Danielle Kempe, 34
Danielle Kempe has spent years advocating for people with disabilities in Quincy. She aims to leverage her background in non-profits on the Quincy City Council, to make her local government more accessible to its constituents.
What was the best piece of advice you received before you ran for office?
I was lucky enough to be a part of the EMERGE Massachusetts political training program which included panels with professionals. At one of our final sessions, there was a well-known Massachusetts based Democratic activist and fundraiser, Kate Donahue, who said something that stuck with me. “You should always be doing just one of three things. Sleeping, getting votes, or raising money. All of those things are getting you to that goal of getting you votes or getting you the funds to get those votes.”
When did you realize you wanted to run for office?
I'm one of the typical “thinking about it” people who had to be asked a lot. It was always in the back of my mind, I’ve always been involved as a community activist and, professionally, in nonprofit fundraising which exposes you to all sorts of societal needs, so that desire to be more involved was there but I never acted upon it from a position of seeking office. But two years ago, I really became active in the accessibility community and realized that sometimes, you have to be that voice you’re looking to hear when it’s otherwise silent.
In Quincy, where I live and am running for city council, the lack of accessibility is such that they were sued by the federal government in 2002, yet proceeded to do nothing they agreed to in the settlement. So I would see an issue with a sidewalk, or crosswalk buttons that were out of reach for some or friends who were not provided with hearing assist devices at council meetings or any number of other issues and I’d do everything that you're supposed to do as far as contacting the Commission on Disabilities. I’d get a voicemail black hole with no callback. Or, I would try to speak with my representatives via email or in person, but they wouldn't give me the time of day.
My frustration just became a revelation where I thought, “I could do this and I could be really good at it.” Around that time, I found EMERGE--a political training organization dedicated to preparing women to run for office, applied to their program and completed their 6 month long boot camp. They really made me feel like “I’ve got this. I’ve got a plan now, and I'm going for it!”
I’m a big believer in the importance of seeing what you want to be. In my case, it was a Boston City Councilwoman, Michelle Wu, who I saw speak at a millennial leadership conference while I was pregnant. She's a mom, and she had just finished bouncing a baby on her knees, when she gets up, speaks and what she was saying was so honest and authentic that before I knew it, I had tears in my eyes. She'd overcome trauma, yet she's still that do-gooder, helping type of person. I realized every candidate has challenges in their personal life but that it is up to me to decide whether or not those challenges would hold me back, or inspire me. It was another instance where seeing someone who chose to run in spite of circumstances that could have held her back made me feel like “I can do this!” I always wanted to run, but in my case, worried that having children was going to hold me back. I no longer feel that way and now see my daughter as further reason to run and help affect positive change to improve her future.
You discuss the need for great accessibility for the disability community. How can these issues be tackled on a local level?
I think we begin to tackle issues of accessibility on the local level by first simply looking at the most basic things that are either there or not there. For example, as we took a look around and began a list of things that needed to be addressed, we realized Quincy, this major city next to Boston, did not have an active Commision on Disabilities. We didn’t have one. We clearly needed one. So I worked alongside a current at large councilor to get the Commission on Disabilities reestablished. Now that we've got that going, you build from there.
For me, the next logical step in addressing the inaccessibility in Quincy was to go through the settlements line by line, which I did, and then taking photos of what's still not fixed. Once you have some form of evidence of lack of compliance, such as photos, there are two ways you can complain to Massachusetts to hopefully get resolution. You can go to the ADA, or you can go to the Massachusetts Architectural Board. The Architectural Board tends to be quicker because the offender only has 15 days upon notification of violation to comply. I'm on the board of a group called ACCESS (Advancing Community inClusion & Equality on the South Shore), which is all about accessibility on the South Shore and we're going to be filing a few complaints in the near future.
From there, we can tackle inaccessibility at the local level by being more responsive as a city and by having citizens document compliance issues and pursuing those complaints.
It’s caring enough about your community and your fellow residents and city visitors to take action. One of the things people always think of when you talk about accessibility is wheelchair accessibility. Obviously, extremely important but there are also things that tend to get overlooked such as equipment that can be used to live caption any public meeting for residents in need. My friend Karen is a board member on ACCESS and requested live captioning (CART) in advance of a city council meeting. But after a month of waiting, the city was unable to accommodate this request and canceled at the last minute.
So at the end of the day, my friend was sitting in the city council meeting trying to hear, but not succeeding. She can barely understand it and I'm writing out as much as I can of what the council was saying. We're trying to get them to care because, in Quincy, pretty much every city event is like that and it’s disgraceful. The best part of Quincy is our community and people with disabilities are part of that community too but are not being treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else. For those with accessibility issues, it will always be a local issue and as such, city councilors need to make it a local issue and not pass the buck to other cities or the feds.
Many campaigns only focus on what’s wrong with a community. What do you love about your city?
Quincy has a lot to offer. I moved here nine years ago. We wanted a suburb with a city feel. My husband and I are very much the type of people that hop on the subway and go to all different cultural institutions. We also love walking the beach, and the various playgrounds.
With four train stations in Quincy, public transportation is never far away. We only need one car. We were looking school system for when we eventually had a kid. And all these years later, we finally have our bundle of joy, Elise.
I also love the diversity of my city. I practically live at the Thomas Crane Library because I'm on the Board of Friends of Thomas Crane Public Library and I'm bringing my daughter there all the time. And in the children's room, there are so many different languages spoken, including sign language. Nobody looks the same and I feel it is important to raise kids in a multi-cultural environment.
My little daughter loves to smile and interact with everyone, she doesn't care what they look like, whether they're transitioning, or whatever their identity is. And I love she's growing up that way where it's just another one of mommy's friends - whatever they look like or if they use a mobility aid. It really is a big community in a huge city. We have about 100,000 citizens here. It breaks into little communities and everybody knows their little blocks. And it really is that community feel of the people who are all proud to be there.
What perspective do you think is currently missing on your city council?
“I care about giving a voice to people who traditionally have been voiceless.”
For one thing, a young parent’s perspective. I think being a young parent, you have a tendency to have a long term view of the city as people like me think about the future as it affects or will affect my kids. I will bring that different perspective and a fresh voice to the council that considers not just things such as business development and budgets--both very important, but how those things will affect other issues like quality of life or affordability. I think too often with, for example, taxes, or rather, residential assessments, local officials have a tendency to think, “Well, it’s only a couple of hundred dollars.” But really, especially for younger families and older residents on a fixed income, it matters and it adds up. Quincy is also in the midst of a development boom which in many ways, is a positive. But my parent brain goes right to, “What about the schools? Are classrooms going to become overcrowded with all of the people the added buildings will bring in and are we thinking about that aspect of it?”
It’s also a little bit of a female perspective since the council skews heavily male--not necessarily a bad thing if we're all on the same page. But lately, it seems like we're not. My favorite two councilors on city council right now happen to be women. The questions they ask are the questions I see myself asking, which are slightly more nuanced than the way the males on the council ask questions.
Ultimately, I do believe that the council should be more reflective of the people in the community but it ultimately comes down to representing constituents and letting them know, through words and actions, that their voice matters. The worst thing a person can feel is ignored, and for a long time, that's how I felt when it came to dealing with my city councilor. But I took that feeling, used it as motivation and decided, I can do better and I'm going through with it and running for this seat. I’m all in.
I care about giving a voice to people who traditionally have been voiceless. I'm helping people day to day, especially with my concern about accessibility issues, and I'm listening to what their concerns are. I hope I get in a position of power to make better changes.
I want you to be heard, I want you to feel like you can talk to me, you can call email, whatever. And even if I don't agree with you on what the solution will be, I will get back to you and we will have a conversation, because I know how it feels to be in a voicemail black hole thinking you'll never get a response and that's not me. I'm very genuine. I will talk to you if I disagree with you on what the issue is. We will have that discussion.
What's the best piece of advice you would give to another young Dem considering a run for office?
Definitely do it. There is no such thing as the right time to do it. It is what makes sense to you. Don't keep waiting for the perfect situation. I'm a young mom with a one-year-old daughter. There will be people that say, “Why are you running with a young daughter? Wait till they get older.” There'll be people when my daughter is older who say, “Oh, you should have done it while she was younger. Now's not the right time.” There will never be a right time in other people's opinion. But you need to get out there and do it because nobody can express their voice like you can.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.