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Housing, education among Coletta’s priorities

Anna Lamb
Housing, education among Coletta’s priorities
Gabriela Coletta speaks with constituents. COURTESY PHOTO

Earlier this month, Gabriela “Gigi” Coletta, a former staffer to City Councilor Lydia Edwards, was declared the winner of the race for the District 1 seat Edwards vacated when she took office as state senator. Declaring victory over Tania Del Rio, executive director of the YWCA Cambridge and former director of the Office of Women’s Advancement, Coletta vowed to push for ambitious change in City Hall.

Her district represents Charlestown, East Boston and the North End. The 29-year-old is an East Boston native and most recently worked as the external relations manager for the New England Aquarium. Previously, she served as Edwards’ chief of staff.

Ahead of her official start as a city councilor, the Banner caught up with Coletta over the phone to talk about what she hopes to accomplish. The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What are your some of your goals going into this new role as a city councilor?

I spoke to thousands of residents across the district about the issues that matter most to them and what they want their next city councilor to prioritize, so these goals are directly from the community. Four topics came to the forefront of every conversation when I was door-knocking, when I was making phone calls.

The first is expanding affordable housing opportunities in our community to combat displacement.

The second is ensuring high quality education for all the kids across my district.

The third is promoting a green future for everyone — because my district is a coastal district, protecting our built environment as well as our people from pollution from the airport and from transit. Everybody wants to make sure that their homes aren’t flooded, right? So climate resiliency and waterfront fortification, that was a common thread for every single conversation.

And the fourth is being an accessible and responsive city government. I think your city councilor should be walking the streets, looking at city assets, looking at what we can improve upon as a municipality. And this goes for everything from trash to crosswalks to streetlights, to the medium things, which is ensuring that our intersections are pedestrian friendly, and then larger things: How can we improve the public realm overall, just improve the quality of life for residents and make sure that our city is always better, faster, stronger at the end of the day? That’s what I love about city government. And I really look forward to that work.

Could you talk a little more about the unique needs of your district, and what separates it or makes it special compared to the rest of the city?

I’m very lucky, where my district is three individual neighborhoods. They each bring their own unique attributes and also their own problems. So in East Boston, in particular, what I’m seeing now is just this lack of affordability in our neighborhood and the displacement that’s happening because of a whole host of factors, but predominantly gentrification and a rise in the real estate market. For East Boston, I’m really going to use every tool in our toolbox through zoning or policy measures to up the supply of affordable housing, making sure that these affordable units are actually affordable and reflect the neighborhood.

I’m a fourth-generation East Bostonian, but I still feel like I can’t afford my neighborhood. And homeownership seems really far away. And so using everything that we can, including the successful city voucher program, to house folks and make sure that people who live here can stay here but also thrive.

In the North End, there’s quality-of-life issues everywhere. I’ve heard a mixture of everything from ensuring excellent education for our kids to outdoor dining. The administration is working with residents to get it right this time around. But I’m already looking at the city budget to ensure that there’s enough enforcement and that this program is working to the betterment of the neighborhood. I feel like we are getting there, and I’m pleased to see the task force to be meeting shortly. So I’m excited for that.

And then for Charlestown, it’s definitely ensuring a high-quality education for our kids and making sure that parents have options of pathways starting at [age] zero.

You positioned yourself during the race as a progressive politician. How do you think that your politics will fit into the council as a whole?

I’m really excited. There are some real powerhouses that have joined us. With this budget cycle, there’s going to be opportunity for councilors to fight for their districts, and I don’t see that as progressive or conservative — just, what does my district need at this time when we’re still emerging from COVID? What does an equitable recovery look like for East Boston, Charlestown and the North End?

Is there anything else you’re particularly excited about?

It’s the impact that you can have as a city councilor. It’s that constant reach back into the community, asking folks to come with me, and asking what we can do together, and creating opportunities for brown kids that want to get involved in government … working on behalf of my district. That’s what I’m excited about.

Is there anything you’re apprehensive or worried about?

The weight of the responsibility and to get this right really came to me, because I understand the impact. Bringing every voice and perspective into City Hall is very important to me, so I want to make sure that I’m very intentional and I do that right. I’m not just bringing my voice, I’m bringing every voice from District 1.