Candidate at a glance
Cameron S. Costa
Teaching assistant; graduate student
Massachusetts Teachers Association, Run for Something, Coalition for Social Justice, MA AFL-CIO, Reproductive Equity Now, New Bedford Democratic Committee Chair Richard Drolet
Cameron S. Costa
The Light asked candidates Cameron S. Costa and incumbent state Rep. Christopher M. Markey the same questions. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What do you think are the most pressing issues New Bedford and Dartmouth are facing or will be facing in the coming year, and how will you work to address those if elected?
There needs to be more funding to address the infrastructure issues in our school buildings and a lot of the transportation. Of course the state has moved within this last legislative session to increase infrastructure updates and investments in that through bond bills and stuff. But also expanding those resources, making sure that we’re doing as much as possible to keep offshore wind jobs local, keeping them union…
When we talk about the water issues in the Town of Dartmouth, making sure that there’s funding to alleviate some of the stresses of that. They’re having to invest a good chunk of their budget on buying water from the City of New Bedford because of their wells being down or bacteria problems. So really supporting those issues to get funding for that. When we talk about the issues at Bliss Corner — trying to leverage more funds to really support the cleanup over there in those families, in those homes, to figure out more and more of the scope of just how, far, I guess you could say, these lines are that the problems are …
When we’re talking about the South Coast Rail, we need to do more to invest in affordable housing opportunities. Because I’ve spoken with so many people, people that don’t even live in the state of Massachusetts that live in the state of Rhode Island, some even in the state of Connecticut, that have been approached by investors to buy homes. So that way, once that train comes here, they can jack up rent. So there needs to be some protections in place for renters and for investments more in affordable housing opportunities. And I know that the city is doing that right now with some of the ARPA funding that they’ve received. But we’re also going to need to look at expanding those opportunities for other people as well. And I know a big thing coming up is the relief for people and deciding whether or how they’re going to give that money back to people from … the heightened increase of collections and tax revenues. So figuring out the best way and the best pathway forward in getting that relief into people’s hands.
If elected, what is one piece of legislation you would plan to file for this next session. Why would that legislation be important and what do you want to accomplish with that?
I think one of the number one pieces that I would really work to try and pass is the Cherish Act … Since 2001 in Massachusetts government … elected officials have continuously disinvested in public higher education, which has resulted essentially in the increase of cost for students and people attending colleges and universities and public institutions. There’s a number of different factors as well that go into that, but that’s one of the main reasons. So the Cherish Act would essentially bring funding levels back to the percentage it was in 2001. Why that’s important? Well, for example, our community has the impacts of three colleges. You have UMass Dartmouth, there may not be a specific BCC campus in the district, but it is in New Bedford, right? And we have the impacts of BCC, and as well in the district we have Bridgewater State University because of their aviation program … We’re talking about investments in three colleges that have their impacts on the South Coast, Southeastern Massachusetts. So that’s number one.
Number two, you’re also looking at trying to address the issue and trying to make sure that adjunct faculty who are becoming more and more popular to save college money, don’t have access to health care in that position. And that’s a lot of them, that’s their full-time job. So making sure that they have access to health care can be addressed by funding our public institutions. It also works to freeze the tuition and fee rates for five years, to keep them at the level that they’re at. So that way we can readjust the way that we’re really creating our costs for students. But what’s also important is that many of the people that go to our public institutions are people that come from our community. And so when you’re increasing costs, when you’re increasing the tuition and fees … when you’re increasing that on people that are from the community, that is essentially what is their spending money to invest more in our small businesses, in our different opportunities of investment here … So I would really look to try and pass that legislation as it makes crucial investments in public higher ed, which we know is going to make an investment in people that come from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
What do you feel has been your greatest professional accomplishment within this last year?
Being appointed to the [Board of Higher Education]. It’s a rare opportunity … serving as a 20-year-old. I don’t think many 19- to 20-year-olds can say that they’ve been appointed by a governor to serve on a statewide board to make decisions for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We’re talking about public higher ed. We’re given every single right, privilege, legal authority as any other board member on that board. There were many times that I would bash heads with the chair of that board. And knowing that I was unapologetically unafraid to make floor motions when many other members wouldn’t dare, is something that I can be proud of. And is something that I don’t think many people can, regardless of age, rather, can say that they’ve had the opportunity to do. So I’m privileged in that sense and grateful.
What will you do to ensure local jobs that are created for offshore wind stay local? And how will you ensure the area’s long-standing fishing industry is not negatively impacted by offshore wind?
So I think one of the first things would be working with the infrastructure that’s already in place or the systems that are already in place to outreach our fishing industry stakeholders, and understanding more what it is that they would like to see moving forward with this industry and how we can kind of mesh the two together …
In regards to keeping the jobs local, I think it comes all about outreaching and marketing, leveraging state dollars or early investments in making sure that we’re reaching every single person in the community. Allowing our colleges, for example, BCC and UMass Dartmouth who have a great partnership now when it comes to the offshore wind, in BCC having [NOWI]. Making sure that they have the access and opportunity to really work and pitch this idea of offshore wind jobs to our high school students … Investing more in some Chapter 74 funding to make investments in our Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech. Making investments in Chapter 74 funding for New Bedford High School to create opportunities for them to learn about offshore wind jobs and the training aspect of that job field in a sense … Making sure that every single piece of outreach, marketing is available in as many different languages as possible. That’s an easy thing, to make sure that we’re doing that, and making sure that we’re creating spaces for every possible opportunity, spaces for these companies to come and say, “Hey, we have jobs open, come work for us. Come train with us”…
We keep talking about how the South Coast Rail is going to connect people from the South Coast to go into Boston to get better-paying jobs. What I would essentially kind of hate to see is that it goes the other way around. That people from Boston are coming to the South Coast for offshore wind jobs opportunities … of course, I’m not saying let’s not give them jobs or anything like that. Because the impacts as a state rep. affect the state, usually as a whole. But I would really love to see that emphasis on trying to keep these jobs local … and I think the unions are going to do a great job in that as they’ve already assured that many of the jobs are going to be union … AFL, the Greater Southeastern Labor Council and community activists and organizers are working hard to make sure that people understand that these are opportunities.
As a state representative, what will you do to address the housing crisis and help residents on the South Coast afford rental housing and/or become first-time home buyers?
I think we really need to work with our town select board and municipalities, and to really change zoning laws and zoning structures to create the ability to build more homes. When we look at the Town of Dartmouth, I think it’s 75.5% of the town is zoned as a single residence, family B. And that means that anytime they’re going to build a house, there needs to be, I believe it’s 1.8 acres of land. And even if it’s a single family residence A, it’s still 0.9 acres of land is required. I believe those are the numbers. And so we need to really try and work to support our town to make that change, to allow for that kind of zoning change for people. So that way we can start talking about creating units. I know the Dartmouth Master Plan does an amazing job, I think, of outlining some of their highlights into supporting the creation of housing that talks about changing the zoning for Route 6 into mixed usage, where they’re allowed to take empty lots and build rental units in that site …
Especially in the Town of Dartmouth, in order to address the housing crisis, not only do you have to change the zoning laws, you also need to now make investments in supporting town water lines to really expand them, as much of the town is dependent on private pumps … You need to talk about any kind of sewage infrastructure updates that need to be had … When you’re talking about affordable housing, they need to be in areas that are accessible to public transportation or public transit, which the Town of Dartmouth does not really have. So there would need to be major investments in the town into services that are gonna be provided in the sense of town water, in the sense of town sewage, in the sense of transportation that are going to support the creation of housing … And then you also need to address making sure that we’re up to date. I think the state came out saying that based off of the need of how many people are in the state of Massachusetts and the availability of units, I think they’re like 10,000 units behind of where they need to be across the state. And so one of the best ways is creating hard objectives or goals of where we want to be with how many units we’re able to provide …
In regards to home ownership, I think there needs to be more. I don’t think there’s a big difference between where me and Markey stand on home ownership in regards to the investments that need to be made to support our middle class and buying homes. So that means working off of the current systems we have in place through Mass Housing when we’re talking about down payment assistance … If you live in a gateway city, you get up to I think $50,000. If you live in a non-gateway city, community, like the Town of Dartmouth, for example, I think you get up to like $10,000 or $15,000 … with usually the requirement that you live in that home for seven or 10 years. And so looking for more of those programs that we can help people get into their own homes while also having those stipulations in place … So I would like to see that expanded to our middle-income families to really support the creation of home ownership in the South Coast.
Massachusetts is the only state in the county that conducts show cause hearings behind closed doors. These hearings take place when a person has not been arrested, but law enforcement is seeking charges. Bills have died in the state Legislature to change this and make these hearings presumptively open so the public and press can access these proceedings to ensure transparency and accountability. Do you support this legislation and believe show cause hearings should be open to the public?
So I think there needs to be more transparency and accountability across all forms of government. I’ll be completely honest and say that I don’t know too much about the issue that you’re talking about. I have seen pieces that the New Bedford Light has put out regarding the show [cause] hearings. So I would hate to make a comment and it’d be inaccurate.
What’s the last book you read?
Does a piece of legislation count? The last book I read. I think it was either “1984” or “Animal Farm” [by George Orwell]. … “Animal Farm” is like my favorite book.
What’s your favorite meal to cook for friends or family?
Well, I’m Puerto Rican, so I can’t say that I have a specific favorite meal, but I definitely like to cook Spanish food.
What person gives you the most inspiration and why?
Call me cliche, but I think one of the people that I get my greatest inspiration from is my mother. Myself and my sister were raised by a single mom. And that was one of the main reasons why we moved up here, so that she could get more support services from her family. And so knowing that, knowing the struggles of being homeless throughout my childhood, living in a car or couch surfing in that sense, not knowing when the next meal was going to come from. I always share this story, but my mother, I remember going through drive-thrus at McDonald’s once a day and we would, all three of us, split a Happy Meal and she would take like two or three french fries and me and my sister would split the rest. So knowing where, I guess you could say our story started, and having the privilege to subsidized housing, having the privilege to different kinds of support systems that our government has for people and seeing that my mother was able to go back for her master’s degree and buy her own home, has been one of the greatest drivers for my life, in regards to who I look up to and knowing that I can recognize the struggles. But also, and she says this all the time, recognizing the privileges that we’ve been afforded as to what has made us who we are today. And so that humbleness is something that really allows me to fight for people and really want to do the work.
What’s your favorite place on the South Coast and why?
This is a hard one, because I grew up in the city of New Bedford… But I would say that my favorite place is the water and sailing on the water. I was a Community Boating Center kid, so that’s how I learned how to sail. That’s how I learned how to tie knots and … all that stuff … like they always say, politicians are always on the golf course, right? To me, the golf course is the sail … and sailing.
How do you relax in your off time?
I was a theater kid growing up … that is like my escape from reality. And that’s turned into just watching shows or watching movies and being captivated in that experience of pretending like I’m there with the characters … I kind of like the shows that are almost political, like political dramas.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at firstname.lastname@example.org.