Saturday, July 21, 2007

Councilor McDermott Moving to Westwood, Stepping Down September 1

Within 24 hours of Councilor Jerry McDermott's announcement in May that he would not seek re-election to the City Council, the neighborhood was buzzing with the "unofficial" reason that he was stepping down: he had already purchased a house in Westwood and planned to move there.

Since he had not spoken publicly about this reason, and since family issues are a private matter, this reason wasn't reported here at Brighton Centered. But the rumor had to be the worst-kept secret in the neighborhood. His "official" reason, by the way, was that he wanted to spend more time with his family; everyone understood that reason, since the job of Councilor is so time-consuming.

Councilor McDermott has now spoken publicly about his plans to move to the suburbs in stories in the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. His next job will be as Executive Director of the South Shore Habitat for Humanity, which means that he will be leaving the City Council early -- on September 1, well before his term ends in January.

There are two sad conclusions to draw from this: (1) Councilor McDermott represents a high-profile example of the exodus of families out of Allston-Brighton, many of them driven by family-unfriendly developments in the neighborhood (closing of parishes by the Archdiocese, and institutional expansion by Harvard University and Boston College); and (2) Allston-Brighton will not have a City Councilor for four months late this year to deal with the institutional expansion noted in #1.

I wish that, for the good of the neighborhood, Councilor McDermott could have found a way to delay starting his new job until his term expired. His move couldn't have come at a worse time for the neighborhood.

The problems facing families trying to live in Allston-Brighton are now so bad that we can't even keep a long-time resident and City Councilor in the neighborhood. Two parish schools have closed in the last couple of years (Our Lady of the Presentation, St. Anthony's Parish). Absentee landlords looking for profit-making properties drove housing prices through the roof; those landlords then rent to off-campus students who disturb the peace Thursday through Saturday nights through much of the year. A-B is one of only two neighborhoods in the entire City of Boston that decreased in its percentage of owner-occupied housing between the 1990 and 2000 Census, while the City as a whole increased. And now institutions are poised to drive more families out by proposing to build student dormitories next to some of the few remaining, tight-knit communities.

The only bright light we can draw from it is that Councilor McDermott made his intentions known in May -- in time for six candidates to run for the City Council seat. At least we weren't stuck with yet another special election.

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