Prince: Introduce yourself and tell us why you are running for City Councilor At-Large?
I am running for Boston City Council At-Large because I a met a librarian in Hyde Park about two weeks ago. This librarian has worked in the library system for 30 years and is retired. She lives on a fixed income and depends on the economic health of our city: to stay in her home and maintain her stability her neighborhood. That meeting that I had with her really struck me because we have important decisions to make on Sept 24 and November 5th for the lives of many residents in Boston. And that is why I am running for City Council to make a difference in people’s lives and to improve the quality of life.
When Mary [the librarian] expressed these concerns to me, I started to think about the economic health of our city. Seventy percent of our city’s budget goes towards paying for city’s staff and services including police, firefighters, and teachers. We need to make sure that we look at the economic health of our city, so that in the next 20 years, we will be able to meet pension liabilities, and continue to meet the costs of living increases for every city worker.
And so, I want to work on creating jobs in the city of Boston through small business development; I want to work on bringing innovative technologies and smart development to the city of Boston–if we are able to increase our tax levy through job creation and development, we will be helping innovative technologies and business relocate in the city of Boston (increasing the tax levy by 4%-5% a year); and help to keep the cost of living lower for residents who live in the city and pay property taxes.
Prince: What are your issues that you are advocating for as candidate for City Councilor At-Large?
JR: Nineteen years ago, I came to Boston with a backpack and a pair of jeans. I was the first in my family to graduate from college: my mom was a waitress and my dad was laborer; and, they worked hard to help me have a better lifestyle. It is because of their actions that I am going to work just as hard to help the city residents of Boston to have a better quality of life and build on the great work that has been done by the Menino administration for the last 20 years.
Like I mentioned before, the issue that I am concerned about are:
Small business development–women business entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing areas of the economy in the United States especially in the small business sector and we need to catch up in the city of Boston. One of the reasons why I was able to stay in the city of Boston, and survived after I graduated from law school at Northeastern University was because I started my own small business. That was the way I supported my family, and provided for my two children.
Encourage investments, for example the purchase of Caritas Hospital. This hospital was a nonprofit institution and they didn’t pay property taxes to the city. When that became a private entity, that institution and property became a private taxable entity. And that helps grow the tax levy in the city of Boston. As federal and state resources, that come to the city, are reduced year by year, federal and state budgets become more constricted and have less resources to repatriate back to municipalities.
Lastly, looking for ways to have development in the city, so we can attract folks to build in the city. Through 121a and tax exemptions–if we are looking 15 years in the future–those development projects can also become taxable entities. This will continue to grow our tax base. If we continue to grow our income in the city by 4-5% a year, we can reduce resident property taxes and not have to raise them at the 2.2% level. So that creates more affordable lifestyles for folks in the city. In regards to development, we need to look at master planning issues–make sure that they are neighborhood by neighborhood–and that neighborhoods have a strong voice in zoning, etc. debates. We must consider the quality of life that folks have in each neighborhood and make sure that we protect them–while looking at smart development.
Prince: What makes you qualified to be city councilor?
JR: I have written articles on expungement of juvenile records as part of CORI reform–where juveniles that have a misdemeanor or two, will have that attached to their records. If we give judges the authority to expunge those records, we can create a second chance for folks in the job market and life opportunities. I have also testified before the legislature multiple times around notary reform bills and worked with legislatures to pass a bill that reforms the notary system and creates private causes of action for folks who are taken advantage of by “notarios” who practice law.
And so, that legislative-advocacy experience coupled with my experience in community organizing–breaking down barriers in the city of Boston, marching in picket lines, speaking out against companies that didn’t allow unions to organize, etc.—is something that I believe makes me qualified as city councilor. As city councilor, you not only want to create a more transparent government but better access to government for people. Being involved in community advocacy and legislative affairs is something that I can bring to city council.
Prince: Tell me a personal story that has inspired you to run for office.
JR: One of the number one constituent calls that folks at city hall get, and one that I will pay close attention to in my office as city councilor, are homeless issues.
We have a huge growing homeless population; and it’s one of the number one constituent calls that we get. I have a friend who was unemployed; worked for different government organizations; and was on the “99 weeks of unemployment.” When the Senate in Congress voted to not extend that “99 weeks of unemployment,” her unemployment ran out and she fell into the eviction process: the city, the courts, and the landlord evicted her from her home. And so, she and her disabled son became homeless. That was a story that touched me personally because when folks come to you in those circumstances, you need to be able to provide those resources.
I was a homeless LGBT youth, so I have a particular interest in working on issues around homelessness. What is important is to care and to provide those constituent services; link folks up with those resources that are available in the city and try to find shelter for families and victims of domestic violence. One of my first cases as an attorney was a pro-bono case where a HIV positive man was being evicted from his home. I represented him and I got him reasonable accommodations in the housing system so he can still stay in his home—that’s the type of work that has inspired me to continue to do advocacy for residents but now at the city level. As a city councilor, you have staff that will provide constituent services for better access to organizations that can help folks get into shelters, transitional housing, etc. Those are the important stories that have inspired me.
Prince: What promises do you hope to keep as city councilor?
JR: One of the number one things that a city councilor does is constituent services. I will work with residents around snow removal; work with residents around fixing lights, potholes, etc.; and making sure that those day to day constituent services are taken of. Those are the types of things that city councilor must provide for their constituents.
Prince: As city councilor what would you do to attract people from all over the world (especially my audience) to come to Boston and invest in their American Dream?
JR: Boston is number one in the nation for science and technology. We have the most universities per capita; and we have an incredible talented group of folks coming here to seek an education. However we need to make sure that we capture and retain that talent, and create ways for folks to: find jobs in the city of Boston; find affordable housing; and improve their education. By doing so, we will capture and keep the talent in Boston that comes here.
Prince: Tell me of an embarrassing story that has reminded you of your humanity or that you are still human–on or off the campaign.
JR: I think what reminds me of me “being human” are the stories of people’s lives; and the changes that can be made in people’s lives. You have 120,000 people who live below the poverty level. And when you meet folks like the Mary the Librarian or my friend Stacy who was evicted from her home or John who needed help with the Boston Housing Authority system, they remind you of your humanity. I wouldn’t say that these were embarrassing stories but these are the pieces of humanity that drives me to help people. It’s about breaking down barriers and making our city more compassionate and inclusive—it is a direction that we need to go to.
Prince: Lastly in your own words, what makes Jeff Ross so interesting?
JR: In my own words, I wouldn’t say that I am interesting; I would say that the issues and the things that people need as constituents. My desire to work for residents is what makes me “interesting.” However, I do want to say is that we are #7 on the ballot!
To Follow Jeff Ross you can do so at: www.jeffrossboston.com. And you can also follow Jeff Ross on his Facebook page and Twitter (@jeffrossboston)
(ALL PHOTOS OF JEFF ROSS WERE PROVIDED BY THE JEFF ROSS COMMITTEE)