Here are edited excerpts from Jonathan’s conversation with Ben Siegel
“The first time I got involved in any type of party political campaign was back in 2012 with the Obama campaign. I was in Philadelphia at the time and I was seeing how the Republicans in Harrisburg were working to restrict who could vote with the photo ID law. I thought: if people are trying to actively restrict who can vote and I have time, I should spend time trying to help counter that and get better involved with the democratic process.
I moved to Boston in August, 2013 and by my third weekend, I was already volunteering with Felix Arroyo Jr.’s mayoral campaign. Then I ended up on Marty Walsh’s campaign in the general after Felix endorsed Marty, working largely in Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain.
In the 2014 gubernatorial race, I decided to volunteer for Don Berwick’s gubernatorial campaign because he was particularly passionate about single-payer healthcare and other progressive issues. My first experience with Ward 4 was going to the caucus in February of 2014.
I remember that Michelle Wu, now our Mayor and then city councilor-at-large, was the timekeeper for speeches at that caucus. You got two minutes. I came in at exactly two minutes and I recall her commenting about how my speech seemed perfectly timed for that purpose. After going to the caucus, I wanted to stay involved. I guess I’m a joiner by nature.
I credit Ward 4 with getting me involved in opposing Boston’s Olympic bid, which was a huge part of 2015. In October of that year, we met at the Fensgate Cooperative and voted to oppose the city’s Olympic bid. It was kind of a cool thing to have as a claim to fame for the Committee, having been early in registering opposition.
Since then, Ward 4’s focus has been vast. We as a Committee are mainly geared to the local and state more so than the national. That’s how I’ve always envisioned the Committee’s work, knowing that the local and state politicians you can get to come to talk to you on a much easier basis than you can like getting a senator to come to your meeting during an election year. Our forums showcase where they stand on key issues, which guides our endorsement votes.
Giving candidates some of their first times speaking to large groups, being able to offer that to people, I think is something really valuable. Knowing that we will ask you some hard questions, but we are largely a friendly crowd to you, that we’re not trying to trip you up. But to be able to offer that space where you’ll have an engaged group of people who are asking you questions about things and if you don’t know the answer to something, you should probably figure it out because you’ll be asked it many other times on the doors and people might not be as forgiving during the quick period that you have on the doors. And then to be able to offer that as a venue both for the people who are on the Committee or people from the neighborhood who want to join and see because you can see candidates grow over time…that’s really fascinating.
One thing that’s wild with Ward 4 is we have more elected officials than any other ward in the city representing us.
There are four state senators that represent part of us and four state representatives and three district councilors. So we actually have a situation where a majority of the city council are people that we can bring in, that we can bring in to talk to us because they represent at least part of our committee. And I am of the mindset to use that as a strength. Rather than just reaching out to the person who represents me by sending them emails or calling their office on different things, we can bring them in person so that we can ask them a number of the questions, have them talk about what they’re up to, and create that avenue for engagement so that people can get either questions answered or unanswered. (That is its own valuable thing when they never answer you.)
We’ve created a civic culture that develops from those meetings where people can learn from each other, that candidates can learn from what you’re asking them, and that elected officials can learn from.
If our Committee wants to show that there’s a force of pressure behind things that are in the platform, then we need to register to our legislators that this is something that we care about and we want you to act on that. When we, as a Committee, endorse something, it shows that there are numbers behind that decision rather than just one person. It is a collection of people and a collection of people with a prominent voice in the community that can then amplify that. One thing that I think that I’ve been able to help us do as chair is to increase our local media presence. When we’ve endorsed a cause or candidate, I’ve often written about it in, say, the Boston Sun or the Fenway News or the South End News. That’s a way of also helping to educate more people in the community as well.
We know that people bring our endorsement flyers with them when they go to the polls. That’s definitely a source of power and one that needs to be attended to: to make sure that that you do the work to make sure that people view the Ward 4 Committee as a good source of information and validation of candidates, but also to make sure you have a robust process for deciding whom to endorse.”