The race for District 8 City Council is on, with two candidates running against incumbent Councilor Josh Zakim, who has held the office since 2014. Kristen Mobilia, who ran against Zakim in the 2017 election, and political newcomer Hélène Vincent have announced their campaigns for office. These new candidates spoke with the Beacon Hill Times about their campaigns and the issues that matter to them.
Hélène Vincent is new to the political scene, and never even imagined herself running for office. Vincent has what she calls an “international perspective.” She was raised in Rhode Island by a French mother and a German father, and grew up in a diverse town. Vincent studied international relations at Brown University, where she discovered she really enjoyed conflict resolution and the importance of knowing multiple languages. She currently resides in Kenmore Square with her wife Alice.
“I always wanted to live a life of service,” Vincent said. In thinking about the best way to do that she discovered a company called EF Education First, which is an international education company that breaks down barriers of language, culture, and geography through cultural exchange. For a number of years, Vincent worked for EF Education First doing language immersion tours.
For a while, she felt that that job was enough for her; that she was making enough of an impact. But in 2016, she was in a bad ATV accident that left her reevaluating what her role might be. She spent several months out of work, but said she is grateful for her “second chance at life.”
“That happened almost exactly at the same time as the 2016 elections and there was just so much divisive rhetoric going on and so that was super troubling and so I was trying to figure out what my role could be in that,” she said.
She said that someone suggested to her that she should run for a political office. Though she never pictured herself in that kind of role, the more she thought about it, the more she realized she would be able to make a difference in a local office.
“And what ultimately prompted me to do it was when I was going through a lot of rehab programs [due to the ATV accident], I came into contact with a lot of other people who have had traumatic incidences or for whatever reason were going through the healthcare system and I just saw how really difficult that was to navigate for a lot of people,” she said. She said that though she has been fortunate throughout her life, she sees the hardships that others face and the idea of making services accessible to everyone really resonated with her.
At the start of her campaign, Vincent did a six month listening tour where she knocked on doors and listened to people’s concerns. “I can’t pretend to know what everybody’s needs are until I ask,” she said.
Vincent said that she believes some of the most important issues to both her and residents of District 8 include development/housing and transportation.
“Boston population is growing incredibly fast, especially as a lot of young urban professionals move in,” she said. “And so the housing supply is obviously in a crunch.”
Vincent said that she believes Mayor Walsh’s advocacy for an increased housing supply is “great,” but she thinks that the supply has to reflect the needs of the diverse community.
“There’s a lot of different ways to go about that, but I think it’s one part having a thoughtful plan and how we’re going to make sure that all of our neighborhoods feel like neighborhoods and don’t just get increasingly segregated,” she said, “and at the same time it’s about when you are making all of those changes how are you including neighbors into the conversation so that they’re able to help lend their voice to the kind of neighborhood that they want to live in.”
As far as transportation goes, Vincent said that it ties into both having an efficient city and being a green city. She believes that it is necessary to make biking around the city safer in order to get more people out of cars and onto bikes.
Education is also a huge focus for Vincent. She said she believes communities are best when there’s a large middle class, and the best way to achieve that is through education. “We have an incredibly diverse student body,” and she thinks that while there are so many great things about education in Boston, there are also areas for improvement. “And I think we really need to focus on that if we want to say that we’re a city that really provides for all of our citizens,” she said.
During her listening tour, she said it was “shocking” to her how many people were stunned when she said she was there to genuinely listen to their concerns, and they were happy to talk with her. She said she spoke with one man who struggled with opiate addiction for over 30 years. He said no one has ever asked him for solutions to the opiate crisis like she did. “He had a whole host of ideas on what to do on the opiate crisis, and felt so much pride in being able to share,” Vincent said.
“There’s a lot of qualified candidates and current elected officials,” Vincent said. But she thinks what makes her stand out from the others is her background in conflict resolution. “I think it’s really being able to bring together people with a really diverse set of backgrounds and beliefs and lived experiences,” she said, “and creating a space where they all feel like they can accurately represent themselves and advocate for their needs and I think as our city is growing, we need that kind of leadership.”
She said she feels lucky to be here after her ATV accident, and is looking forward to what she can do to give back to her community. “As I was knocking on doors, the feeling that you get when you are of service to someone—the feeling that people get when somebody’s taking the time to listen to them; I think that has changed my life.”
Kristen Mobilia has lived in the Fenway for about 20 years, and has devoted much of her time to several different community organizations, including the Fenway Civic Association, the Fenway Garden Society, and the Esplanade Association, just to name a few. Along with her background in business and balancing finance with HR, Mobilia believes she has the experience level needed for the role.
She decided to run initially in 2017 because from her involvement with the community, she realized “we were not getting the representation that the community deserved.”
She believes in the importance of getting out there with the residents of the district, rolling her sleeves up, and engaging with the community in order to advocate for them as best she can.
“We have a lot of community advocates and we’re not really building that next group of individuals to really learn from them and give more support as time goes on,” she said.
Mobilia discussed several issues that she believes are important to her campaign, as well as the residents of District 8. She said she currently regularly meets with the local police regarding community safety and the opioid crisis, and has developed working relationships with local police officers to “talk frankly about issues.” She added that the police force has less cadets coming in, but there are increasingly more and more needs that are not being met, so she is looking at how to partner with the Boston Police Department to get the support they need.
Education is also on Mobilia’s list of issues, and she said that while education has been a part of campaign promises for years, it is “great to see Annissa Essaibi George take charge on that front,” she said, but “we haven’t moved the meter on education in a real significant way.”
“My mother was a public school teacher, I was a public school student; I believe there should be equity in education,” she said.
Affordable housing is a priority as well—“How do we make sure that we have housing that’s truly affordable?” She said the skyscrapers going up in the Fenway with luxury housing are “not fitting our needs.”
The environmental issues that come with transportation are also a concern for Mobilia. Continuing to depend on gas or having to retrofit buildings that were just built a few years ago are things that she wants to avoid. “Green spaces are so important,” she added. She believes that everyone needs to have access to green space in their neighborhood.
An issue Mobilia thinks is not brought up enough is aging in the community. The elderly is one of the largest growing populations in the city, and “I think we aren’t focusing on that as much as we need to—all residents are important to the success of our community,” she said. A community center in every neighborhood is something Mobilia thinks is important for all ages—and not all District 8 neighborhoods have one. She believes that they provide a free, healthy space for people to meet for advocacy, fun, art, and health, and it provides a voting location as well.
The day after she lost to Zakim in 2017, Mobilia was back out engaging with the community. She said she would be happy to meet with anyone who might like to catch up in the neighborhood or chat about issues. She also encourages the community to check her Facebook pages for Meet and Greet dates. “I would love to meet to talk about the challenges and then work on the solutions.”
Mobilia believes that “engaging hands on and developing relationships—that approach is needed right now in our district, and I’m the one who can bring that.”