up with councilors’ newsletters and social media and call the office with concerns. That stuff matters.”

Santana intends to keep to his promises and continue representing the demographic he comes from. 

“I ran on fully representing the next generation,” said Santana. “That means I deeply care about young people and our young professionals here in the city of Boston. I will work to make sure that we’re creating pathways for our young people to be successful here in Boston.”

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About the Contributors
DJ Mara
DJ Mara, Kasteel Well Bureau Co-Chief
Iselin Bratz
Iselin Bratz, Kasteel Well Bureau Co-Chief

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