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Formed to promote the interests of urban areas, BU’s Initiative on Cities is welcoming an especially experienced hand in such matters. Michael Capuano (Hon.’09), a former Massachusetts Democratic congressman and former mayor, began his post as a senior urban leadership fellow March 4, 2019. The appointment runs through December 2019.
“BU has been an attraction my whole life,” says the 67-year-old Capuano of his decision to come to the Charles River Campus. The Dartmouth and Boston College Law School grad took some classes in taxation at BU’s School of Law when he was younger. (“Life made it impossible to finish,” he says.)
Capuano says that having worked closely with BU leaders, faculty, and students when he represented the Massachusetts Eighth Congressional District, which includes BU, he saw up close how the University “encourages professionalism, thoughtfulness, diversity in mind and body, and…incredible vision for itself, its neighborhood, and the world.”
“I am very excited that Michael is going to join us,” BU President Robert A. Brown says. “His knowledge of cities and the working of city and federal government will bring a great perspective to the work of our Initiative on Cities.”
Capuano gave the University’s 2009 Commencement address, wowing the crowd after some graduates had publicly wished for a higher-profile speaker. His call to shun a comfortable life of indifference to world problems earned a standing ovation.
He also tweaked objectors to his selection as speaker, saying, “If this is the biggest disappointment of your life, you are the luckiest people in the world.”
As an IoC fellow, Capuano will lead the speaking series Urban Transformation, advise the leaders of IoC’s annual Menino Survey of Mayors on federal undertakings that affect cities, and be a guest lecturer in to-be-determined classes.
Capuano “shares our zeal for making cities better,” says Katharine Lusk, IoC executive director. “We’re particularly excited to have him advise our new MetroBridge program,” which enlists BU classes to assist New England municipalities with various problems needing solutions.
Capuano lost his bid for an 11th US House term in September 2018’s Democratic primary to Ayanna Pressley, who in November 2018 became the first African American woman ever to represent Massachusetts in Congress. He said after the primary that he hoped to continue working on public policy, a chance the IoC now affords him on issues that he calls a longtime passion. “I have been in the trenches fighting to improve our cities for my entire adult life,” beginning with work as chief lawyer for the Massachusetts legislature’s joint taxation committee. That career, he says, taught him that implementing policy “is much more difficult than policy formation.”
“Having a great idea is just a start; then you have to move it forward, work with others who may have different ideas—some small differences, some huge—learn to compromise, and then learn to adapt as the best-laid plans go awry due to unforeseen aspects.”
As mayor of Somerville, Mass., from 1990 to 1999, Capuano compiled a “can-do” record that included shrinking the class sizes of Somerville’s public schools, according to the New York Times. As congressman for a district that included his hometown, most of Boston, and Cambridge, he secured $5 billion for Massachusetts transportation projects, an increase of more than 10 percent.
A proud progressive, he was by one reckoning the 15th most liberal member of Congress, supporting abortion rights, a public option for Obamacare, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, gun safety regulations, and federal funding for renewable energy.
“I do not think I have all the answers to any question, and I know that the world does and will change,” Capuano says, “but I do think that experience matters and can help others as they pick up the fight. This opportunity at BU provides me the chance to pass along whatever value I can to the next generation of leaders, and I am excited about the possibilities.”
Graham Wilson, IoC director and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of political science, says he is “excited that BU will benefit from Representative Capuano’s long experience and knowledge in addressing urban issues.”