Mary was born and raised in West Roxbury. She attended University of New Hampshire for her B.A. in English/Journalism, and later received her M.Ed from Harvard University. Mary served as an education reporter for the Gloucester Daily Times before working as a consultant for higher education. She was a Boston School Committee member, as well the President of the League of Women Voters of Boston. Currently, Mary serves on the board of BioBuilder, which advocates for the inclusion of synthetic biology curriculum in middle and high schools, and is a board member of the Boston chapter of Let’s Get Ready.
Boston Candidate Science Survey Response
Below are the survey responses from the candidate. To ensure the candidate’s voice comes through to the voters, the content of the answers are unedited.
Technology + Society
As the City uses more advanced technology to monitor city services and communicate with residents, how will you ensure citizens’ privacy rights as increasing numbers of monitoring devices are installed around the city? What will you do to make sure that the data collected will be used for the benefit of all Bostonians?
As our society continues to move toward increasing uses of technology for a variety of reasons — whether it’s robotics in surgery, facial recognition software in ATMs, or having an Amazon Alexa in their home or a Ring doorbell — we need to continue to be aware of both the benefits as well as the unintended consequences of these devices. How many people were aware, for example, that Alexa was recording their household conversations? At the City level, we always need to ensure proper balance between new technology that can improve city services as well as community health and safety while also safeguarding the civil liberties of Boston residents. Data collection of any kind has to be purposeful with a clear, intentional use. What are we collecting and why? Is the technology being used disproportionately impacting one group of residents over another? Boston is among a handful of U.S. cities that has banned the use of facial recognition software due to acknowledged inaccuracies when identifying women, people of color, and those in younger age groups. At the same time, after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, surveillance cameras helped lead to the apprehension of those involved. It is for these reasons and others that elected leadership must constantly review the pros and cons of surveillance and data collection as these technologies, and their use, continues to evolve over time.
What are your policy priorities to address the ongoing climate crisis? How will you ensure climate resiliency projects are distributed equitably among communities, especially in low-income neighborhoods? What are your policy priorities to protect areas of the city that are vulnerable to sea level rise (i.e. South Boston, Back Bay, Downtown, East Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Seaport)?
Boston’s neighborhoods face a number of environmental justice issues, including alarming rates of childhood asthma among Black and Brown children that too often lead to increased hospitalizations and absences from school. We must mitigate these impacts as best we can, which includes the following steps:
- Carbon emission reduction through the implementation of stricter energy efficiency standards for new and renovated construction and performing energy audits and retrofitting our public buildings (including all of the Boston Public Schools).
- Ensuring high quality HVAC and air filtration systems in all of Boston’s public buildings.
- Reducing the production of solid waste through expansion of residential, commercial, and City composting, recycling, and environmentally sustainable purchasing.
- Expanding access to quality and predictable public transit options, including fare-free buses, bus rapid transit, and safe and accessible pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
- Setting firm timelines to electrify all city cars, school buses, and MBTA buses.
Accomplishing these goals will come from an unyielding approach to environmental justice and sustainability. We’ve seen plans but we need decisive action — something that can be achieved by organizing the large base of support in the sustainability community. The Council is losing many of its environmental champions as they are either not seeking re-election or running for mayor. District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley has been a statewide leader on these issues, and I know it will be critical for the next District 6 Councilor to continue this level of bold leadership. As City Councilor, I will push to address systemic inequities, promote environmental justice initiatives, and support citywide policies that make Boston the national leader in environmental sustainability, as well as carbon and waste reduction. As for Boston’s areas that are vulnerable to the rising sea levels, elected officials must remain vigilant to ensure that the 10% of the city’s annual capital budget (approximate) $20 million per year allocated from the city budget for climate resiliency efforts is spent efficaciously and in close consultation with climate scientists who closely study this ever-changing landscape. We also need to set stronger guidelines around any proposed development in flood-zone areas and ensure developers for existing properties in these at-risk areas have flood mitigation plans with established funds to address impacts and climate-related damages.
Finally, I am a supporter of the Green New Deal and have publicly signed a pledge that I will do what I can as an elected official to support this work at the local level.
What are your policy priorities to protect areas that are vulnerable to increased temperatures during the summer months due to the urban heat island effect? Given that trees and an urban canopy have been shown to mitigate excess heat, how would you support the implementation of the Urban Forest Plan for Boston?
As a City Councilor, one of the most important things I can do is to implement policy that makes Boston safer, healthier, and more sustainable for our neighbors. One of my top priorities is promoting environmental sustainability and enhancing Boston’s green and open spaces, which is why I announced one of my first policy proposals, the Boston Arbor Initiative, to address urban heat island effect and the need for a robust and ever expanding tree canopy.
By taking a holistic, localized approach to sustainability, we can make our communities more livable, beautify our streets and neighborhoods, enhance air quality, as well as create more dynamic parks and open spaces for residents. The Boston Arbor Initiative does this by:
- Identifying each of Boston’s thousands of empty tree pits and creating a phased street and sidewalk tree installation plan to be completed by fall 2025.
- Emphasizing planting in our parks and playgrounds to make active spaces greener and healthier with abundant shade cover.
- Creating an individualized tree plan for every Boston Public School, leveraging the property holdings of the City and utilizing tree planting as part of a hands-on, environmental science curriculum.
- Hiring five new full-time arborists to address the current backlog of tree maintenance in the city. These positions are critical in order to evaluate the health of existing trees, to ensure that saplings are thriving into maturity, and to identify specific areas and neighborhoods with tree deficiencies.
- Incorporating urban landscaping into the consideration of all development and renovation projects before the city.
- Utilizing Boston’s large parks, urban wilds, and coastal open space to maximize large-scale planting efforts that enhance climate resiliency.
This initiative illustrates just how integral a robust tree canopy is to the educational, social, and environmental health — as well as the resilience — of our coastal city. Boston’s green, open spaces make Boston one of the most appealing urban settings in the world, and District 6 is particularly fortunate to serve as home to so much of our city’s tree canopy and the Emerald Necklace.
What should the role of science and scientists be in government, policy, and decision-making? How does science fit into your agenda for Boston?
As someone who has worked in higher education for many years, I believe we need to better integrate academia with government and policy making, whether the topic is science, education, the environment, public health, or public safety. Boston is fortunate to house some of the country’s and the world’s best institutions of higher learning and health, with a wealth of researchers and academics willing to partner with policymakers on some of the greatest challenges we face. I welcome the opportunity to create and expand partnerships as an elected official — just as I have in my other public service roles — to review data, to seek a variety of voices and perspectives, and to move forward with the best decisions based on science, evidence, and collective thought. As a proud board member of BioBuilder, an exciting initiative created by an MIT scientist to bring synthetic biology into 9-12 classrooms around the U.S. and the world, I fully understand the important role of science and STEM in our world and in our classrooms; we must do far better at every level of government to ensure science and scientists are deeply involved in policy making and public health.
Misinformation has been cited as one of the reasons for vaccine hesitancy against the COVID-19 virus. How do you propose the City improve messaging in order to promote science-based actions and combat misinformation, not just for COVID-19, but also broadly?
As City Councilor, I pledge to take concrete steps to ensure that we are doing everything possible to ensure that accurate messaging is being delivered about COVID-19 and the importance of vaccinations, especially in the parts of the city with the lowest vaccination rates. I will fully support funding for mobile vaccination and testing clinics as well as funding for a public education effort that reflects Boston’s linguistic diversity, deployment of healthcare providers to smaller venues and community settings where providers are able to offer more intensive, one-on-one support to help get individuals vaccinated, and to working with trusted community and faith leaders to build support for higher vaccination levels. “Vaccine Block Parties” could serve as another solution to this critical issue, and in other parts of the state, officials have had success with these types of events which are open to anyone and offer free food and music while promoting both health and community. The effort to vaccinate Boston – especially in communities that face the greatest barriers to care – needs to be “hyper-focused [and] hyper local” as Mary Lou Sudders mentioned in early June; there is no single catch-all solution to fighting a worldwide pandemic, and it will require thoughtfulness and intentionality from elected leaders. More broadly, I will push for Boston to adopt a social determinants of health framework similar to what the World Health Organization (WHO) has studied across several European cities for decades. Social determinants of health are the conditions under which we work, live, and play that impact our health and life outcomes — and we can use the collection of this data as a guideline to address systemic inequities whether it is related to life expectancy, or access to food, housing, or health care. Per the WHO’s guidelines, a “Healthy City aims: to create a health-supportive environment, to achieve a good quality of life, to provide basic sanitation & hygiene needs, and to supply access to health care.” The differences we see in life expectancy across neighborhoods, or in maternal health outcomes by race, could be closely studied and addressed under a “Healthy Cities” policy initiative.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted disparities in healthcare access for different neighborhoods in Boston. As of June 29, 2021, we know that only 38% of residents in Mattapan were fully vaccinated compared to over 70% of South End residents. How can ideas about distributing vaccines, challenging misinformation related to healthcare, and tackling language barriers be applied more broadly to form a more equitable healthcare system? What policy changes should be made to both prevent and respond to future pandemics or health crises in a more effective way?
As City Councilor, I pledge to take concrete steps to ensure that we are doing everything possible to address these disparities, with a focus on those most at risk and those most impacted by COVID-19. I pledge to support funding for mobile vaccination and testing clinics as well as funding for a public education effort that reflects Boston’s linguistic diversity, deployment of healthcare providers to smaller venues and community settings where providers are able to offer more intensive, one-on-one support to help get individuals vaccinated, and to working with trusted community and faith leaders to build support for higher vaccination levels. “Vaccine Block Parties” could serve as another solution to address this critical issue, and in other parts of the state, officials have had success with these types of events which are open to anyone and offer free food and music while promoting both health and community. The effort to vaccinate Boston – especially in communities that face the greatest barriers to care – needs to be “hyper-focused [and] hyper local” as Mary Lou Sudders mentioned in early June; there is no single catch-all solution to fighting a worldwide pandemic, and it will require thoughtfulness and intentionality from elected leaders. These ideas do not just apply to the current pandemic; they apply to any and all future pandemics or health crises which are unfortunately bound to continue given what health experts are stating. As an elected official, I will support early, immediate measures to safeguard the public from future health crises. This begins with a far greater focus on public health and the social determinants of health (as other cities have done, particularly in European countries), but also by taking immediate steps to support mask mandates, frequent testing, and mandatory vaccinations. The focus on the greater good must outweigh individual objections that place others in our community at risk.
How, if at all, has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your positions on education policies? What should the City’s role be in ensuring public schools are equitably funded and serve the needs of our children?
If anything, COVID-19 has strengthened my existing policy views around the dire issues that must be immediately addressed by the Boston Public Schools. And as someone who has worked for many years in this area, I was pleased that WGBH recently printed my commentary piece on how the city’s school system should spend the $454 million in ESSER federal relief funds. As we prepare to receive this once-in-a-lifetime investment to help schools and school communities recover from the impact of COVID-19, I would strongly advocate that this funding be used to mitigate the trauma, stress, anxiety, and social isolation for all members of our school communities: students, staff, and families, with counseling and resocialization activities prioritized first and foremost. Beyond this historic investment and the opportunity It can provide if used wisely, we need to revisit PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) and think creatively and innovatively in terms of how these resources are collected by the city and utilized. Direct payments are one way to invest in our schools, without question, but what other innovative ways might the city push for in order for our students to be provided with hands-on internships in the city’s hospitals and museums, summer courses or camps at neighboring universities, and a dedicated amount of full, four-year scholarships for low-income students and students of color at our city’s universities.
Our challenges are many, including crumbling infrastructure and too many school buildings that were not crafted nor are conducive for 21st century learning. And while BuildBPS was launched to much fanfare in 2017, more than half of the allocated $1 billion in funding has already been spent on new boilers and windows, not on the construction or renovation of up to 12 schools as promised. As city councilor, I will ensure accountability in all promises made in regard to our school system as our students deserve no less. We are long past due to address and invest in out-of-date buildings, a lack of HVAC systems, and to fully invest in the vital support services our students need to reach their full potential. We also need to integrate cultural competency in all that we do within our school communities, with a comprehensive review of textbooks used, student reading lists, and the long-overdue addition of a robust ethnic studies program that is part of the K-12 experience.
Boston’s technology, innovation, and scientific research ecosystem has long made it a hub that attracts a diverse group of people and talent from around the world. How can the city maintain and foster its international status as a technological hub and attract immigrant scientists to strengthen the diversity, culture, and economic activity of Boston?
While immigration policy is a matter of state and federal government, Boston is a sanctuary city that prides itself as a hub of innovation, one that has drawn great talent from all over the world to study and work in our hospitals, our universities, and industries and businesses of all kinds. As the granddaughter of immigrants from the Middle East, I am fully committed to making sure that Boston remains a welcoming place as well as a beacon of opportunity to all who come to make Boston their temporary or permanent home. In 2019, the Boston City Council updated their Trust Act, which first passed in 2014, to further clarify protections for immigrants and to impose limits on police when it comes to civil immigration matters, including sharing information with ICE — with the purpose to keep Boston Police focused on public safety, not deportation. With a new administration in Washington, D.C. I am grateful that so many of the limits placed on immigrants under the prior administration have been lifted, including arbitrary bans on student and other types of visas that limited the robust number of international students, scientists, and medical professionals we typically see in our colleges, universities, and hospitals. Boston has always been and will continue to be a city of immigrants, and we must continue to welcome, attract, and incentivize ways to draw individuals of all backgrounds, talent, and training from every part of the world.
What is your plan to strengthen the Boston scientific research and technology enterprise to benefit our economy? How can you ensure that the economic benefits of investing in science and technology reach all Bostonians?
The scientific, biotech, tech, and health care sectors are anchors of Boston’s economic engine. As a City, we must continue to encourage businesses under these headers to remain in Boston, with the proper incentives in place to keep them here. As a City Councilor, I would partner with our Office of Economic Development to ensure that the lines of communication remain open between city officials and and representatives from all of these critical sectors to ensure that Boston remains as a top destination for research and innovation. We must also ensure that these businesses and organizations can invest in a local workforce and provide job training and entry points to be part of their success. I’d also like to create a working group involving members of the scientific research and technology community and Boston’s high schools to provide internships for students as well as pathways to future roles for our students in these sectors.
Food + Agriculture
What policies do you propose for the City to maximize land use in the city for green spaces and community access to gardens or farms? How can your administration bring more transparency to this process and connect community groups to the resources they need to support sustainable urban farming?
In 2013, the City passed Article 89 to promote commercial urban farming in Boston, and there are related grants to support this work. As City Councilor, I’d take the opportunity to see how much progress has been made with commercial urban farms in the 8 years since Article 89 passed to best determine how many individuals have taken advantage of these grants and are Boston’s urban farmers being supported as needed. Urban farms can also be used to address rising levels of food insecurity, and we must make sure we are utilizing available open spaces for this purpose. For non-commercial uses, we are fortunate to have access to public green and garden spaces (including 56 gardens via Boston Community Gardens) across several neighborhoods in the City, with plots available for $30 per year. The Victory Gardens in Fenway, which I visited recently, are truly a model of what urban gardening can be; the 7.5 acres of plots have transformed these spaces into beautiful havens filled with flowers, trees, and shrubbery, as well as vegetable gardens. And the Victory Gardens are just one example; so many of our gardeners and farmers have creatively used their spaces to create urban oases, with seating and tables to gather outside. As City Councilor, I pledge to promote accessibility and transparency in all of my efforts, and would do everything possible to promote and fund these opportunities for constituents. I would also work to ensure that our Boston schools continue to work with Green City Growers so more of our students are provided with hands-on vocational opportunities to grow healthy food and to learn the skills of farming and gardening. Whether we are promoting the use of available City land or rooftops, we must seize opportunities to expand on what already exists to promote healthier eating and environmental sustainability.