Not Your Average Pol: An Interview With Mark Flanagan

Robert Sondak

Mark Flanagan is an outgoing and sociable young man who brings a fresh face to local Cambridge politics. Mr. Flanagan has embodied several career roles in his life that make him an attractive candidate for Cambridge City Council. He previously served in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in the fields of engineering and physics. Flanagan is also a graduate of University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a Bachelor in accounting. Mark wears other hats as well. He manages the building and grounds for the First Church Cambridge at 11 Garden Street, is a residential adviser for North Charles, Inc. addiction treatment services. Flanagan is a Stephen Minister, a nondenominational ministry that provides care to people hurting from various life events or traumas. He is currently completing a Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Finally, Mark produces and hosts a television program on Cambridge Community Television called “What’s Really Going On.” A man of a rich, diverse, and honorable life experiences, Mark Flanagan confounds the stereotypical image of a man who has overcome homeless and imprisonment.

I meet Mark on a warm August day over lunch hour while selling Spare Change News on the Massachusetts Avenue steps of the Central Square Post Office. Mark introduced himself and handed me a fact sheet highlighting his background and the platform on which he is running for Cambridge City Council. I found Mark’s style to be a mixture of professional, straightforward political manners and constituent-oriented affability.

Two weeks after our initial encounter, Mr. Flanagan and I met at HiFi Pizza for an interview. Our conversation ensues.

Robert:
Would you elaborate on your experiences with homelessness and imprisonment?

Mark:
My fight with homelessness lasted from September 2005 through April 2007. My homelessness covered a year and half. I was homeless in Cambridge the complete year and half. Cambridge is a tough city to be homeless in.

My jail time was self-inflicted. It was a poor choice that culminated in my arrest. I was in jail for 63 days. As a result of the experience I learned about the cost of bad choices.

Upon release, I joined the Carey program based out of the Multi Service Center of Cambridge. The Carey Program is a nine-month transitional male housing program affiliated with the Cambridge Multi Service Center. This program helped me to focus and find my career path of working with people.

Robert:
How were you able to overcome your adverse situation?

Mark:
My involvement in spirituality and later on in Divinity School helped me to overcome my bitterness and opened me up to new ideas. I started to focus on wanting to help people. I awakened.

I awakened to the idea of wanting to help people and this has led to career work with people in several different programs.

I became involved with God by joining the Stephen Ministries, a nondenominational ministry that assists people hurting from life experiences or trauma. I give help to people receiving blessings. My work [gives me] purpose.

[Having] God in my life is huge. I like to help others in drug and alcoholic recovery. I am a resident adviser for North Charles, Inc., working in drug and alcoholic recovery. NCI is one of the largest drug and alcoholic recovery agencies in the Boston metro area.

Robert:
What are the four main focuses of your campaign platform?

Mark:
Homelessness
More sober shelters for homeless people, especially men, in Cambridge that are considered safe other than the 240 Albany Street, Caspar emergency services center homeless shelter.

Making Cambridge more green
Find more source of renewal energy;
Change light bulbs in city buildings;
Use more of the new energy bulbs;
Collaborate with MIT and Harvard on developing local initiatives. There are opportunities to collaborate with companies like NSTAR for more green and cost effective approaches for using energy resources.

Education System
The system is great however we can make it better and make help available to those who did not make it to college. [We can also implement] mentorship programs for school age children [like those] that are offered at the Pentecostal Tabernacle Church in Cambridge. This church has after school programs for children. I would like to see these programs go public. Expand after school programs citywide.

Safe City Neighborhoods
We have a broken window concept in Central Square. Trash is Central square is overflowing, especially at night. We also have Boston kids selling drugs. Also Central Square has lost several stores due to the poor condition of the square, like the Gap, Foot Locker and Sprint. Also more needs to be done to maintain and upkeep the area on a 24/7 basis.

Robert:
What would you like to do to help the homeless?

Mark:
We have programs for housing like Home-Start that are in place. We also have the Cambridge Multi Service Center and its programs for the homeless including shelter and housing. But we could do more. For example, we have two apartment buildings one block behind the YWCA. They are vacant, boarded up and abandoned. These buildings are examples of property that could be used. Lets do something.

The Cambridge Common is a tent city for the homeless. It is an eye sore for people visiting the city. The homeless need to find housing that is safe, other than the Caspar transitional shelter on 240 Albany Street. This is a shelter for drug [addicted] and alcoholic people and is not safe. I lived there for 2 months. My suggestion is for more public housing.

Finally we need to lift programs that service people from the bottom up. This will help the homeless and low income people and strengthen the city overall. This will help strengthen all groups and reduce overlapping services and expenses. Most importantly this will strengthen the city bottom-line.

Robert:
Would you comment of the previous article written about you in Spare Change News?

Mark:
The previous article was written in 2006. That is over three years ago.
That article was written by Jacques Fleury. Jacques and I both lived at the YMCA at that time. We talked about issues and topics that we both cared about.

Robert:
Is there anything else that you would like readers to hear?

Mark:
I wanted to conclude that fair housing is a critical issue and cannot be ignored as the economy changes and as it affects the homeless and near homeless.

I do not know if the university tax issue is an issue that the city council can address. MIT pays roughly $30 million in taxes and Harvard University pays only $4 million. This is not equal. But I would like to make people aware of it and other issues affecting the city and its people.

***

My one hour interview with Mark Flanagan at HiFi Pizza was very educational in that it addressed a wide range of local issues facing the City of Cambridge in the 21st century global environment. This interview introduced me to a young man who has overcome homelessness and prison and created a very positive vision for himself towards the future, which includes running for city council.

Mark has demonstrated that he has the expertise and experience to balance books, achieved through his education at UMASS Amherst in accounting. Mark has also demonstrated that he is knowledgeable about homelessness and the need for housing, in part through his experience being homeless and his career work as a residential Counselor for North Charles, Inc. On his Cambridge Community TV program (“What’s Really Going On”), Mark highlights the issues and conducts interviews on a wide range of issues affecting the people of Cambridge.

Voting in the November 3, municipal election has the potential to bring new people with a fresh outlook to local Cambridge city government. Strengthening the local political base should be the objective of all Cambridge residents as the election nears. Whether or not you prefer Mark Flanagan as a candidate, if you are a Cambridge resident be sure to vote in your local election next month.
The power to vote is one of the greatest strengths of democracy.

For more information on Mark Flanagan and other candidates running in the November 3 election access: http://vote.rwinters.com/.

Robert Sondak is a Spare Change vendor and writer. Robert has a B. A. from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). Robert also has a minor in Community Planning.

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Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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