Prince: Please introduce yourself and tell us why you’re running for City Councilor At-Large?
CO: My name is Catherine O’Neill and I am running for City Councilor At-Large because it is the only access that the residents of Boston can have to issues, resources, or for anything. When I was the Dorchester Liaison at the mayor’s office for neighborhood services, I performed all of the functions of a Boston City Councilor except for one: I did not look at the budget yearly from the administration. However, I have a keen understanding of the responsibilities of a Boston City Councilor At-Large, which is to deliver basic city services to each resident—I wish it was fancier than that, but it’s not. The basic city service can be from education to making sure that the street lights are working–that is part of the deal. The resident pays for their taxes; lives in our city; plays by the rules and in return the municipal government provides services for that resident.
Prince: What are your issues that you are advocating for as a candidate for City Councilor At-Large?
CO: Well it should not be important as to what my individual issues are–“Catherine O’Neill’s issues.” It should be important as to what issues that each resident in Boston has; and it depends on where that resident lives. Even though I have many issues that I deeply care about—senior citizen issues, (having a 93 year old mother), implementing more arts program, etc.—my concern is “what are the issues that the residents’ of Boston have?”
Now when I was working as a neighborhood coordinator for a senior center, I was administering a grant for the protection of elderly folks who were about to be evicted. One of my clients who, was an 82 year old woman, needed a birth certificate to have free lunches at this center. To have free lunches, a $5 or $10 fee for a birth certificate is prohibited; furthermore, there was no program to give out free birth certificates. So the first thing that I’m going to do is to find a way–find an angel–to pay for a program that allows each senior citizen to get a free birth certificate, if they need one and are on a fixed income.
So I’m not talking about world issues. I want to help each resident with the issues that affect their lives.
Prince: What makes you qualified to be City Councilor At-Large?
CO: Well I have been preparing for this job my whole life; and, I am qualified on so many levels. Like I mentioned before, I have done this job before as a Dorchester Liaison. A Dorchester Liaison performs the exact same duties as a Boston City Councilor—I got to see that when I worked at the mayor’s office. I knew then that I was qualified for the job; and now I am even more qualified.
I come from a family that immigrated to the city of Boston—my six brothers, and my mother and father. My mother and father immigrated here for the chance of a better life and more opportunities. I was born and raised in Dorchester, Ma, and I have forged and bridged relationships across the city of Boston my whole life—I do not need directions to get to anywhere in Boston. This is the type of job that I am good at: building coalitions and getting things done. If you ask anyone about me, they will tell you that I get things done; and I do whatever it takes. So I am very qualified to be a Boston City Councilor-At-Large.
Prince: Tell me a personal story that has inspired you to run for office.
CO: [I actually covered this on my blog the other day] Twenty-three years ago, my dad died and the city of Boston was experiencing an extreme heat wave—it was a heat wave that made this summer a cool one. The city of Boston notified every neighbor and every resident in my neighborhood of Lower Mills, that there was going to be an electrical shutoff. Unfortunately my family was not aware of that because we were waiting for my father to die. So when they turn off the “off-switch”, it was like 108 degrees—the AC went off; my father was on the hospital bed in my dining room; and we really thought that we would need to take him to the hospital so he can die there. The whole point of having him home was that we wanted him to die at home; being overheated is not a good way to die. So I was asked to call an ambulance to take my dad to the Massachusetts General Hospital; and, die in there. But instead of calling the ambulance, I called the mayor’s office. Mayor Flynn’s office came with a generator and plugged it into my house. And for that one day, we had air conditioning, and we had electricity.
I never forgot and I will never forget that at the end of each basic city service that each resident needs help. There is a family; there are feelings; and there are people. Even when I was a neighborhood coordinator, the “Dorchester Liaison,” I never forgot that city service because I knew how valuable that service was to my family that day. In each interaction with a resident of the city of Boston is as important to me as that interaction that happened twenty-three years ago when my dad died.
Prince: What promises do you hope to keep as City Councilor At-Large?
CO: Well, Two promises that I hope to keep as City Councilor At-Large is to get elderly folks—on a fixed income—a free birth certificate if they need one. And the second promise that I hope to keep is to get a turkey for female Bus Monitors.
When I got my signatures, I received a lot from Bus Monitors at the city of Boston’s school bus depots. So when I was getting my signatures, I met a Bus Monitor who approached me in a confronting manner, and said to me: “What are you going to do for me, if you get elected?” When I asked her what was her issue, she told me the following story:
This lady has been a Bus Monitor for years working for this out of town bus company. And every Christmas they hand out turkeys as a Christmas gift to all of the drivers, except for her. These bus drivers are not under the residency requirement because this bus company was out of town, but she (unlike them) would not get a turkey. The sad thing was most of these bus drivers were mostly men and these ladies (including this one) would work side by side with them without getting a turkey. And so my second promise is to get those Bus Monitors a turkey, from that bus company, every Christmas.
Prince: What would you do to attract people from all over the world to come to Boston and invest in their American Dream?
CO: My parents came to Boston because we were attracted by that American Dream. When they thought about Boston, they thought about a stellar education system; good jobs and good wages; and the right to join a union. My parents thought of all of this in the late 50s. They made that trip across that ocean and we need to have the people from across the world right now to think the same way. And in order to do that, we need an education system like how it was before in the city of Boston. We need jobs; jobs; jobs. We need to grow our economy and we need to get our new technology companies back here in the city of Boston.
One of my nieces went to Harvard University and she was at the same house with Mark Zuckerburg. She is now in Palo Alto, Ca and working for Facebook. We lost Facebook and lost so many high tech companies; and we need to get them back here. If I were elected as Boston City Councilor At-Large, I would advise the new mayoral administration to send me to Palo Alto, California to get these people back. I will knock on every single door from these tech companies and bring them back to Boston. So that’s one of the ways I will do to attract people from Boston. I will try to do exactly everything to get the same feeling from people all over the world that my parents had so many years ago.
Prince: Tell me an embarrassing story that you have done on-or-off the campaign that has reminded you that you are still human.
CO: (Laughing) I have so many embarrassing stories from the campaign. I am reminded that I’m human everyday by having a 93 year-old mother. I remember one day that my 93 year old mother, called me up in the middle of a campaign day, and demanded (in her little voice) that I take her food shopping. So I had to totally stop what I was doing and take my 93-year-old mother food shopping; and then I had to take her to Sullivan’s for lunch. People were giving confused stares and I was totally embarrassed. But I told myself this: “I have to do what she says.”(Laughing) So I am totally human. Not only am I human, but I still have to do what my mother says. It was my mother who encouraged me to do what I am doing today.
Prince: Lastly, In your own words what makes Catherine O’Neill so interesting?
CO: Well what makes me interesting is that I have a variety of skills sets; because I had many wonderful opportunities in life. Working for Mayor Menino as his Dorchester Liaison was my most favorite job because it married all of my skill sets. Since the end result of my job was to get things done, I had a goal; a focus; and I helped a lot of residents. So when they asked me to do a television show for my neighborhood I had no idea that I would be so good at it–like taking a duck to a pond. That one television show led to more shows and soon enough I won awards, which all began by storytelling. I always knew that I was a storyteller, but I had no idea that I was actually a good storyteller.
When I was laid off in 2009, I had, for the first time in my life, something that I never had: time and a little bit of resources. I went to graduate school and I received my masters in Fine Arts and Playwright. And now, as I sit here in front of you, I am a published and produced play writer. The thrill of having several of my plays fully produced was just extraordinary. But when Elizabeth Warren asked me to come and work for her—pulling me back in like the Mafia—I realized that I really missed working with people. So what makes me interesting is that I can’t do brain surgery or high mathematical equations; but I know how to bring people together.
I’m interesting because I am interested in everybody. My campaign slogan is “It’s all about you.” It’s no joke for me because it is not about me. Like I said before I have issues that I care about deeply, but I really care about your issues; and I know what they are (Education, Public Safety, etc.) and I get it.
As a Boston City Councilor At-Large I will deliver those issues to you.
To follow Catherine O’Neill and her issues, go to: www.catherineoneill.com
Here is a link of Catherine O’Neill with Elizabeth Warren: http://youtu.be/d4RV8WH5wVg