The phrase “Boston Jewish political dynasty” has been tossed around this summer to describe Josh Zakim. Josh is a municipal bonds lawyer who began his career at Greater Boston Legal Services and is now running to represent District 8 on the Boston City Council. I chatted with Josh about why he’s running, what he learned from his late father, Lenny Zakim, and how he spends the High Holidays. The preliminary municipal election is on Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Tell me why you’re running for Boston City Council.
I am running for City Council because I care deeply about social and economic justice for all residents of Boston. This city is about to undergo an historic leadership transition, and I want to build on the great successes of the past 20 years here. But in order to do that, we need to guarantee that every Bostonian has a fair shot at the access and opportunity they deserve. This means building new public schools in our downtown neighborhoods and improving the quality of those currently in existence. It means creating more affordable housing options so that middle-class families have a place to live and thrive here. And it means continuing to encourage responsible economic growth and job creation. I have dedicated much of my professional and public life to fighting for these progressive values—as an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services in the foreclosure prevention unit, and as a board member at The Lenny Zakim Fund, where we support grassroots organizations dedicated to finding innovative ways to tackle big problems. I see the City Council as yet another platform to advocate for social and economic justice in our Boston neighborhoods.
The seat you’re running for is currently occupied by Mike Ross, who is running for mayor. What would you continue from his time on the council, and what would you do differently?
Mike Ross is a good friend and has been an outstanding city councilor for District 8 over the past 14 years. In particular, Councilor Ross has been an incredible ally to the Downtown Schools for Boston group, which is leading the charge to get more K-8 public schools built in our downtown neighborhoods. From day one, I would pick up where Councilor Ross left off and work closely with Downtown Schools to promote its agenda within City Hall. Councilor Ross has also done an excellent job of looking outside Boston for innovation inspiration by examining what works in other cities to improve our own. This ties in with my work with the Zakim Fund—finding innovative, sometimes outside-the-box solutions—and I would definitely continue to seek out best practices worldwide to incorporate into Boston. Perhaps most important, Councilor Ross has always been a true advocate for the cultural equality and open-mindedness that makes Boston great. This is a torch I will proudly carry forward.
Of course, Councilor Ross and I each have our own style, and I would expect that when on the council, my priorities on certain issues will differ from his. However, I believe that on the big stuff that matters most to residents of District 8, Councilor Ross and I largely see eye to eye.
Your father is a bit of a legend in Boston politics. What have you learned from him that has helped in your own political career?
My dad taught me the importance of social and economic justice—that everyone deserves opportunities regardless of their background or where they grew up, and that we care about people’s problems because we care about people, and we can, and must, all work together to make a positive difference in our communities. These are values that I have embraced and that are the driving force for our campaign, and I do believe these are values that are shared by our fellow Bostonians throughout this district and across the city.
Finally, we are right in the middle of the High Holidays. What’s your family’s holiday tradition?
For Rosh Hashanah, we gather at my parents’ house with friends and family, usually 30 or 40 people, to observe the holiday with prayer and a traditional meal. The next day we attend services at our synagogue. On Erev Yom Kippur, we have a family meal and attend services during the day, and we usually have a large break-fast at the home of family friends. It’s always wonderful given our hectic schedules to return to traditions such as these with friends and family each year.