(Photo by Mary Ellen Gambon)
Sometimes constituents wish for easy ways to get in touch with their legislators -- to run into them for a few minutes, to point out a nagging concern that needs to be addressed.
District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley has taken that concept and turned it on its head, inviting West Roxbury neighbors to join him for a weekend run, or brisk walk. Saturday morning marked the first of O’Malley's “Office Hours on the Run, ” a unique attempt to combine his love of running with his desire to reach out to residents.
He got exercise -- and complaints.
“There’s a problem at the sidewalk in front of 115 Bellevue Street,” said Keith Davison, an area resident who also runs with O'Malley in the Parkway Running Club. “Ten years ago it was a crack, a few years ago it was a buckle, and now it’s just huge."
Davison also complained about rust on the lights at Billings Field, a popular playground.
“That’s a concern,” O’Malley said. “I think we take care of our parks very well.”
“I think it’s just the squeaky-wheel principle,” countered Davison, prodding the councilor.
“That’s why we’re here,” O’Malley replied. “You are doing the right thing by coming here now."
Other complaints included a request for more recycling bins on Centre Street and more attention to litter clean-up.
The neighborhood run came about when O’Malley, an avid runner, mentioned the idea to Parkway Running Club president Jim Sweeney. O’Malley, a Roslindale native who has run in six marathons, was elected in a special election in 2010 and was reelected in 2011.
“Since my election, I have been holding district office hours in coffee shops and restaurants in Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury,” O’Malley explained. “I thought it was time to get
outside and work off some of those pastries and bagels while talking about residents’ concerns.
"It’s a great opportunity to get some exercise, while taking a closer look at what’s going on around the communities of District 6." The district includes West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain and parts of Roslindale and Mission Hill.
About 20 people, including some running club members, gathered for Saturday's 8 a.m. run, which was almost cancelled when thunder and lightning crackled outside the West Roxbury YMCA, forcing the group to wait inside and talk over the sound of rainfall pummeling the air conditioner. At about 8:40, the rain subsided, and the run was on.
O’Malley led the pack as the group set out. What was going to start off as a brisk walk became a trot, and pretty quickly, the runners vanished from sight. Their route was to be determined by constituent complaints. Every mile or so, O'Malley stopped to regroup and ask fellow runners if they had any comments or concerns.
“One thing about us is that we have a relaxed pace here,” said Sweeney. “There’s normal time, and there’s PRC time."
The Parkway Running Club, based in West Roxbury, focuses on the social aspects of running as well as the sport itself.
O'Malley said he hoped the on-the-move approach would not only put him in touch with diverse constituents, but also promote exercise.
Sweeney said, “We welcome runners of all abilities and ages to come to Matt’s Office Hours and then run with the Club and discover the community spirit, fun and health benefits of running with the Parkway Running Club.”
O'Malley's sister, Christine, joined in the event, saying she supported her brother in trying new ways to "promote community."
"It’s a friendly jog and chat, which the two of us always enjoy," she said. "Traditionally, people do coffeehouse meetings, but Matt said, ‘Let’s get on the move.’”
O’Malley and some other members of the club were warming up for the Boston Police Emerald Society’s “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day Boston Kilt Run,” which was held the next morning. The 5K event, which began in Roslindale Square, was sponsored by the Boston Police Department to raise money for “Cops for Kids with Cancer,” a non-profit agency that benefits children coping with cancer.
O’Malley said he plans to have “Office Hours on the Run” at least two more times before the weather gets cold. He also will hold more traditional office hours at Starbucks at 1810 Centre Street in West Roxbury on Friday, September 21. For more information, constituents may call (617) 635-4220.
This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration with The Boston Globe.