Get out and talk to people

Despite the seemingly unlimited access to breaking news updates and non-stop photos people post of their daily lives on social media, the best way to get a true sense of what is going on in our community and what issues matter to the folks who live here is to get out and talk to people.

It's this desire to stay in touch with the residents of our city that keeps me walking as much as possible and taking the MBTA all the time. From Pizzeria Regina's in the North End to the Food Court at the South Shore Plaza, I like to think that I know what average people are thinking -- because I ask them.

Just the other morning, while we were walking over to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, my 10-year-old grandson Braeden and I stopped in at Monsignor John Powers Elderly Housing Development on L Street to say hello to all of the residents.

When we arrived, the residents were being treated to hot dogs and snacks by volunteers from the Rev. Charles Dunn's Hub Protestant Church in the beautifully well-kept Powers Apartments outdoor yard area. Thanks to groundskeeper Bill Shaughnessy, the yard looks like the Rose Garden at the White House.

Over the years, I've cherished my many conversations with housing residents like Terry Farrell of South Boston, Doris Bunte and Mildred Hailey of Roxbury and Mary McGinnis of Charlestown at various senior living developments in Boston because, like my friend and former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp often said: "The tenants are always well-informed and balanced in their understanding of the issues. Concerns about families and public safety are often on the top of their lists of political priorities." Powers Housing tenant activist Chris Gregorio was telling us about the upcoming Aug. 6 birthday party for U.S. Navy World War II Veteran Ed Hamilton which the tenants and the Fitzgerald VFW Post are sponsoring to honor the Pearl Harbor survivor. Gregorio and Post Commander Ed Flynn are hosting the special event and everyone is invited.

Heading down Washington Street in the South End after the Spanish-language Mass at the Cathedral, I was stopped by a longtime progressive activist I recognized who asked me if I was going to attend a benefit fundraiser for my longtime friend Larry Kessler, who founded the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.

Then, on our way home, I received a call from state Rep. Nick Collins, who was visiting Italy with his lovely wife and wanted to take a tour of the Sistine Chapel and The Scavi. The conversation quickly turned to the recently passed state budget, and the additional money for drug addiction programs which it included, thanks to Speaker Bob De Leo. When he told me he didn't think residents realize how hard legislators fought to fund various life-saving services, I responded: "I agree, but it's up to people like me to let them know how hard you all work."

Despite what cynics say about politicians, I'll always tell you the truth about what I hear and think. I know as much about the people of our city as I did when I was mayor. When my daughter Nancy and I were on the movie set for the filming of "Cheers" in Hollywood, we saw many pictures of Boston and constantly heard the lyrics to the theme song, "where everybody knows your name."

Walking the streets of the city and talking to many people doesn't make me smarter than anybody else -- but I think it makes me someone who knows what's going on. And it seems like everybody does know your name.

- Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.