Every day, Alderman at Large Dennis Sullivan sees society’s failure in his day job as a sergeant in the state’s Department of Corrections.
It was his daily interactions with uneducated men in prison that inspired Sullivan to run for School Committee in 1997 at the age of 29.
“Back then I was going to Walpole [prison]… and I’d see the products of a failed school system,” said Sullivan, now 43.
In 2003, in the midst of his third term as the Ward 1 School Committee representative, Sullivan was preparing to “leave politics” when he heard Joe Curtatone was pulling papers to run for mayor. That day he left work early to pull papers for alderman at large, winning one of the four at-large seats in a seven-way race.
Sullivan grew up on Florence Street and moved to Ten Hills in 2009 when he married his wife Melissa Hurley Sullivan, a former candidate for register of probate who ran against John Buonomo, a disgraced former Somerville alderman.
Sullivan, who speaks in a booming voice but doesn’t trade barbs with other aldermen, said his job had taught him to be affable even when people are upset.
“You’ve got to remain calm at all times,” he said.
Sullivan went to work in prisons, at age 19, at the notoriously violent Walpole Prison, since renamed. Sullivan spent 10 years as manager of employee assistance, where he was on call 24 hours a day for officers dealing with emotional problems, but after “several” staff suicides he transferred to work at a program for people about to be released.
Last fall, Sullivan asked city lawyers to draft a domestic violence policy at City Hall, booting offenders from city jobs and giving employees who have been victimized time to go to court. After a year of inaction from City Hall, Sullivan once again called for a policy to be written at the last aldermen meeting.
Sullivan has secured endorsements from the Progressive Democrats of Somerville, the Somerville Police Patrolman’s Association, the Sierra Club, the Greater Boston Labor Council, as well as former Mayor Gene Brune – now the register of deeds – and former state Sen. Jarrett Barrios.
Sullivan, whose father was an MBTA worker who ran for the School Committee and the Board of Aldermen, said his main role as an alderman is someone who gets out and meets people.
“What I want to convey is I’m clearly the most accessible alderman in the city,” said Sullivan, who boasted 100 open office hours with constituents around the city since he was first elected. “It’s being responsive to residents. It’s returning phone calls.”
This summer, Sullivan joined his colleagues in voting to move city employees into the Group Insurance Commission, which was unpopular among many unions because it will raise co-pays and fees for certain hospitals.
“They weren’t happy with that vote but at the end of the day we couldn’t afford to keep going on that path,” said Sullivan, who pushed back against the mayor’s plan to completely privatize the school custodians in 2010.