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Q&A: Mary Tamer Talks Police Budget, Charter Schools, Development, and More

Boston City Council District 6 candidate Mary Tamer fielded questions from Jamaica Plain News about development, whether she supports having an elected school committee, police, and more.

Mary Tamer

The following interview was conducted electronically. 

Q: You chose to run for the Boston City Council District 6 seat after the current councilor announced he would not seek reelection. Why did you decide to run?

Tamer: With the number of challenges facing Boston right now, it was the right time for me to serve by bringing my advocacy, public service, and leadership experience to help address those challenges. I’ve spent my professional life advocating for families, children, and those whose voices are often not heard. My longtime involvement with the Boston Public Schools (BPS), combined with my work with the League of Women Voters of Boston, led to my appointment to the Boston School Committee as the only member with children in BPS. I was a staunch advocate for inclusion and equity, initiating policy changes for more inclusive classrooms and to lift an arbitrary cap at the city’s early learning centers limiting students with disabilities from admission. I was a strong voice for the expansion of successful programs for English learners and the singular voice fighting for the city’s only school focused on immigrant newcomers to be able to provide the same sports offerings for female students as it did for males.

I have a track record of fighting for justice and equity, as well as creating policy and gaining the support it needs in order for it to be passed. We need experienced elected leaders at all levels of government who will bring people together, stand up for our communities, give residents a real voice, and put forth concrete plans to build a better Boston. I’m in this race to shine a light on and address some of the city’s greatest needs, including our public education system, our environmental challenges, the creation of more permanent affordable housing, and COVID recovery for our neighborhoods and small businesses, as well as greater opportunities and programming for our seniors.

Q: Are you a registered member of any political party? If so, which party and why? If not, why are you not a member of a political party?

Tamer: I registered as a Democrat at the age of 18 in my senior year of high school as a BPS student and have been a member of the party ever since. I have spent a significant part of my life volunteering for Democratic causes and candidates, working to protect voting rights and access, and serving as a Democratic poll observer during the presidential election to ensure that everyone’s right to vote was safeguarded.

Q: The current District 6 City Councilor chose environmentalism as his biggest focus/calling card. What would be your biggest focus/calling card if elected?

Tamer: While many issues deserve focused attention, I see addressing the problems within the Boston Public Schools as a top priority of mine. Our public school system is in crisis. According to an audit done last year by the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), approximately one-third of the district’s students — 16,656 — attend schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the state. There is no reason why Boston, a city of incredible resources, intellectual talent, and world-class institutions, cannot commit to addressing these longstanding and ongoing problems.

My background is in education policy and management, and as a city councilor, advocating for quality and equity in every Boston Public School would be among my greatest areas of focus. Since my tenure on the Boston School Committee under Mayor Menino, I have continued to work with families and students across the city to push for change. This will not be my only area of focus, however, as I also want to address issues of public and mental health, the need for more housing that our residents can afford, as well as picking up where Councilor O’Malley left off on the environment.

Q: Your current job is being the research director for SchoolFacts Boston. What does that job entail? How would that experience help you as a city councilor?

Tamer: At SchoolFacts Boston, my role is to address the most pressing issues that our Family Advisory Board brings forward, whether it is providing greater transparency around the Boston Public Schools annual budget of $1.3 billion or addressing the challenges facing most of the city’s high schools; from a lack of national accreditation standards to non-adherence to the state’s common core standards. Under direction of our board, I research and review the data, produce the requested information, and share the information more broadly with the public. This role, as well as my prior professional and public service roles, have prepared me to work closely with stakeholders and organizations across the city to fully research each issue that comes forward, and to craft policy solutions to help solve problems.

Q: You previously were the director of strategic projects for the Boston Charter Alliance and a member of the Boston School Committee. If elected, how would you work to balance the needs of charter and non-charter schools?

Tamer: With respect to public education, my primary focus as a Boston City Councilor will be on the Boston Public Schools, especially as education spending represents nearly 40 percent of the city’s budget. A strong oversight role is essential. The charter public schools located in Boston are important options for families and must be responsive to their needs. As a city councilor, I will work with charter school families just as I will work with BPS families to ensure their childrens’ needs are being met.

Mary Tamer with owner of Miami Restaurant in Hyde Square.

Q: How are you voting on Question 1 and why?

Tamer: I will be voting yes on Question 1. I believe that the council should have more power, especially in the city budget process and in direct oversight of the administration. While I look forward to working collaboratively, in partnership with our mayor to achieve our shared priorities, it is vitally important to have independent voices who will hold the administration accountable. On the school committee, I always put the needs of our children and families first. As city councilor, I will always prioritize the needs of District 6 residents.

Q: How are you voting on Question 3 and why?

Tamer: I’m voting no on Question 3 as it does not fully address the financial implications of having 13 elected school committee members, including whether they will be paid for their service and how many additional School Committee staff members this would include. In addition, the formerly elected committee was unable to balance a budget for 12 out of 14 years, yet raised their own office budget while cutting resources at the school level. I support a hybrid model where some members with educational expertise are appointed, and some are elected.

Q: Have you received COVID-19 vaccinations? Please explain why you chose to be or not to be vaccinated.

Tamer: Yes, I received my COVID-19 vaccine at the earliest possible opportunity once I became eligible, not only to protect myself and my family, but to protect members of the community. I have people in my life who were hospitalized with COVID and who have died from it; we have lost enough people to COVID, and we need to do our part to save lives. I fully support the use of mobile testing and vaccination units to reduce barriers to access and to keep our neighborhoods safe.

Mary Tamer, left, former state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, right.

Q: The JP/Rox Plan was created by the city to guide, among other things, development from Forest Hills, Egleston Square, Jackson Square, generally bounded by Washington Street, Columbus Avenue and Amory Street. What are your thoughts on implementation of the plan, and development along that area?

Tamer: I support offering more affordable homes along the Washington Street corridor, but the JP/Rox Plan will be challenging to implement. As city councilor, I will push for conversations between the community and the city about what changes are needed to ensure that enough affordable housing is built and maintained in order to support the vibrancy and diversity of our neighborhoods. Development in the JP/Rox Plan area should continue to involve extensive communication with the community, including neighbors at risk of eviction and displacement.

I oppose the lawsuit against JPNDC’s proposed affordable housing on Washington Street, and support an affordable housing overlay that would prevent such lawsuits in the future by streamlining zoning for badly-needed affordable units for our families and seniors. We also need to get more creative with innovative strategies that create naturally affordable housing. Examples include compact living arrangements and accessory dwelling units.

Q: Would you like to increase or decrease funding for the Boston Police Department and why? What changes, if any, would you like to see to the Boston Police Department in how they engage with the public?

Tamer: I support efforts to reimagine the role police officers play when responding to situations better served by those in social services, including mental health emergencies. I also support policing reform and accountability measures passed by the council last year and believe future resources should be focused on community-based policing and prevention. With more than 600,000 calls to 911 in 2020, I’m hesitant to cut funding until we better understand the estimated costs of a fully integrative approach.

Q: You have criticized the other candidate’s voting history. Why do you think it’s relevant for the public to know?

Tamer: This election, as are all elections, is about making a choice about who is best served to represent them in the public domain. I believe voters deserve to have as much information as possible to help inform this important choice. When someone has a long history of not voting, at a time and place where every vote matters, it raises the question of how active this individual will be as a participant in our democracy and city government.

Q: You trailed the other candidate in the preliminary election by more than 1,200 votes in the municipal election. How do you plan on making up the ground in the general election?

Tamer: The benefit of running in a local race is the ability to personally connect with many voters who live in this district. And I know that when I connect with voters, whether that’s on the doors – which I have done consistently since the spring – on the ground or over the phone, they respond well to my energy, my experience, my ideas, and my priorities.

Since the preliminary election, the campaign has increased its already significant voter outreach efforts, which has been the most important focus area from day one. Many readers have met or seen me at supermarkets, cafes, and train stations as I traverse the district every single day to meet voters. Additionally, I have received the backing of key members of our community in recent weeks, including from longtime BPS teacher and third place finisher in this race, Winnie Eke (who received 1,188 votes), Yolanda Torres, who leads the Mildred C. Hailey Tenants Organization (MCHTO), the Hon. Angela Menino, and the Floorcoverers Local Union 2168. These build on prior endorsements from leaders such as City Councilor Matt O’Malley, former State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, State Representative Ed Coppinger, Boston Firefighters Local 718 and others.

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