District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok has announced that she will be running for a second term, after winning the seat formerly held by Josh Zakim in the 2019 election. So far, Bok is running uncontested.
With a background in affordable housing, Bok has worked over her first term to try and bring more equitable affordable housing to the district and the entire city, and the past year has brought many challenges to people and neighborhoods citywide as the pandemic recovery continues.
Bok told the Sun that her campaign has a “dual purpose” of hopefully being able to see people in person again—which she has started to do to gather some signatures— and then also figuring out “where do we go from here” when it comes to moving forward.
She said it’s critically important to her to continue working on issues like affordable housing and “combating the climate crisis,” as well as continuing to assist small businesses in their recovery.
Bok also said that with a huge push for lab space in the city and particularly in the Fenway area, “thinking about the workforce development path” is also on her agenda and ensuring that the lab space provides quality jobs for Boston’s youth.
She also talked about the food insecurity that was not only brought to light by the pandemic, but exacerbated in many cases. “That’s been something I’ve been focused on,” she said as she helped organized the distribution of fresh food boxes to residents in the district and across the city last summer, a program that has continued to serve residents.
“Another big question mark,” Bok said, is “fighting to save pieces of the MBTA service.” Service on the 55 bus was suspended, and following protests by community activists, it was saved a few weeks ago and will now run on a summer schedule. The proposed suspension of the E Line at Brigham Circle was also prevented.
She said that it was “great” that those services were saved, but now “what we really want is better, more reliable service,” as the MBTA service is “critical to our climate goals.” Bok said she is “worried that there might be a little bit of a step back in that from the state,” but “we really have to push back against that.”
Bok said that one thing she learned during her first term is that “what COVID really underlined was our potential collectively in Boston to construct new things together.” She said that as a councilor, thinking quickly and pulling together private, government, and nonprofit funds to coordinate efforts like the food box distribution was proof that Boston is able to solve problems that come its way.
“The City of Boston has delivered an unbelievable number of weekly grocery bags,” Bok said, as well as millions of breakfasts and lunches for BPS students.
“If we have big problems that need new systems and coordinating to solve them,” Bok said, “we have found the wherewithal to do that. Seeing the potential for that was one major silver lining,” of the pandemic, and something she said she would take into a second term.
Reflecting on her first term as the District 8 councilor, Bok said that she is “really proud” of the fair housing zoning amendment, which she worked on with Councilor Lydia Edwards and was approved by the Boston Zoning Commission and the mayor earlier this year.
The new change, according to the City, “will require developers in Boston to take substantial steps to stem displacement and provide further access to housing to those historically discriminated against.”
Because of this regulation, she said Boston is the first city in the country to bring something like this into law at the local level “with actual implementation consequences.”
Bok said that “affirmative responsibility as a city to develop inclusive communities…means a lot to me.”
Bok said she also has many things in the works in the coming months and hopefully into a second term as city councilor, such as “pushing for a conservation corps” in the city, which she said there is money for in the proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
Historic preservation is also something that’s important to Bok, as well as to many of her constituents in the district. She said with Boston’s 400th anniversary coming up in 2030, “it’s the right time for us to look again at our preservation tools” and host things like “inclusive”historical events, as well as explore curriculum for Boston Public Schools and exhibits at the Boston Public Library branches.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for that,” Bok said of keeping the city’s residents, especially its youth, “connected” to Boston’s history.
For Mission Hill specifically, Bok said she is “grateful” for funding in the proposed budget for the redesign of Terrace St. as it transitions from a” light industrial” use to a residential/commercial mixed use from a zoning perspective. “It needs a lot of attention,” she said of the street, adding that she’s “really excited that that’s going to be a priority.”
When it comes to the Mission Hill Main Streets, she said that so far, most of the businesses have been able to stay open, but “I’m holding my breath.” Bok said that through the American Rescue Plan, there are programs for business owners to help pay back rent and other expenses. She also said that she’s hopeful that when students return to the neighborhood in the fall, it will also be a boon to businesses.
Additionally, Bok said that many Mission Hill businesses are currently hiring.
In other parts of the district, such as the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the West End, those neighborhoods are dependent on tourism, as well as places like the Hynes Convention Center and the many businesses on Newbury and Charles Streets, to stay afloat.
“I think that’s going to be a real concern of mine,” Bok said.
Bok said that there is “so much more to do on housing,” including making it easier for more deeply affordable units to be built in Boston with solutions like building affordable housing on top of libraries, which is being discussed for the West End and Egleston Square branches of the Boston Public Library.
As she heads into her second campaign, Bok said that her favorite thing about being a Boston city councilor is “the window you get into the huge variety of people who are doing their bit every day to make it the great place that it is. As a councilor, you find out about all of these efforts,” like “the people who are watering the tree in front of their house,” or the “folks during the pandemic who are checking on their neighbors,” she said, adding that there are “so many overlapping but independent active efforts to make the city a real community and make it thrive, and I have so appreciated that.”
Bok also said she hopes everyone will get out and become civically engaged as the City Council and mayoral races move forward.
“I think it’s really important for everybody to pay attention and get involved in the local election,” Bok said. It’s a “really exciting moment to talk about what Boston needs to do and look like coming out of the pandemic.”
She said that District 8 has not historically been one of the neighborhoods with a high voter turnout, but she said she “would love to turn that around this year.”
The city’s primary election will be held on September 14, and the general election is on November 2.
For more information about Councilor Bok and her platform, visit kenziebok.com.