Revolutionary Bills




Yunwei Sun: You've written and passed many bills for the Boston community. Could you explain why or how you wrote them?

Tom M. Keane Jr.: Well, I, when I first got involved in politics, I did so because I was living in Boston, and I was not really happy with how the city was doing, so I ran, and I was sort of part of a wave of people who wanted to make Boston, and, um, Boston city--Boston city's government, I suppose, um, uh, more accommodating to the people who lived here, and to actually make it so that it was comfortable for the people who were living here. So a lot of the legislation that I wrote was designed to encourage people to stay here, to attract people to move into the city. And that's really what drove me in terms of a lot of the legislation I did.

Yunwei Sun: But, when you said you weren't happy with what was going on in Boston, what was going on at that time?

Tom M. Keane Jr.: At the time, the city government seemed very focused more on ideological battles, um, uh, say like, you know, rent control or not having rent control, rather than really issues about, uh, how do we make our schools better, uh, how do we make our streets safer, how do we do simple things like pick up the trash.

YS: Alright. So, in your articles, you often have many political motives. Could you explain why your views appeal to you?

TMK: Um, well, I, my politics, I suppose, um, varies, I guess, uh...some people might say that in some issues, like economic issues, I'm more a centrist; uh, when it comes to sort of social issues, you know, the rights of people, I tend to be much more of a liberal, and I'm also the kind of person who really believes that, to the extent possible, we should allow individuals to make their own choices about things.

YS: Have you had--have you ever had any childhood or past experiences that have changed the way you are today?

TMK: I think, probably. I think that when people get interested in politics - I always saw politics as a way to change the world. And I think that, everybody, in some fashion, wants to have an impact on the world. As I was growing up, my parents were very much encouraged me and were very much interested in what was going on in the political world; uh, when I was very young, John Kennedy was elected President of the United States, the first Irish-American to ever have been elected, and that was a big deal in my family, which was an Irish-American family. And so, from early on, we always had this fascination with politics. Then, when I was in - later in grade school and also in high school, I started getting involved in political campaigns; that peaked my interests further. And I also, even in high school, was involved in a lot of different activities that had some kind of political caste to them.

YS: So, what was it that, in your past, made you what you are today?

TMK: Well, I, you know, there's no one thing that you can point to and say "this is what made me what I am today". Upbringing was one: I lived in a large family, so I suppose that kind of brings about interests in fairness and equality; I lived in a family that kind of very much looked at politics as a noble calling, and that's one of the reasons why I got interested in politics.

YS: Well, are you happy with who you are today? Or, like when you were young, what did you want to be? And are you satisfied with what you have today?

TMK: Well, I - the short answer is "yes"; the longer answer is that, um, I wanted to be a fireman, and so I've completely failed on that one. But in many other respects...I do a variety of things, I'm involved in business, I'm involved in politics, I'm involved in writing, and I enjoy all of those things.

YS: What would you advise future city councilors, columnists, or company owners to watch out for?

TMK: Well, it depends on what you're doing. I suppose the major thing I would advise to do is to behave in an ethical fashion no matter what you do. They got - they need to pursue that which they enjoy the most and which they think they can be most affective at.

YS: What is - what do you consider the most important achievement of your political career?

TMK: Well, you know, as I mentioned to you earlier, I came in with a group of people that were - a group of city councilors that were very focused on making city government work for the people who lived her. And so, in the most broad fashion, I think being part of that and reorienting the city's government so that it actually tried to just take care of business, you know, actually just deliver services to people was probably one of the most important things. But there were two pieces of legislation I was involved in that I think were also very important. One was a piece of legislation to try to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, and that ultimately got through and was passed - Boston was one of the first cities to do that, now it seems that most major cities have done that, as well as a lot of states. The second is a piece of legislation, the domestic partnership legislation, which I wrote, and which I started almost from the very day that I got there. Eventually, that got passed through the city; um, that was focused just on gay and lesbian employees of the city, and allowing them to actually form domestic partnerships. It was very early on - eventually, of course, marriage was legalized in Massachusetts for same sex couples, it became irrelevant to have domestic partnership legislation - but it was one of the first kind of civil rights things in a very concrete form that happened in Boston, and it also got a lot of attention nationally.

YS: What is the most important achievement of your social career?

TMK: Well, if you mean my personal life, it was getting married to Laurie Farrell, and then having two children, Lauren and Bryn.

YS: What is the most important achievement of your academic career?

TMK: Getting into Harvard and then going to law school.

YS: And, personally, what is your greatest achievement of your life?

TMK: Having two children.

YS: What do you hope to do in the future?

TMK: I'm a partner in a private equity fund that's based in New York, and I write for the Boston Globe , I do a column every Sunday - er, or every other Sunday - I'm soon going to be starting, in addition, a column for the Op Ed pages of the Boston Globe , which starts at the end of April, and that column's going to be a humorous review on the week's news.

YS: So, in all your columns that you talk about writing, what do you write about?

TMK: Well, I write about a variety of things: politics, the arts, literature, political commentary, the way we live - just a wide variety of topics.

YS: What would you want to change about our society?

TMK: Um...well I supposed there's a lot of things.

YS: So, you don't think it's perfect the way it is?

TMK: No. I mean, obviously it isn't, and you know, I think that what our society is is a society that's constantly in the middle of the process of trying to perfect itself, but I don't think we're ever gonna achieve that.

YS: Do you have any examples of things we're trying to do but still failing to do?

TMK: Well, politically speaking, I think that it's, you know, just take a look at the times right now. I think that we're clearly failing many, many people in terms of education, um, I think you see the results of that in terms of rising crime rates, for example.

YS: And how do you think those problems are being addressed so far?

TMK: Often times, not very well at all.

YS: How do you feel about our society, and how do you think you contribute in a positive way?

TMK: Well, I contribute in a positive way by--by focusing on places where we can improve and making suggestions on how we can do so. I mean, I think we have, in general, a very good society, I think we have a society that's grounded in freedom, a society that's grounded in individual opportunity; I think the major failing of our society is that not everybody is in that.

YS: And are you trying to get people to participate in that?

TMK: Yes, and by doing so I mean that people are - we still have too much poverty, we still have cases where people don't have the education that allows them to participate fully.

YS: What did you want to be when you grow up? Are you disappointed now?

TMK: No, I'm not disappointed. I tend to believe that people should not do one thing when they grow up. You know, my advice to people, particularly the young people who are in school, don't think that you have to be something; you know, "I must grow up to become a doctor", or "I must grow up to become a teacher". You don't know what you're going to do, so what you actually should do is use education as a means to expand your mind and expand your horizons so that as the world changes, you can take advantage of them, and I think that allows you a lot more personal happiness.

YS: So, have you done all you wanted to do?

TMK: Oh, by no means; no.

YS: And what are your future plans?

TMK: Well, you know, I continue to enjoy politics, and at some point I might get back to running for office. I enjoy writing, and I would love to be able to do more of that, and have a broader reach in terms of an audience.

YS: What do you want this generation to know? And what would you advise them?

TMK: My big advice to this generation in terms of education is that there is an enormous amount of pressure that we now put on kids, especially kids in high school, that they have to - all they have to focus on is academics, and they need to know what they're going to become when they grow up. And what I really think is the most important thing is they need to be willing to broaden themselves as much as possible, and to the degree in which we only focus on grades, rather than on learning, means that we've forgotten that it's really learning that's the most important thing.

YS: In your music, your writing, your bills, and your business, what is the message you want others to hear?

TMK: There's no specific message, but what I think that I'm trying to do on a lot of these things is just have people understand that we live in a society, in a world, where we each have some level of responsibility that, whether it is through writing or politics or whatever, we are able to assist others and make the world better through your actions.

YS: And are you making the world better through your actions, do you think?

TMK: I would hope so, but I suppose I have to leave that for other's judgment.

YS: Do you believe in equality?

TMK: I believe in equality of opportunity. I don't believe in pure equality in the sense that you say, "Well, everyone's exactly the same in sets of--of skills, of talents, of abilities." What I do believe is we need to remember that everyone has the opportunity - has an equal opportunity to accomplish what they want to accomplish.

YS: Have your views affected your life?

TMK: I would think so, yes. I mean, I think everyone's views end up affecting their life.

YS: And where exactly did you get your views from?

TMK: Well, you know, some of it, I assume, is from growing up, some of it is stuff I learned in school, some of it is stuff I made up.

YS: And do you think that they have affected other people?

TMK: To a degree, yes. But I wouldn't - I wouldn't overstate my impact on anything if, if I, you know, I - right now, for example, I've been writing a lot of stuff, and sometimes it has an affect, sometimes it changes the way people think about the issue, sometimes it doesn't.


E. Bryn Keane-Farrell: What are the events in your life that led you to becoming city councilman?

Tom M. Keane Jr.: These days we do allow women to become councilors [chuckles]. I had always been interested in politics; in high school I worked on my first campaigns, which was for a man named Joe Moakley, who ran for the US House of Representatives, and won. Um, later, I was living in the Back Bay of Boston and I was unhappy with what was happening to Boston. I saw people moving out, and the city becoming a more dangerous place in which to live. And the politicians who were in office didn't seem to be doing anything about it. So I decided to run to change that.

E. Bryn Keane-Farrell: What prompted you to write those bills? Did anyone inspire you?

Tom M. Keane Jr.: For me, many of them had to do with issues I cared about, but sometimes it was sometimes people who were affected by those issues who approached me and asked for help. And that's part of the job of being a politician, meaning that you need to listen to what affects people and do something to help.

EBKF: Did anything in your childhood greatly impact the decisions you make in your life today?

TMK: Yes. [laughs] But, to add to that, I've always believed in the importance of justice and it was something my parents cared about very much. They believe that society should be fair to everyone, and that everyone should have an equal chance.

EBKF: What kind of articles do you write? Where do you get your inspiration?

TMK: I write opinion columns and I have no idea where my inspiration comes from. I'll be reading the paper or I'll see something on TV, and as you probably know, I've got an opinion about everything, and when I think it's worthwhile saying - which is all the time - I'll put pen to paper - or keys to keyboard - and write something.

EBKF: Do you have any ideas on how you would like us to create your site?

TMK: Be kind.

EBKF: Are you a democrat or republican? Why?

TMK: I'm a democrat. I think I'm a democrat because the democratic party has tried to stand for an equal opportunity for everybody, for fairness, um, uh, and for insuring the civil rights of all people.

EBKF: Which bill do you think was most important to pass?

TMK: Oh, there are probably two: the domestic partnership legislation, because that affected the civil rights of a significant number of Bostonians; and my work on cigarette smoking, which affected everyone's health. And I think the reason those two are important is because they had an effect beyond themselves, they, in turn, caused other things to happen.

EBKF: Why didn't you stay being the city council?

TMK: When I ran in 1993, a number of people asked me how long I planned to stay if I won, and I answered, "6 years would be enough". 6 years later, I could've run again, and easily won - I probably would have won without an opponent - but it seemed to me that 6 years probably was enough, and I should keep that original promise.

EBKF: Who did you replace? Who replaced you?

TMK: I ran against a city councilor named David Scondras. I won by 27 votes out of over 6,000 that were cast. There was a recount...and I still won. When I left, the person who was my successor was Michael Ross.