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BC grad rises to new heights at City Hall

BC and BC High graduate Michael Flaherty, A&S 91, is the youngest person to ever lead the Boston City Council.
Media Credit: Jeff Brien
BC and BC High graduate Michael Flaherty, A&S 91, is the youngest person to ever lead the Boston City Council.
As the new president of the Boston City Council, it seems like a safe bet to say that 1991 BC graduate Michael Flaherty has a long career ahead of him. At 36, he is the youngest man to ever stand at the head of the City Council.

For many Boston politicians, it was only a few elections ago that the Celtics were the 1986 World Champions. Back then, Michael Flaherty was still studying algebra, learning how to drive a stick shift and following BC football.

"Watching some of the games back in the Flutie days, even if they weren't winning, you felt like your were part of the game," says Flaherty, sitting in his comfortable office overlooking City Hall Plaza.

It was an era of Boston sports legends when Flaherty was growing up in South Boston. Flutie threw up a Hail Mary only a Catholic school could foster. The Red Sox blew their chances at a World Series victory. The Celtics were contenders year in and year out.

Flaherty was studying at BC High when the New England Patriots went to the Super Bowl for the first time. On that Sunday in January 1986, he witnessed the demise of the Pats as the Bears romped over New England, 46-10.

"I watched that game with my dad and my brother. I saw that one first hand," says Flaherty, with a cynical smile any Boston sports enthusiast would recognize.

"It was bad luck for the Patriots," he continues. "We reached the Super Bowl but we faced a powerhouse NFC team."

Flaherty entered Boston College in 1987 as a commuter student. The 36-year-old politician was born and raised in South Boston and because of lack of housing on the BC campus, lived at home until his junior year.

Today, over a decade later, Boston College, like many of its fellow Boston institutes of higher learning, faces a housing shortage, which means that more students are taking housing options that could otherwise be used for low income housing.

"In his State of the City address, the Mayor [Thomas Menino] asked for partnerships with the universities in the city of Boston, the BCs, the BUs, the Northeasterns, the Harvards, as a way to alleviate the housing crisis in the city," says Flaherty.

The housing issue is of particular importance to Flaherty, as he chaired the City Council committee that acts as the liaison between the city, its residents and the universities.

He and his committee worked over the past year to increase the amount of affordable housing for students in the city, but Flaherty emphasizes the need for the schools' involvement.

"We want students who are good neighbors. And the schools are part of our neighborhoods. That is what city council is about. Representing the neighborhoods." Flaherty sees it as his duty as a human to serve his fellow citizens.

In his short tenure as a city councilor at large, Flaherty has witnessed the sale of Boston's oldest sports franchise and the championship of one of its (relatively) newer teams. But as a lifelong resident of Boston, this father of two has dealt with issues much larger than local sports.

Boston has lost room for its lower-income residents due to the "yuppifi-cation" of its citizenry, according to Flaherty. This increase in young urban professionals crept into most parts of the city long before Flaherty ever held office.

"In the 1990s there was gentrification in South Boston, Charlestown, the Back Bay, and this meant that many of the fixed income residents, older citizens, were going to be squeezed out of the city," he says. Flaherty conveys this message in the same way he has said it many times.

"At the time I was graduating college, people weren't returning home to their native communities," Flaherty explains. "They stayed in the city after graduation. The economy was coming out of a recession and there was more opportunity for the students who were finishing college."

This trend caused the city to get younger at the cost of those who could not afford the increases in housing costs within Boston, leaving Flaherty and Boston City Hall with a serious hurdle to jump.

"'Men for others.' That's what they taught us at BC," Flaherty recalls with a serious look on his face. It is a motto he has carried with him.

College might seem like an eternity sometimes but rest assured, the world of professional dress and weighty decisions is not that far off. Flaherty still remembers his days on the Heights as if it were yesterday.

"Lots of guys would just eat all their meals at College Sub, Pino's or Presto's," says Flaherty, who lived in Edmond's and Mod 41A during his two years on campus. He commuted from his South Boston home his first two years.

"Everyone who lived on campus had to have the meal plan and so for a lot of people, you'd take five or six friends and you'd get a place on Sutherland for less money," he says.

Now, the same problems plague Boston and its universities as when Michael Flaherty was rising through them.

He now sees it as his obligation to help resolve this problem. For a man who considers public service his duty to society, Michael Flaherty tries his best each day to live and work with the Jesuit values instilled in him during his four years at BC.

"These are new times, a new country," says Flaherty definitively.

With a young leader at the head of its City Council, it certainly looks like a new day may come for Boston.

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