Downtown View:Meeting Over Coffee

Our local elected officials usually schedule coffee hours once a month or so in each neighborhood in case constituents want to come and chat about important public matters.

So a couple of weeks ago I sat down with state Rep. Jay Livingstone as he waited in Panificio on Charles Street for people to come by. I was the only one who did. Jay said it was probably because the Beacon Hill Times had forgotten to list it in the calendar that week. Apparently people actually read the newspaper because Jay said on Beacon Hill he usually has a couple of visitors each month.

West End constituents also come regularly when he holds sessions in that neighborhood. I had first asked Jay if I could join him in the Back Bay when he scheduled a coffee there but he said that usually no one shows up at the Back Bay coffee time.

He had no idea why two of his Boston neighborhood coffee hours draw constituents and one doesn’t.

Nevertheless, he hears from constituents. In the Back Bay the most recent topic has been cars driving too fast on Beacon Street especially and the desire to narrow the street to two vehicle lanes so a bicycle lane can be installed.

On Beacon Hill, recent questions have been over the timing of construction of the new pedestrian bridge over Storrow Drive and also about when the city will replace bricks that have been removed on several of the sidewalks.

For several months West End residents have come to Jay to try to prevent the city giving approval to a tall building proposed by Equity Residential on Martha Road. It was approved, probably for the final time, in June. (There was some going back and forth about that approval.)

You might notice that most of these concerns have to do with the city’s jurisdiction and not the state. What can Jay do, for example, about forgotten temporary patches instead of bricks?

He ends up doing something, he said. He might alert a city official to a problem. When complaints came into the city about snowplowing on certain streets, he talked it over with Mike Dennehy, the City of Boston’s Public Works Commissioner. After the next snowstorm, Dennehy called Jay and asked, “How did we do?” Jay went out to check the streets in question and found them perfectly plowed.

He also might be able to deal directly with a state official. There was a timing problem on a light at Leverett Circle. The traffic light turned yellow at the same time the pedestrian walk light came on. He could resolve that conflict because a state agency, the Department of Transportation or MassDoT, is responsible for that traffic circle. It was resolved quickly, he said, because MassDoT has resources. When problems occur on areas over which the Department of Conservation and Recreation has jurisdiction, they can linger because that agency is poorly funded and it hasn’t sufficient manpower.

Jay’s district (Eighth Suffolk) is also in Cambridge where it extends from Kendall Square, goes west along the river through Cambridgeport  and includes Central Square. He said there is less expectation in Cambridge that a state rep would get involved in city matters. He believes part of the reason is that with only 100,000 residents, Cambridge has less of a bureaucracy than does Boston with its 650,000 residents. Also since all city councilors in Cambridge represent the entire city there are more people to go to for help than in Boston.

His Cambridge constituents pay more attention to state matters than do his Boston constituents, he said. He gets more email from Cambridge constituents than he does from Boston. Cantabrigians contact him about every progressive cause—gas leaks, energy policy, gender pay equity. That bill was due to pass the House on the day I interviewed Jay, who was the lead sponsor of the bill.

The legislature has made progress on many of these matters, and Jay would like to turn some of his attention to creating some rules about cameras that are deployed by government agencies.

Jay has undergone many changes in his life since being elected to the House in 2013 in a special election. He has gotten married. He has become the father of young Henry, now almost five months old, and he will show you a picture of the cute little boy if you ask. He ran unsuccessfully for the Massachusetts Senate this past year in a special election, and he is running again for his House seat in the primary this September against a Cambridge resident, Keith Richard Anderson of Whitney Street, who can’t be found on the Internet and is known by no one in Cambridgeport that I contacted.

Go visit Jay for a chat during one of his neighborhood sessions. He’s interesting to talk with and knows a lot about this district some of us call home.

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