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Q&A with Russell Holmes: New rep sees transit, housing as top issues

Posted by Cara Bayles  December 21, 2010 11:41 AM

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Russell Holmes won a five-way primary and coasted through the general election unopposed to capture the Sixth Suffolk state House district, which includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park, as well as small sections of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale. Holmes made a campaign commitment to be accessible to his constituents, and for the past three months, he's been attending community meetings all over the district, listening to "the voice of the community," and thinking about his legislative priorities.
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Russell Holmes
Q. What are some of the recurring themes you've heard at the community meetings you've attended?

A. The number one issue is that people want to find nearby jobs. That's why I think transportation and housing are critical committees to be a part of, because we have some opportunities with the accelerated bridge projects, and the commuter rail station. They need to try to get people in the community hired, not just people from just anywhere coming in.

So I've heard everything from, let's get more jobs to we don't want chickens in our backyard with the farm idea, to just the same issues we've heard before, from potholes to street clean-ups to parks.

Q. Your background is in financial planning and community activism. What made you decide to turn to government?

A. Well, I can't say I've turned away from either one of those. I've been very politically active, just not with my name on a ballot. So, I will continue to practice, although the amount of time I commit to my practice will be less, and I'll continue to be involved with community, and marry that with my role as a state rep. One of the things I've been working on is reducing some of the efforts that I was participating in.

So, I'm not doing Big Brothers Big Sisters actively. I'm seeing that person I'm dedicated to seeing once every two weeks, but I've removed myself from any task force and boards, to make room. My biggest community service will now be the role of state rep. So I think all of those things will still be a part of me: doing financial planning, being a community activist, and really taking community activism to the level of the State House.

Q. Have you talked to you predecessor, Willie Mae Allen?

A. Yes, we've had a wonderful conversations, and I was very humbled by her final speech last Thursday. She invited me to join her family and her staff for her send-off.

I've been able to have a hand-off with her assistants, who've given me the things that they've been working on, to make sure we don't drop the ball. And we'll continue to have those conversations. Ms. Allen lives literally on the next street from me, and the rep before her lives two streets over from where I live, so I'm sure that I'll continue to get advice from both of them.

Q. What legislation will you file this session?

A. One of them is legislation around prescription drugs. I think we should amend the labeling. I know we can't do some without FDA approval, but on some medication, we can mandate making the expiration date bold and clear for prescription drugs. And, we need to find a solution around how do we dispose of them. There are many folks who are medicated in the district, and these things grow in cabinets. I think it should be very clear: this is when you need to make sure you throw this away, and this is how you dispose of it. I've been working with the chair of that committee to try to figure out how does that align with what we can do within the state, and the FDA approval at the federal level.

There's another bill that I've been having a conversation with Rep. Kevin Honan in regard to stoplights, and whether we can have cameras at stoplights to help with tickets. So, there are several I'm working on.

Q. The committees you're interested in are Transportation, Judiciary, Housing and Financial Services. Are those issues that are important to the district?

A. With us turning down the 28X [bus route], and now having a study done on what is the right solution for transportation throughout the district, I think it's important to have a voice at the table from Boston that communicates at the state level on what transportation looks like in the district that is deprived of a one-seat ride from here to downtown.

I think transportation is critical, and there is still a potential for a solution that comes out of the study, and I want to make sure I can champion that solution in the Statehouse. In addition to that, we have a commuter rail station coming in on Blue Hill Avenue. We've had some resistance to that in the community, but we need to make sure we have a solution the community's fine with, and that we keep the station. There's another one going up at Talbot Ave., the commuter rail station there, and the big issue around that is again, hiring, and making sure we hire people within the community. There's the accelerated bridge project on Morton, the accelerated bridge project on River Street, and the high-use busways that come through my district.

With financial services, with the experience I have as a financial planner and practicing for the last seven years, I think it's important to have a voice that starts to talk about the fact that we're either under-banked or un-banked in our communities. Some of us are still cashing checks at check-cashing places some of us are even cashing our checks at liquor stores, because we don't trust the banks. Part of our solution around how we do better in our community has to be education around finances. It links into housing, which is another committee that I'm looking at. This is the epicenter, ground zero, for so many foreclosures in Boston.

Q. What else would you like to see happen in the district in the future?

A. I worked hard on the committee to bring Main Streets to Mattapan Square, and I think the new Mattapan Health Center is very important. They don't sit in my district per se, but I know our community is not divided by the political lines of our districts. Mattapan Square has a lot of influence in this district. And I'll continue to work on major projects like that, as I look at what's right for the community as a whole over the next two years. I will certainly continue to be very active to encourage Main Streets to keep coming down from Mattapan Square, and go over by Morton Street.

E-mail Cara Bayles at carabayles@gmail.com.

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