“The World Needs a Lot of Care Right Now”: Lessons in Compassionate Leadership and Resilience with Mayor Michelle Wu

By Angela Wu

The 2022 Rappaport Fellows in Boston City Hall’s Eagle Room with Mayor Michelle Wu, Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Chief of Equity and Inclusion Mariangely Solis Cervera, and Deputy Director of the Boston Public Health Commission PJ McCann. Photo credit: John Wilcox

Growing up, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu recalls that she “didn’t see anyone who looked like me in spaces of power,” which initially led her to rule out a career in politics. It’s a sentiment that resonates deeply with me and likely many other Asian Americans who grew up thinking we didn’t have a seat at the decision-making table. That’s why I was so excited when the Rappaport Fellows gathered in Boston City Hall’s Eagle Room (which, fittingly, features a large sculpture of an eagle) this summer—with Mayor Wu at the head of the table

An alumna of the Rappaport Fellows Program in Law and Public Policy, Mayor Wu began our meeting by reflecting on how her own experiences as a Fellow in Mayor Menino’s administration fueled her interest in city government. She also noted how often she sees other former Fellows around City Hall. The attendance in the Eagle Room that day proved the Mayor’s point: the current Fellows were joined by former Rappaport Public Policy Fellow Mariangely Solis Cervera (now Boston’s Chief of Equity and Inclusion) and former Rappaport Law Fellow PJ McCann (now Deputy Director for Policy and Planning at the Boston Public Health Commission), as well as former Rappaport Institute Visiting Fellow Jascha Franklin-Hodge (now Boston’s Chief of Streets).

After completing her Rappaport Fellowship and graduating from Harvard Law School, Mayor Wu went on to serve on the Boston City Council for eight years. Then, a few months after meeting last year’s Rappaport Fellows, Wu made history as the first woman and first person of color elected mayor of Boston. Her time as a city councilor familiarized her with the issues that matter to Bostonians, allowing her to hit the ground running when she became mayor. ​​A key difference between her tenure as a city councilor and current role as mayor, however, has been the intensity of personal attacks levied against her.

I had witnessed some of that intensity earlier in the week at one of the Mayor’s constituent coffee hours. As constituents grabbed cups of Dunkin’ and chatted with Mayor Wu, conversations were periodically disrupted by protesters chanting a derogatory slogan that incorporated the Mayor’s last name. ​​The display startled me as someone who shares that last name (no relation) and was inspired by trailblazers like Wu to pursue a career in public service—particularly because I couldn’t discern what was being protested beyond Mayor Wu’s general presence. When we met in the Eagle Room, I asked the Mayor how she deals with such vitriol, especially considering that the personal attacks against her have been steeped in racism and misogyny.

Mayor Wu’s response was characteristically enlightening and compassionate. She first expressed her empathy with people whose grievances may stem from being let down by the government before. At the same time, Mayor Wu noted the toll that hateful protests have had on her staff, family, and neighbors, as well as other constituents whose speech is drowned out by megaphone-bearing protesters. She reminded the Fellows that while “it’s okay to not be okay” in the face of such backlash, hateful messages are designed to make public servants—especially those from historically marginalized and underrepresented backgrounds—give up.

So instead of dwelling on the haters, Mayor Wu would rather get to work. Amidst a year marked by gun violence and the loss of abortion rights in many states, not to mention the ongoing global pandemic, the Mayor observed that “the world needs a lot of care right now.” That’s where city government, with its proximity to people’s day-to-day experiences, can take the lead. Even as increasing numbers of Americans are losing trust in the federal government, City Hall can implement new and innovative ways to improve residents’ lives. 

Over the course of our meeting with Mayor Wu, Chief Franklin-Hodge, Chief Solis Cervera, and Deputy Director McCann, the Fellows asked questions on topics including transportation, support for communities of color, and public health. The detailed and enthusiastic answers that City Hall’s leaders gave made it obvious that care for Boston’s diverse communities is at the heart of the Wu administration. That kind of compassionate leadership will continue to inspire Rappaport Fellows throughout our careers and future generations of public servants.

The Multi-Faceted Work of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd

The Rappaport Center Fellows had the great opportunity this summer to meet with the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Kimberly Budd. Chief Justice Budd became the 38th Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court on December 1, 2020 when she was sworn in by Governor Charlie Baker. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Chief Justice Budd spoke warmly and candidly with the Fellows about her path to the SJC and offered thoughtful advice. 

She spoke about the multiple roles of Chief Justice and what she hoped to leave behind as a legacy including access to justice and eliminating racial disparities, building on the important work of the late Chief Justice Ralph Gants. The Chief shared that in addition to opinion-writing responsibilities, she now also works with the Legislative and Executive branches, serving as the primary advocate for the judiciary, particularly on budgetary line items.  

The Fellows also had a chance to ask her questions: about her career, juggling family and work, and navigating transitions. Chief Justice Budd noted that it had never occurred to her that she wanted to be a judge until six months prior to submitting her application. She shared that she did not have a lot of confidence in law school but as she took on new roles, her confidence level grew.  At one point in her career, the Chief remarked that she stepped back from law and accepted a position that allowed her to spend more time with her children. In noting that particular career transition, Chief Justice Budd advised the Fellows that it’s okay to pause during one’s career to take care of yourselves and/or your family. She assured all of us that “things will work out.”    

The Fellows met with the Chief Justice in the majestic seven-Justice courtroom after having been given a tour of the John Adams Courthouse – a building rich with history. We closed the session by asking the CJ Budd what advice she would give to her younger self. She said, “don’t worry so much, worrying doesn’t help. Take that energy and do something positive with it.” 

Meeting Chief Justice Budd was an eye-opening experience as it showed the Fellows that the path to a successful career in law is not always linear or planned. Sometimes opportunities present themselves and life can take a turn in a new direction. 

The MBTA’s Progress and Challenges

This week, the Fellows from both the Rappaport Center and Rappaport Institute visited the Union Square branch of the Green Line Extension to meet with Steve Poftak, the General Manager of the MBTA.

It had already been a challenging day for Poftak, who, after introducing himself, acknowledged the Orange Line train that had caught fire that morning. He was frank and candid in his discussion of the incident, citing struggles with vendors as the reason the aging train had not yet been replaced. The Orange Line train fire seemed to epitomize the compounding difficulties the MBTA has been facing as of late. Poftak only became General Manager of the MBTA in 2019, but he has had to deal with decades of underfunding and neglected infrastructure. As an example, Poftak said that early in his tenure, a flood caused major damage to the Orient Heights Blue Line station in East Boston. Due to poor foresight during the station’s reconstruction in 2013, the main power room for the station had been put in the basement. Since that station had a high potential for flooding, Poftak explained that this mistake in the original redesign had (and continues to have) long-term implications that don’t have an easy fix.

Poftak also focused on the Green Line Extension, which extends Green Line service up into Somerville, terminating near the Tufts campus in Medford. As a Somerville resident, I am eagerly anticipating the rest of the GLX. While Poftak noted that a date has not been publicly set for its opening, he was enthusiastic about the progress that has been made. He also walked us through some of the challenges that the GLX has faced over its multi-decade history, including ballooning costs and working with contractors. Fellows asked insightful questions about the GLX’s impact on communities in Somerville and Medford, noting that many renters have already been priced out of the area. An example of the changing landscape was right behind us: a high-rise apartment building is going up just steps from the entrance to the Union Square station.

Another huge hurdle the MBTA has faced has been the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on transit. Two and a half years into the pandemic, ridership across the MBTA is only about 50% of what it was prior to March 2020. The MBTA has responded to this substantial loss in revenue—which is significantly more prolonged than anyone originally thought—by reallocating services based on where people are still riding. In particular, bus routes have been a big area of change. Poftak discussed the Bus Network Redesign, which aims to create more equitable service across the Boston metro area through strategic bus route changes and more high-frequency service. The MBTA has also faced hiring challenges post-COVID: the system is struggling to hire bus drivers, who are already in short supply. Poftak explained that prior to the pandemic, the MBTA frequently had to turn away potential employees due to high demand and had a long waiting list for most positions. Now, the system is restructuring to adapt to the new labor market by offering substantial sign-on bonuses and a speedier hiring process.

All in all, it was an enlightening conversation. I appreciated Poftak’s candor about the struggles of the MBTA and about public service in general. The Fellows were engaged as well, asking a broad range of questions about prioritizing resources, the recent FTA report, and relationships between the MBTA and other agencies, to name a few. Needless to say, I have a new appreciation for the intricacies of managing as large and complex a system as the MBTA.

Fenway Park: Public/Private Partnership Benefits Community

On a hot Thursday in July, the Rappaport Law and Public Policy Fellows gathered outside Gate D of historic Fenway Park. We stood on Yawkey Way, draped in our backpacks from our various public interest internships throughout the city, awaiting directions on how to enter the park. Unlike most visits to Fenway, this was not a traditional visit to catch a game, rather a conversation and private tour with David Friedman, Executive Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs for the Boston Red Sox. Once through security, Dave greeted the group, still carrying materials from the meeting he had just left at City Hall with Mayor Wu’s team. 

Dave began by telling us the history of Fenway Park; home of the Boston Red Sox, built in 1912, and the oldest ballpark in operation in Major League Baseball. A typical tour of the park may have continued in this fashion with facts and figures about when the park had been updated and how many home runs were hit by Ted Williams, however, Dave who has an impressive public service career, shifted the conversation. Dave previously served as First Assistant Attorney General for Massachusetts and Counsel and Chief Policy Advisor to Massachusetts Senate President. Additionally, Dave spent time in private practice at Hill & Barlow after serving as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boudin. With his extensive legal background, Dave was able to provide the Fellows with a holistic perspective of the relationship between the City of Boston and Fenway Sports Group. 

Unlike many MLB parks which are owned by their respective cities, Fenway is privately owned and operated by their parent company, Fenway Sports Group. Fenway Sports Group encompasses not only Fenway Park but also the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool F.C., The Pittsburgh Penguins, RFK Racing, New England Sports Network, and Fenway Park. At the top of this successful Sports Enterprise is John Henry, President of Fenway Sports Group, and a giant in the Boston business community. 

Fenway Park may be just one part of the large multifaceted Fenway Sports Group organization, but as Dave shared with thoughtful insight, there is a great deal of complexity in the work required to operate this facility in the middle of Boston, and the many relationships fostered between his team and government officials. As the Fellows took a seat behind home plate, we watched as a crew began to set up an enormous stage that would host the Zac Brown Band the following night. Dave explained how relationships with the City of Boston affect their ability to host concerts and other community events. 

Fenway Park is licensed to host twelve concerts throughout the year, a number that needed to be negotiated with the City; concerts had never been held in the park until the early 2000’s. Dave outlined the significant amount of planning and cooperation that needs to be considered to host events at this scale in the center of Boston, in the oldest ballpark in America, with an ever-changing community that surrounds Fenway Park. These meetings encompass discussions about parking, transit, and even porta potty placements before the City will consider if it is feasible to host events beyond ball games at the park.

The interns followed Dave, past the historic grandstands which retain the original seats, up a steep flight of stairs, past Fenway Farms, an expansive rooftop garden that provides fresh produce to the chefs at Fenway Park as well as community organizations, to the most recognizable part of the park, the Green Monster. It was there that our tour ended, with Dave “fielding” questions from the Fellows related to his role. 

Dave was the first non-government official with whom the Fellows met, and the questions varied from how his role intersects with the state and federal government, to ongoing changes within the community that affect his work. Dave provided the Fellows a new perspective that varied from our internships and the perspective of other government officials, focusing instead on how businesses make decisions. What became clear was the organization’s commitment to partnering with both the City and the state and working toward mutual success whether through hosting vaccine clinics to support the fight against COVID-19, or hosting a community watch party to support the Celtics in the NBA finals. Fenway was and remains willing to open the ballpark to the community. 

The Fellows’ meeting and tour of Fenway provided an additional perspective to consider when trying to build a career rooted in public service. First, decisions made on the local and state level have real life consequences and we have an obligation to make conscientious public policy decisions that promote equity within our communities. Second, opportunities to affect change outside of government employment are plentiful. The Rappaport Center and Rappaport Institute continue to push their Fellows to consider what it means to be a public servant, and to deeply consider the types of changes they would like to bring about through their careers. What we learned from Dave is that service can be ever changing, but if you accord individuals with respect for their perspective and kindness for the communities in which they live, many goals can be accomplished together. 

Renaissance Senator: Rappaport Session with MA State Senator Jamie Eldridge

By Samantha Perlman, 2022 Rappaport Fellow

Walking up from Park Street Station through Boston Common, I stopped to look up at the vibrant gold dome signifying my arrival at Massachusetts’ seat of government. The State House holds personal meaning for me as the catalyst for my public service career. As a high school student, I shadowed a female elected official and later interned for my state senator. As a young professional, I participated in the state’s Citizens’ Legislative Seminar and advocated for the state Civics Bill which passed in 2018—all within this State House building. After reopening its doors to the public following the pandemic closure, I now entered the State House in a new role, as an aspiring lawyer with my fellow Rappaport cohort. We were about to learn from one of the best coalition builders, forward thinkers, and compassionate legislators in Massachusetts, who happens to also be my state senator, and a fellow Boston College Law alum, Senator Jamie Eldridge! My impactful State House internship while in college was with his office. Through that internship, I gained firsthand experience with the endless possibilities of innovative government, leading me to now serve in my second term as a Marlborough City Councilor.

Senator Eldridge, or Jamie as he likes to be called, is a Renaissance person with a vast breadth and depth of knowledge across every policy issue area. In his generous time with us as Fellows, he discussed his commitment on many issues, such as leading on the comprehensive climate bill, fighting for universal school meals, pursuing criminal justice reform such as repealing mandatory minimums, ending solitary confinement, and even establishing a restorative justice grant program. That does not even encompass all his work in the district, like securing funding for local projects, such as with our new library here in Marlborough. Jamie is also a frequent face across the cities and towns he represents, known to even be a connoisseur of all the local ice cream shops. In answering Fellows’ questions, Jamie expressed the challenging balance of issue urgency with the slower government pace and how he motivates activists to continue fighting for the policy changes we deserve. Importantly, Jamie centers collaboration with community activists, focusing on the lived experiences of those most impacted when pushing for specific policy.

What is equally exciting about Jamie’s path to the state senate is the relatability of his law school experience. Like many of us, he was active in his law school’s public interest law student organization, even serving as its president, and spent his early law career as a legal services attorney. He also utilizes his position as a thought leader and elected official to uplift others, supporting diverse individuals to run for office and pursue state government careers. Nothing demonstrates this more than his encouragement of now-State Representative Dan Sena, who was a staffer in Jamie’s office, and is now the first Brazilian immigrant elected to a state legislature in the United States.

We also took a group photo with Jamie at the foot of the infamous Grand Staircase, symbolic of our path ahead this summer as Fellows but also our legal journey. As Fellows, we will continue to look up to Jamie (not just because he is so tall) for his boundless optimism, commitment to centering equity and unwavering focus on improving the quality of life for all of us here in Massachusetts. To Jamie, thank you for living out your values to transform state policies, sharing your wisdom with us as Fellows, and for being my state senator.

Rappaport Fellows Meet with U.S. Attorney for District of MA, Rachael Rollins

This week, the Rappaport Fellows for Law and Public Policy from the Rappaport Center and Rappaport Institute congregated at the Moakley United States Courthouse to meet with the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Rachael Rollins. 

Rollins has been a pioneer throughout her legal career.  Prior to her current appointment, she worked at the National Labor Relations Board, a private sector firm, and then entered the public sector as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the same office which she now helms. Following her time in the federal public sector, Rollins began her state public service when she was appointed to serve as General Counsel to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and shortly thereafter, as Chief Legal Counsel to the Massachusetts Port Authority, where she was the first woman and woman of color in that position. 

Rollins then made an explosive entry into politics, winning 80% of the vote in becoming the first woman of color to serve as District Attorney of Suffolk County. During our sit-down with U.S. Attorney Rollins, we discussed the Rollins Memo of 2019, a policy revolution which leveraged the vast powers of the District Attorney’s office to reimagine the use of prosecutorial resources: fifteen of the most common victimless crimes (e.g. driving with a suspended license) became presumptively non-prosecuted in the interest of justice, with the complementary benefit of freeing prosecutors and police to target dangerous, victim-producing crimes.  In 2021, President Joe Biden nominated then-DA Rollins to become the first woman of color to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, a nomination which proved successful despite a lengthy and contentious confirmation process. U.S. Attorney Rollins’ unique trail, one blazed through multiple offices in both state and federal governments, provided a fascinating perspective for the Rappaport Fellows to explore and discuss. Rollins deployed a critical analysis in the inherent strengths and drawbacks in comparing the two offices she’s held. As District Attorney, she was one of eleven statewide, but within Suffolk County operated independently of the legislative and executive branches, ultimately accountable solely to the voters. As a result, as DA, she had the authoritative freedom to unilaterally enact initiatives falling within the broad scope of her powers. Conversely, that authority largely evaporated at the county line. Of particular note, she discussed how this arrangement best functioned amidst a cooperative air shared between both the DA’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s.

In crossing the street to lead the DA’s federal counterpart, U.S. Attorney Rollins shared how she strives to maintain that air of collegiality and mutual respect with the varying state offices. Additionally, she outlined how her role as U.S. Attorney in many ways presents as an inverse of her time as District Attorney. She now exercises authority as the chief federal enforcement officer throughout the entirety of Massachusetts, regularly pursuing cases that might cross state and international lines. There is also a civil division within her office, a division which has no analogue at any DA’s office, through which she has aimed to take a proactive stance toward civil rights. At the other end of the scale, however, her office is subordinate to the federal Attorney General, lacking the direct-to-the-voters accountability of her prior job.

Lastly, U.S. Attorney Rollins shared insights on cultural shifts she has experienced and instigated throughout these government offices. She opined that meaningful change is much easier to spur from within, while acknowledging the difficulties and stresses inherent in such an approach. Boston has a long, complicated, and frequently inadequate relationship with the diversity of its population. U.S. Attorney Rollins’ willingness to expressly call-out those perceived inadequacies permitted us to contemplate them from a policy standpoint more clearly, having been elevated from the fog of all-too-regular sophistry. 

All said, it was a tremendous experience for the Fellows, one that speaks to the deep roots the Rappaport Foundation, Rappaport Center, and Rappaport Institute have sown throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. U.S. Attorney Rollins, over a course of many years, has been a generous and gracious participant in Rappaport Center programming, including serving on and moderating panels, mentoring Fellows, and interviewing prospective Fellows. She provided a sharp perspective on law and policy in state and federal government.

Massachusetts Bar Foundation

2022 Legal Intern Fellowship Program

Stipends of $6,000 for Law Students’ Summer Internships

The Massachusetts Bar Foundation is pleased to announce the availability of applications for its 2022 Legal Intern Fellowship Program. Established in 1996, the Legal Intern Fellowship Program seeks to encourage careers in public interest law, while contributing valuable legal support to organizations serving the under-represented in Massachusetts.

Law students selected to be MBF Legal Intern Fellows will receive a stipend of $6,000 to volunteer for ten (10) weeks during the summer months at a nonprofit organization that provides civil legal services to low-income clients in Massachusetts. Fellowship recipients may combine this award with funding from other sources to finance the internship. All current law students are eligible to apply. The internship must be conducted at a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts that has been in operation for at least one year and has programs dedicated to providing civil legal services to the indigent in Massachusetts. In addition, the organization must have a staff attorney who will supervise and mentor the intern. Applications for the Legal Intern Fellowship Program are on March 11, 2022.

Detailed information about the program, including application forms, is available online at https://www.massbarfoundation.org/lifp. If you have any questions regarding the Legal Intern Fellowship Program, please contact MBF Executive Director Susannah Thomas at 617-338-0534 or foundation@massbar.org

Two Job Openings — Office of Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune

The office of Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune has two job openings, one for a Director of Constituent Services and the other is for a Director of Policy. 

Salary range is $50K to $60K for both depending on experience. Hires must be Boston residents

Director of Constituent Services: https://bit.ly/3fRnTqP

Director of Policy: https://bit.ly/3IAk2L0

Elder Justice Innovation Grant

Three Elder Justice Innovation Grant positions have been posted on the Trial Court website both internally and externally.  Links are provided below.

All three positions will remain open for applications until January 16, 2022 at 11:55 p.m.

Project Manager

Internal: bit.ly/3EXWkpY

External: bit.ly/332dg17

Oversight Officer

Internal: bit.ly/3JAaVLX

External: bit.ly/3JG75kp

Grant Coordinator

Internal: bit.ly/34aPWim

External: bit.ly/3EREEfF

Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) – Staff Attorney

STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION (Education Law)

School to Prison Pipeline Intervention Project: Elder, Health and Disability Unit

Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity/Accessible Employer and strives to ensure that our staff members reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.  

Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) seeks a staff attorney with 2-6 years’ experience to work in the School to Prison Pipeline Intervention Project housed in the Elder, Health and Disability Unit.   The staff attorney’s responsibilities will include representing low-income students, with a particular focus on students with disabilities, students of color, and homeless students, in school discipline and related special education cases, as well as engaging in policy advocacy and systemic litigation. Generally, the staff attorney will manage an active caseload of 25 full representation cases plus additional advice and brief service matters. Additionally, the staff attorney will partner with student and caregiver organizers; conduct outreach efforts with mental health and social service providers, etc.; collaborate with child-focused coalitions to advocate for state-wide policy changes; and advocate for the interests of low-income students of color and students with disabilities across state agencies and school districts.  The attorney will be sited at the GBLS’s Boston office. However, at present due to COVID-19, most work will be handled remotely with limited work done in the office. This requires the ability to be able to effectively work remotely.  

Qualifications: Candidate must be admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. This position is for an attorney with 2-6 years’ experience in school discipline, special education, or related education law and a demonstrated commitment to racial justice and antipoverty legal work. We are seeking an attorney who has experience effectively collaborating with community organizers and community groups and who will zealously represent young people with disabilities who have a wide range of experiences, abilities, preferred languages, and backgrounds.  Salary is based on a union scale, which begins at $63,000 for an attorney with two years of experience. GBLS offers a generous benefits package, retirement contribution, a student loan repayment assistance plan for eligible attorneys, and generous PTO leave.   Candidates should submit letter of interest, resume, and brief writing sample to the Personnel Team via email at jobs@gbls.org. Please refer to Job Code: EHD-SPP-ATT when applying for this position. 

Deadline is December 10, 2021, or until position is filled.   GBLS values diversity and encourages applicants from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences.