Christopher M. Markey
The Light asked incumbent state Rep. Christopher M. Markey and challenger Cameron S. Costa 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 re-elected?
As far as things that I think need to be addressed in New Bedford itself is housing and taxes … I’d say the growth of Dartmouth needs to be smart and thoughtful and not reactive … We need to find what I consider to be home ownership and affordable home ownership. I think home ownership is the way which we can also relieve New Bedford of some of their housing. And that just isn’t in Dartmouth. It’s Westport, it’s Somerset, Seekonk, Rehoboth, Swansea — some of these suburban towns need to figure out ways to make sure that people can afford to buy a house, not rent a house … I think we’ve worked on that in the last six years to try to find ways to do that up in the State House.
Taxes in New Bedford are pretty high, relatively speaking, and making sure that the tax base expands with private sector investments … The Whaling City Golf Course — that’s going to expand the tax base. That’s going to help. So anytime we have an opportunity for private sector investments into New Bedford, where they’re paying taxes, it’s going to relieve a lot of the homeowners of that …
People call it affordable housing, and I want it to be affordable home ownership. I think we need to get more people out of rental properties and into home ownership … what I’ve been trying to promote … is down payment assistance. And I think that is really how you can create some wealth in people and create a middle class …
I didn’t file anything specific because we did significant home ownership programs with ARPA money. That is one thing. I was on calls with county commissioners because they got a large chunk of change. And I was really trying to convince them that they need to put money towards home ownership …
A lot of suburban towns and rural towns don’t want what has been in the past described as affordable housing because they think it’s stacked housing in which it’s all rentals. I’m looking at it as being that we have small ranches that can abide by other rules, like an overlay of the zoning, but that’s not in our control at the legislative level. We can give incentives to the people. And we have done that to the towns. We’ve gotten rid of the super majority for zoning changes. We’ve got it to a majority.
If re-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?
The one that has actually caught the eye of people recently, and it doesn’t seem like it’s a big deal to some people, but the MIAA, which is the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, has always had issues. There’s the lovers and the haters of it. And if you’re in the good old boy network, you love it. If you’re left out, you’re not so caring. There were a lot of financial concerns, a lot of financial issues with that. I have been filing legislation since I got up there about more transparency with their money and where it goes to and where it’s coming from. But the post audit, which I was a part of, we did a report that’s out there. They give some recommendations for legislation next time, consistent with what I’ve been saying all along. And I think I’m going to file something more consistent with the report … that’s one thing that I think can give accountability and transparency to local schools … So I think we’re going to get there. That’s just one thing that is, I think, really important. It’s a lot of money from a lot of towns that go there …
It’s a quasi-public, but it’s really a private nonprofit, so they don’t really file much. And we’re going to make them … report to us yearly. One, on site locations, like why they have certain tournaments at certain locations. Money, what’s taken in the door.
What do you feel has been your greatest professional accomplishment within this last year?
Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home. I don’t know if it’s my greatest accomplishment or whatever, but I’m the most proud of it. I was on the investigatory committee to figure out what caused the problems. And while on the committee, I sat through hours and hours of testimony and we came to a conclusion of several things that needed to get done … there needed to be a chain of command. They needed to be professionalized in every capacity, and it shouldn’t be a local control over everything … The House came out with a bill back in March or February, in which we didn’t address those three things. And it was really disappointing … The Senate, on the other hand, came out with exactly what we wanted.
So when we voted on it, it was 157-1, and I was the one “no” vote, because I didn’t think it did the right thing. Knowing also, the players on the Senate side and knowing who was involved in it, they overwhelmingly supported what we had come out with from the investigatory committee. And then when it went to conference committee, the House ceded to the Senate with a minor change, but essentially it got those things completed … So being the only “no” vote is sometimes difficult, but I know it was the right thing, so I stuck by it. I didn’t just fold. In fact, I filed three amendments to try to get those three things done. And I lost every single one of them, but I knew they were the right ones to do and I persisted. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. But ultimately I won. So I’m very happy with that.
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?
One is making sure we have an educated workforce. That’s the number one thing we can do to keep things local. And what we’ve done for BCC and having what they call NOWI — the National Offshore Wind Institute — down on the waterfront … that’s a huge investment that we’re making to keep people local. We can’t just say, “oh yeah, any Tom, Dick or Harry, because they live in New Bedford, should get a job there. They gotta work for it. They gotta get it. They gotta invest in themselves … UMass Dartmouth, Mass Maritime are gonna have technical support-type educations available for people. Vocational schools are going to have that. So making sure our educational institutions are focused on making sure we have a workforce that can supply the demand of employment in these industries is huge. And that’s what we’ve started on …
I’m not a big fan of saying you have to be a New Bedford resident or you have to be a Fairhaven resident. I think as long as Greater New Bedford is going well, and I think it is going very well, the neighboring towns do better … I look at it as I care about the New Bedford waterfront, even though it’s Tony Cabral’s district, because many of the guys who own the boats, many of the guys who own the fish houses or the chandleries, they are the people who live in Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Acushnet, Westport …
I think if you talk to the fishermen, everything’s changed too, and because the climate’s changed and where they’re fishing and how they’re fishing and what they’re fishing for. And that is something that we have to keep in mind throughout this process of expanding our energy for offshore wind. We can’t ignore it. We can’t just say, oh, well the benefits for offshore wind outweigh everything … but we need to find ways to have them work together. Do I have the answers for that? No, I don’t think anyone has the absolute answers for it. But, we don’t know what the effects of the vibrations will do. We don’t know what the effects of having the number of turbines out there will do. And we also don’t know the effects of climate and how we seem to be going more and more north to go fishing. And the types of fish we get may be different. And so that all plays a role in it, but it’s something that I think as a delegation, we’ve all talked about it, keeping an eye on it.
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 the number one thing is to get first-time home buyers. I mean, housing is probably the easiest thing to understand on supply and demand … So when you look at housing in New Bedford, the supply is limited. And the supply for home ownership is limited. What we need to do is find home ownership outside of New Bedford. And the only way to do it is to try these first-time home buyer programs where we can do down payment assistance. If you look at statistics and you speak with people, the biggest hindrance to people becoming homeowners is a down payment …
But if we need to get people out of New Bedford into Fairhaven and Mattapoisset, Acushnet, Dartmouth, Westport, Freetown, we need to be able to expand, we need to get the supply up in those places where they can afford a smaller house, own it, gain some equity and move up … I would say if we could primarily focus on home ownership, that would be it. Because once we could get people out of rental properties and into home ownership, that opens up rental properties for lower incomes…
[The state Legislature has] given millions of dollars, I think it was like $250 million for home ownership programs, and they call it workforce home ownership or first-time home buyer … The feds do it, and places in gateway cities like New Bedford and Fall River and Brockton …
More funding, but also giving the towns incentives to be able to do that … I believe in Rehoboth, you need 60,000 square feet for an acceptable lot. So that’s three acres. You need 200 feet of frontage. Who can afford that? And if you can divide that up and you can say, OK, well, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna find an area right off the highway. We’re going to overlay it and say this is gonna be our first-time home buyer area. You build small ranches and you say, we’re gonna give you up to 15% for a down payment. You keep it for 10 years, we’ll forgive it. You sell it within 10 years, we want our money back. They gain equity while they’re doing that. They’re not paying some landlord over and over and over again and getting nothing from it … And that’s the way to do it. If we don’t do it, we’re gonna even have an even bigger crisis …
[Zoning] is exclusively the municipality, but what we can do is set policy and we’ve tried to do that. We got rid of the super majority for voting to change their zoning laws. We did all these little things in the hopes that people will start to begin to change … I don’t think there’s a lot of towns that were willing to do it, so we gotta find more creative ways to do it … We gotta get people out of the rentals and into home ownership and build up that equity.
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?
I don’t think they should be open to the public. I think that people abuse the process and not everyone needs to know that they’ve been attempted to be charged with a crime. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be. There are occasions where they should be and that’s up for a clerk magistrate in the courts to decide if they should be or not. And I think there’s evidence to show that hearings have been public when there is a public interest … But for the most part, many of these things can be neighborhood disputes, and people use it for leverage in civil cases or people use it in different ways. And it’s not fair to have your name exposed to something where you’re never charged.
What’s the last book you read?
“The Man to See” [by Evan Thomas] … It’s about Edward Bennett Williams, who was kind of a power broker lawyer in Washington, D.C., who became a part-owner of the Orioles.
What’s your favorite meal to cook for friends or family?
I’m trying to think of what I’m good at. I’d just say a burger on the grill. That’s probably the only thing I’m allowed to cook. I’m not bad, but that would be it.
What person gives you the most inspiration and why?
I don’t think there’s a single, one person. I think there’s a group of people. I think my parents; I think my brother; I think my kids; I think my law partner; my wife. All of them … I think they all have qualities that you love and you want to make proud … you’re inspired by their efforts and their struggles and their perseverance of things … Day in and day out, it’s the people I encounter that inspire me to try to do the right thing. They’re the ones you don’t want to let down … I had my successes in my life because of the people around me. So I would say that they’ve actually inspired me.
What’s your favorite place on the South Coast and why?
The coolest place is right on the Westport-Dartmouth line. We call it Rocky Beach … That beach along Allens Pond, which I think they call it Little Beach. Absolutely the best place to watch a storm.
How do you relax in your off time?
I don’t have a lot of off time. I just like hanging out. The thing I love to do is watch my kids play sports. That’s like my favorite thing to do. I only got one left now. But I just like hanging out with friends and feeling comfortable with people, small groups of people, and hanging out with my family.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at email@example.com.