A CAMPAIGN WITHOUT A PURPOSE

 

 

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This week Congressman Joe Kennedy III announced that would seek the US Senate seat now held by Ed Markey. Pardon me if I do not see what, purpose this contest serves.

Those who applaud it might cite as an example Ayanna Pressleys’ successful challenge of Congressman Mike Capuano. I see no similarity. Pressley’s campaign messaged radical change. The Kennedy campaign merely changes the names on the desk, office door, and pay check.

Pressley’s record since winning is the complete opposite of Capuano’s, in keeping with what she offered the voters. Capuano was a workhorse who diligently took care of details and brought targeted Federal dollars to Massachusetts for specific, infrastructure purposes. Pressley has been a human protest sign. Capuano was all working class; you could almost see him in a hard hat (and sometime she wore one, at a ground breaking of some transportation project his Washington clout helped to fund). Pressley is all upscale, business, advertising, and bill boarding — she’s as comfortable with sales slogans as she is with the high fashion clothing that is worn to business functions and awards dinners. Capuano is all street corner; like Fiorello LaGuardia before him — or Tom Menino — he’s a physical presence when speaking and a “get things done” spark plug.

No such contrast exists between Kennedy and Markey. Both are establishment Congress people. Both men work on legislation. Both are exciting speakers. They agree on almost every issue. The only difference is age. Markey is 73, Kennedy is 38. Some voters claim that being 73 is a disqualification; me, I think it a bonus. Experience brings knowledge and wisdom as well as the respect of peers.

There is, of course, another difference. Markey’s Dad was a mailman. Kennedy is a son of Massachusetts’s most famous political family. (One might also cite the Bush family, but its feet are planted in Connecticut as much as in Massachusetts.) Some observers, particularly on the radical left, accuse Kennedy of “entitlement.” (Unspoken in that indictment is the suggestion that he is especially entitled for being male in the “me too” age of ubiquitous accusation.)

Perhaps he is thus entitled. I’ll grant him the honor of his ancestry. The Kennedys have given so much to America, by so many of the family’s members. Joe as well. If his call to public service arises out of honor for his forbears, I see nothing in it but good.

What then will this campaign be about ? Campaigns with no obvious purpose tend to the purely personal. I think it will be vicious, unfair, a hurricane of sentiments vicarious and irresponsibly unleashed. I may have to vote in it; but I’m glad not to be an active part of it. My political time is worth more than expending on such a groundless street fight.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

ROSLINDALE’s LESSONS FOR CITY PLANNING

 

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^ from Metropolitan Hill, all of Roslindale lies at hand and downtown looks so far away…

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Boston is a very lucky city. In addition to its downtown, it contains many of its own suburbs. Roslindale is one such. I know it well. I lived in Roslindale for 12 years and am still importantly connected to it — a linkage intensified this year as I canvass much of it on behalf of a City Council candidate. What I see in Roslindale this year has taught me a lot about smart city shaping. I say “shaping” rather than “planning” because Roslindale’s benefits to Boston weren’t anticipated by any generation of city creators. They exist nonetheless.

What are Roslindale’s lessons for the City ? Let’s try these :

( 1 ) it’s a family neighborhood, not merely a kind of dormitory for young singles. This means that Roslindale has stability. Those who live in it plan to stay, if possible, and every street has many residents who’ve lived in Roslindale their whole lives. Stability begets community, and community makes everyone in it feel safer and more at peace.

( 2 ) whence we are confronted by the singular importance of getting the school system right. People move out of Roslindale every week, almost always because they insist on the best school system for their kids, and they lack confidence that Boston’s school system offers that. Downtown’s neighborhoods of mostly young singles — regions of skyscrapers, night clubs, and trendy bistros that define “the city” for most — don’t depend upon successful public schools; but family neighborhoods do. Roslindale’s housing ranges from picket-fence single homes and huge Victorians to spacious “two-fam’s” to equally spacious three-deckers. Every bit of it is family housing, and Roslindale’s two playing fields, Healy and Fallon, bustle with kids’ activities. It’s suburban soccer mom living.

( 3 ) everyone who I meet at the door wants the same thing, regardless of their origins, skin color, native language, sexual orientation : good schools, well maintained streets, snow to be plowed, stop lights working, the trash picked up on time. Many who I meet say, when I ask them what are their concerns for a candidate to know about, that they can’t think of any; that they are satisfied. Given the quiet that I find almost everywhere in Roslindale, and the stability, I’m not surprised at all to hear this. Nor do the responses differ according to any of the identity issues raised by some politicians. Everybody wants the same thing.

( 4 ) over-development, as we see going on in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Downtown, isn’t immediate. There is some, in Roslindale Square, which on its own has characteristics of a City’s Downtown , and here and there one finds McMansions under construction on residential streets where their size jars the character; but for the most part Roslindale today looks not very unlike how it looked in 1983 hen I moved to it from Jamaica Plain.

( 5 ) what IS different is what we used to call “the melting pot.” 40 years ago Roslindale was almost uniformly Irish and Italian and Catholic. Today its’ Greek, it’s Albanian, it’s Haitian and Hispanic; it’s doctors, lawyers and chemists, it’s mental health workers and bankers and City employees and educators as well as advocacy people, of varied faiths and differing lifestyles. Customs differ, and tastes; but so it is in today’s suburbia, which is no longer the utterly milk-white, commuter universal that we grew up picturing.

( 6 ) Roslindale is a homeowner community, as is true of most suburbs, and its house prices track the median price of Boston suburban housing. Home ownership is itself a stabilizing fact, as is having sufficient income to buy and to afford. Between work, the kids, walking the dog, and neighborhood activities, people are far too busy — and too positively motivated — to bring public trouble.

Roslindale is proof that housing built for stability — for family — on streets wide enough for cars to park, and hilly enough to impose variety on the scenery has more power to shape people’s behavior than any other day by day factor. You move into Roslindale, and you soon become what Roslindale is, regardless of where you moved from. Safety also plays its part, a comfort arising from the stability that Roslindale houses impose on those who live in them. It’s not all roses, because nowhere that human beings are present is roses. But the devilries that make downtown Boston a nerve-wracking place to live or work — enormous traffic, noise, odors, parking costs, no parking at all, tall buildings blocking light, air, and views — have no claim on life in Roslindale, a suburb in a city that includes many suburbs within its expansive borders.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON CITY COUNCIL AT-LARGE : OUR ENDORSEMENTS

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^^ our endorsees : Annissa Essaibi George; Micahel Flaherty; Michelle Wu

This year we at Here and Sphere decided to adopt another method of arriving at endorsement. Instead of just us, the founders of this blog, choosing, we asked a very diverse, City-wide group of political types, 29 in all, to give us their recommendations. Six of the 29 decided not to disclose their choices, but 23 others did so, and another person chimed in, and so we do have a result.

Our threshold for endorsement was nine votes. Only three candidates made that cut. We endorse them : Annissa Essaibi George, who had 18 votes; Michael Flaherty, who had 15; and Michelle Wu, who received the support of nine. Allo are incumbents.

Because there was no fourth endorsement, and because three candidates – all challengers– received seven votes each, we decided to “recommend” all three. They are : W E David Halbert; Alejandra St. Guillen; and Erin Murphy.

Several other candidates received votes. Martin Keogh had the support of 6; Althea Garrison, an incumbent, won 4 votes; Jeff Ross had two votes, and William King had one. I have stated that I was surprised by the result. I fully expected Julia Mejia to receive some support. What happened ? Julia is a very likeable candidate. She ought to have been in the mix, but the results are what they are.

About our endorsees

It was no surprise that the three elected incumbents received the most votes from our panel. They’re the best known. They have a record. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Michelle Wu, who is the Council’s President, just barely made the cut. I also think that Annissa Essaibi George’s 18 votes — fully three-quarters of our voting respondents — may surprise many. She hasn’t received anywhere near the amount of publicity that Wu has: but perhaps that’s to her benefit. Wu certainly gained no friends with her suggestion that residents should pay a  $ 25 fee for a resident parking sticker, and her suggestion that the T should be free, while popular with some. could not have been welcomed by taxpayers. Meanwhile Annissa Essaibi George has quietly done her job, with flexibility and discretion : her focus on improving Boston’s schools performance, on many levels, surely helped her support, because Boston’s school shortcomings are by far the issue on most voters’ minds. She also sends staffers to community meetings all across the city,a s does the Mayor. It has been duly noticed, and clearly it is appreciated. As for Wu, we endorse her for re-election, despite the criticisms made above, because it’s good to have a Councillor who is willing, in good faith, to make suggestions which, being controversial, evoke discussion

Some will be surprised that Michael Flaherty won the support of 15 of our 24 respondents. They shouldn’t be. Flaherty knows the City budget as well as any Councillor in recent memory, and during a term in which several Councillors – not only Wu — proposed stuff that either doesn’t match what the voters want, or which won’t work, or which can’t be done without legislative approval that will never happen, Flaherty steered clear. He epitomizes long-term Boston and exemplifies the wisdom and caution that serve the City far better than impulse purchasing; and his support for Governor baker, in 2014 and in 2018, has certainly been noticed by the 49 percent of Boston voters who chose Baker — also a man of caution and thoughtfulness — for a second term.

About our Recommended candidates

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^ David Halbert, Erin Murphy, Alejandra St. Guillen

Rather than being disappointed at not receiving endorsement, I think that David Halbert, Alejandra St. Guillen, and Erin Murphy should be pleased at coming very close. All three received much more support than incumbent Althea Garrison — who, to be fair, was not elected to the Council seat that she occupies because of Ayanna Pressley’s election to Congress; Garrison was the fifth place finisher in the 2017 election; almost certain ly one of these candidates will win the Council’s fourth at-Large seat. I know Halbert and St. Guillen well and like them. They’re earnest, experienced in government, and are campaigning city-wide and effectively. I am skeptical of the “progressive” agendas that they seek to represent — and in some cases I oppose it strongly; but the “progressive” wish list has sufficient support in the city to merit representation on a Council in which diversity of opinion is a must. Erin Murphy, I know less well; but her campaign emphasizes support for unions, a view which I consider crucial to the City’s economic health. We aren’t going to alleviate the housing ‘affordability:” riddle if we can’t get much higher wages for average workers. Every other method I have heard either doesn’t work, or can’t, or actually makes the problem worse. Erin Murphy definitely deserves your consideration.

A few words about the other candidates who received votes

Martin Keogh, 6 votes : Keogh has chosen this year to campaign as the voice of the traditional Bostonian, many of whom object to the Council’s “progressive” proposals, and of everyone else who objects. There’s plenty of room for such a campaign this year. Much of what the City has put in place imposes unnecessary hardships on car owners, for example, and the law enforcement disconnect between the Boston Police and the Courts, on the one hand, and the newly elected Suffolk District attorney, on the other, also creates the need for serious discussion of where do we go from here in matters of public safety. There’s probably no issue in which the City’s “progressives” differ more radically from the views of average Boston voters. I would prefer to see the opposition candidate be a person of color, because the “progressives” have made policing and prosecution a skin color issue, and Keogh is white and, heaven forbid, an Irish-American — a heritage which some “progressives” consider particularly heinous. But Keogh is the public safety candidate we’ve got. Can he garner enough support to win ? Maybe, but it won;t, be easy for him to move past all three of Halbert, Murphy, and St. Guillen.

Althea Garrison, 4 votes : she’s an incumbent, even if not by election, and she has received notice and some support, on many fronts. Some of it arises from her very conservative views on many issues. Some comes from her personal life story as a transgender.. Some comes from her refusal to raise big bucks, some from her advocacy of rent control, and some from her unflinching candor. It is highly unlikely she can win. There just isn’t enough support out there for her unusual politics. Yet she is far from being a quirk. She’ll get her vote.

It’s hard to know what to make of Jeff Ross. I know him well. He was an at-large Council candidate in 2013. His views are progressive enough, and he has plenty of campaign money and has manged to canvass much of the city. Yet the organized “progressives’ don’t seem to have embraced him. Is that because he is a white male in an era in which  the politics of skin color and gender seem gateway matters to so many on the left ? Or is it that Ross is a gentle soul, with a more or less academic, ruffled look far from the Instagram glamour that seems as much a part of the Left’s politics as skin color and gender ? The Instagram Generation is fond of calling its idols “queen” and “king.” no one will ever call the modest, soft-spoken Ross a “king.” I am, of course, here speculating. I could well be wrong about why Ross is in the position he is in. Frankly, he deserves better than he seems to be getting.

William King, 1 vote : the one respondent who recommended King said this about him :  The other guy I recommended, William King, has ideas for improving community-based policing, and education.  I have never met William King, though I see many of his lawn signs in some parts of the City. I’m not sure what community-based policing means, but it’s never a bad thing for the city’s police department to involve the community in its work.

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So there you have it. You can follow our endorsements and recommendations, or you can differ from them, it’s your right. The one thing that I do urge you, however, is to vote. To me, it’s an obligation. Americans fought and died to assure that you have the right to vote. Honor them by going to your polling placer on September 24th and casting your vote for up to four  at-large City Council candidates.

—- Mike Freedberg / for the edditors, Here and Sphere

 

 

SALEM IS NOT A BIG CITY AND SHOULD NOT CHASE A BIG CITY AGENDA

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^ the new waterfront in Salem : emblematic of mayor Driscoll’s 14 years of city leadership

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Reading the many pronunicamentos published about Salem’s future by Mayor Kim Driscoll, I’m constantly wondering whether I’m reading something posted by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Affordability, bike lanes, theme parks, even Sanctuary City (which I supported and still do support) — the entire message is that which Walsh, as Mayor of a huge city — a metropolis — has to face and should face.

Yet Salem is NOT a metropolis. It’s not a big city at all. Why then does Mayor Driscoll want to address Salem’s future as if it were Boston ?

Perhaps she thinks that by creating an arena in which big city issues dominate, Salem will somehow become a city of 100,000 people, even 200,000, rather than the 40,000 who call this quite small city home. Of perhaps Driscoll simply envies big city Mayors, who can perform on the Big Stage dealing with the Big Urban Issues that Mayors worldwide confer about when they gather to exchange ideas about climate resilience, immigration, traffic, the opioid crisis, homelessness, school bureaucracy, international business and social media Woodstocks.

I can understand Driscoll’s thinking here. Much more satisfying to apply her quite extraordinary intellect and mastery of detail to major world issues that will be written about by historians, than to deal with water rates, real estate taxes, public works clean-ups, trash fees, and restaurant closing hours. Or perhaps Driscoll is a noise adept ? Big cities are noisy places — it’s a big part of their attraction. The ears get played to every hour of day and night: the cliche is correct, that the (big) city never sleeps. Salem, on the other hand, is a quiet place. When my Boston-born wife first moved to Salem with me, the first thing she noticed was how quiet our street was after nine p.m. In Salem you can hear the electricity transformers hum. It’s kind of like seeing the full Milky Way on a night up-country, far from Big City lights. Mayor Driscoll might feel as unsettled as my wife. Quiet can be like that. It can leave you feeling isolated, abandoned, whereas noise connects you to the world. It’s the glue of urban excitement.

Salem faces a next phase. We all know this. The 14 years of drama and development, the Pharaohs’ pyramids phase of Salem’s rebirth are over. Seven pyramids in Giza — apart from the city just as Downtown Salem is apart from the very local residential areas of Salem — were nice for Egypt, just as the huge new hotels and trendy bistros and Halloween tourist traps are nice for Spooky-town Salem; but once you’ve built it, you can’t just rebuild, You have to stop and actually use the fortune teller kiosks, the restaurants serving cheese with every kind of burger-greens-BBQ sauce dish, the Talbots-like clothing shops, the wine shops, the coffee houses, the law offices and investment letter research cubicles. There’s a lot of them, at least by small city standards, which are the standards that measure Salem, whether Mayor Driscoll likes it or not. So what comes next ? Not more of the same, because residential Salem IS NOT downtown Salem and has zero intention of becoming downtown-ish.

Residential Salem, which comprises at least four of the city’s seven wards and probably more, doesn’t need bike lanes. It doesn’t want 30 to 100 unit, pyramid-sized apartment complexes with “affordable” set-offs (if you think Salem is unaffordable, try Boston). Residential Salem isn’t at all happy with the anarchy of strip malls and one-offs that make Highland Avenue look like a forest after a tornado has buzzed it, and they sure don’t want more of it. Residential Salem would like its wages to keep up with prices — a policy goal that Mayor Driscoll can do nothing about. Residential Salem would like to be able to go about its business of commuting to jobs; sending the kids safely to a school worthy of taxpayer funding; parks that aren’t dominated by constructs and paving. Residential Salem would like the quiet of its Salem to continue.

There may well not be any meeting of minds between ( 1 ) the denizens of downtown, newly moved into funkytown and wanting more and more of beer bistros, doubled-fee parking meters, bike hobbyists, hotel festivities, water taxis, and noisy beehives of knowledge and idealism, and ( 2) the long-time Salemites who command Residential Salem and live in an entirely different world of commuting to wage jobs, bringing up the kids, and wanting the environment to be silent. Yet it would be good for Salem’s future if Mayor Driscoll were to recognize that her mission to create funkytown has been accomplished — that Salem must not and  cannot now adopt big city signposts — and that now it is time to address the needs of residents who are fed up with hearing about it and paying for it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

LABOR LAW AND THE BOSTON CALLING CASE

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The Boston Calling case, officially titled United States of America vs. Kenneth Brissette; Timothy Sullivan, probably should never have been brought. There seem ways to have disciplined these men for what they did short of a criminal prosecution.

I will discuss the issues raised later. First I direct you to read the Appeals Court Judge’s finding that Brissette and Sullivan could be properly indicted pursuant to the Hobbs Act, which, says the Court, incorporates the common law definition of extortion : http://media.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/18-1254P-01A.pdf

We all know, thanks to years of public discussion, what Brissette and Sullivan did: they intervened in Crash Line Productions’ September 2, 2014 concert permit application to insist, as a condition of the permit being granted, that it hire workers from Local 11, workers that Crash Line said it did not need. This they had no legal power to require, and thanks to (City Director of Operations) Joe Rull’s directive to them, they knew it. Yet they did it anyway.

Thus the question arises : what should be done by way of disciplining Brissette and Sullivan ? And another question : are City officials barred from advocating for the hiring of Union workers, even to the extent of making union hires a condition of permit issuance ?

The second question is easy. In the Appeals Court opinion one finds this sentence : “The licensing agreement between Crash landing and the City did not obligate Crash landing to hire workers that it needed to put on a festival from any union or otherwise place restraints on Crash Landing’s hiring practices.” This sentence would suggest that the City could have a permit applicant enter into an agreement that would require hiring union workers.

The Court’s opinion also notes that Crash landing had a pre-existing contract, with another firm, to supply it the workers it needed for its event. By their holding up the permit issuance, Brissette and Sullivan disregarded Crash landing’s existing contract obligations. Instead of, from the outset, negotiating an agreement with Crash landing to require that it hire Local 11 workers — an agreement which the Court suggest they would have had authority to do — Brissette and Sullivan simply imposed, on their own hook, whether or not they realized it, their own demands on all concerned. They acted capriciously, carelessly.

Advancing the cause of union workers and union wages is a necessary undertaking and should be a political and economic priority at a time when wages have fallen behind the huge rise of housing prices. I applaud Brissette and Sullivan for their commitment to the union argument. I cannot, however, credit the amateurish way in which they applied their commitment in the Crash Landing case. They deserved to be admonished in no uncertain terms : suspended or maybe even fired by the City administration, including for the embarrassment generated.

Admonition ceased to be an option once the United States attorney brought her criminal indictment of the men under the Hobbs Act. Now the entire history of government regulation of union activity came into play. The NLRB has jurisdiction over what sorts of job action and organizing tactics a union — or its friends — may employ. Criminal sanction is available for actions that result in intimidation and worse. Extortion is pretty much defined by labor conflict intimidations, and when such intimidation is general to a union action, prosecution is a must. Yet it’s not always easy to tell where legal hardball ends and criminal action begins. A large number of NLRB cases turn on how the facts are delineated. In the Brisette and Sullivan case, however, there seems to be very little of  intimidation, just a lot of hurry, or maybe a desire on the part of Crash landing to be Mr. Nice Guy.  Amateurish, Brissette’s permit game surely was; annoying, too. But intimidation ? Hardly. Also this : Crash landing was legally entitled to its permit ; why did it not go to Court, on an emergency basis, seeking an injunction ordering the City to issue it ? Would that nit have put an end to the Brissette and Sullivan business ?

I have a hard time justifying the United States Attorney bringing a “corruption case” where the victimized party did not seek ordinary legal remedies available to it.

Even though Brissette and Sullivan were told that it was illegal to do what they did, I think their mindset was that they were just negotiating; that if push came to shove, they would have no choice but to issue the permit. Did Crash landing say to them, “if you don’t issue us this permit, we’re going to Court” ? It seems not. If so, then I doubt that Brissette and Sullivan felt they were intimidating anybody. That they have had now to entrust their futures to a motion by their lawyers for “:judgment notwithstanding the verdict” — a normal motion but hardly a common one — is a shame. I think those who are protesting the conviction have it right : that officials will now shy away from advocacy for unions without first consulting, and perhaps even having to retain, a lawyer.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

A LOT TO LIKE IN THE CARGO VENTURES PROPOSAL

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^ proposed new roadway along Chelsea Creek, showing its direct link to the Suffolk Downs site

Recently Cargo Ventures, Inc.,(“Cargo”) a warehousing business servicing Logan Airport, proposed a major reconfiguration of a half-mile long stretch of East Boston waterfront abutting Chelsea Creek. Cargo’s plans depend in part upon the State conveying the railroad right of way that it owns, as shown on the map pictured above. No sooner had these plans become public than opposition from some moved the State to withdraw, temporarily, its conveyance, pending “further study.” Clearly what the State means by “further study” is time for the various interests affected to weigh in on either the Yes side or the No.

We stand with the “Yes” side. Here’s why :

( 1 ) the plan will create a shorefront roadway that will offer some traffic relief to McClellan Highway, which is the only highway that commuters from coastal communities North of Boston can reasonable take to and from Boston.

( 2 ) Cargo will build a garage and warehouse that will greatly expand its footprint, creating hundreds of jobs for residents of East Boston and other nearby communities.

( 3 ) the planned  new road will connect directly to the entrance-way to Suffolk Downs, which will be undergoing enormous development during the next 20 years. Suffolk has already committed to mitigating traffic along McClellan Highway. This connector road serves that commitment beautifully.

( 4 ) the connector road will also relieve the traffic pressure on Boardman Street and Orient Heights’ main intersection, Saratoga Street at Bennington.

Much of the land area to be mitigated by cargo is today an eyesore of junkyards, auto repair shops, parking, and under-utilized old industrial buildings. Cities have learned to maximize their waterfronts’ appeal — and tax assessments. The new Chelsea Creek waterfront buildings will greatly increase these parcels’ City tax revenues.

It is difficult to find an objection to the Cargo plan that stands up to scrutiny. Will all the new jobs impact all traffic, not just the traffic relieved from McClellan Highway ? Maybe. Yet the new roadway’s direct link to Suffolk Downs suggest that it will reroute that development’s traffic increase far more effectively than any alternate suggestion that I have seen.

I invite your criticisms of our argument, yet I am doubtful that any such can overcome all the reasons for supporting this proposal.

Note : many thanks to Bayswater resident Mary Berninger for explaining to me graphically the positive benefits of this proposal.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE TRANSPORTATION GOVERNOR

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^ how to resolve the state’s traffic and transportation riddles without surrendering people’s freedoms or unbalancing tax allocations : Governor Baker confronts Massachusetts’s most intractable public policy problem

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Whether he likes it or not, Governor Baker is now Massachusetts’s “transportation governor.” Of the many problems facing our Governor, many of them challenging and even intractable for any government, the state’s transportation situation surely ranks high. Higher than the opioid addiction epidemic ? Affordable housing ? Schools performance ? Possibly. Certainly in political terms, transportation comes first. Not necessarily with the voters — at the door, in the campaigns that I am working, schools challenges get many, many more mentions than transportation issues — but with activists and executives as well as most media, the state’s traffic congestion has take the top spot. Which means that it must take first place with Governor Baker as well.

It’s an obstacle to us all and to him. No transportation fix can be quick. Roads and bridges can’t just be closed down for repairs. Nor can the T or commuter rail. They must all be fixed while being used — a riddle that no Governor can resolve. Which means that fixes will linger and last and hang around even as they’re being fixed. Baker sets the year 2032 as the target date for bringing the T and commuter rail fully into the 21st Century — signals and track, trains and cars, electrification, service expansion, greater frequency of trains and T cars, you name it.

The Governor’s recent submission to the legislature of an $ 18 billion bond bill announces his acceptance of a long term commitment — well beyond his term ending in 2022 —  to the transportation challenge. Today the Boston Globe reports two additional Baker proposals : ( 1 ) creating opt-in, toll-paying lanes on some of the state’s major roads and ( 2 ) including buses in the opt-in lane. I am skeptical of set asides that set one form of transportation apart from another, and I most definitely do not want the opt-in tolls to b e diverted to the MBTA / commuter rail budget — tolls charged to users of roads and bridges should be used for roads and bridges. Still, if we are to have dedicated lanes, and it seems that we can’t avoid it, then the Governor’s plan is  a workable one. You want to escape traffic ? Pay for it. You want buses to arrive on time and to not take forever to make a trip ? Let buses use dedicated highways lanes.

You can read the Governor’s press conference on this proposal here : https://www.masslive.com/news/2019/08/gov-charlie-baker-open-to-charging-fees-on-managed-lanes-to-reduce-traffic-congestion.html

Critics of Baker’s suggestions say ( 1 ) that opt-in lanes favor those who can afford it, and secondly, that the way to price traffic is to charge drivers a surcharge for driving in peak traffic hours. My response is, first, that so what if opt-in lanes earmark those who can afford it ? Getting them and T buses off the rest of the highway frees up traffic on both the opt-in lane and the rest of the highway. Second, I agree with the Governor that surcharging those who drive in peak traffic hours penalizes people who have no other good option. To which some critics respond that congestion pricing will push drivers to forgo cars and use the T. My response : first, government has no business pressuring people to use one form of transportation over another and second, the T goes where it wants to go, not necessarily where you want to go, and it goes there when it wants to, not necessarily when you want to. The T is a controlled environment, and most people prefer to be their own control, which is why we use cars, not controlled transport.

I think that Governor Baker gets what I am saying; that he has no intention of pushing free people into an unfree environment for the sake of transportation rationales. The T and commuter rail must serve us : we do not serve it and should not be made to serve it. Fixing the T and the commuter rail, and applying highway lanes more skillfully than the current method, cannot be rushed, cannot be excuses for changing our tax system or reallocating our tax allocations. The city “progressives” who want the traffic challenge to be their entry into a state of higher taxation and controlled movement cannot be allowed to stampede us, nor to fool us by their street theater of emergency. Alleviating metro Boston’s traffic density can NOT be hurried, MUST not be hurried, nor should it engender “temporary” taxes and other crisis suspensions of regular order. Patience here is not only required, it is wiser than you may think. In patience come suggestions that might actually pass muster with the voters rather than rushing into places much to be regretted later.

Nor is metro Boston’s traffic density likely to recede any time soon. It results from the new urban prosperity that has transformed Boston from an empty downtown surrounded by ethnic residencies to an international entrepot of enterprise, social life, community, shopping, and fun. Immigrants are making money here, young tekkies are inventing new devices and interfaces, businesses that serve them are prospering, and everybody wants to be part of it. Our big problem is that wages have lagged the rest of the boom, prices especially. Traffic and T antiquity impose time burdens on those who want to get around, but the burdens exist because the City is alive, dynamic, cool. Hopefully, if we make good decisions, it will remain alive, dynamic, and cool — and a bastion of liberty, not control by others.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

CHANGING DIRECTION : THE SALEM ELECTION

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^ the coming man in Salem city politics : Ward Four City Councilor Tim Flynn

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About once a year I feel the need to write about the politics of Salem, a city of some note in American history and which also happens to be my Father’s home and that of his family before him. This year, however, I may write not only this column, for the hotly contested city Council elections under way in Salem signal significant change.

For the past 14 years, the city has been directed basically by one person, its powerful and very hands-on Mayor, Kim Driscoll. Now in her fourth term, “Mayor Kim” has overseen enormous development of Salem’s downtown and of its waterfront (and adjacent streets). Almost an entire new city has been built: now busily peopled with tons of tourists who come not only to see where Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter or to visit the various points associated with the witchcraft accused of 1692. Kim Driscoll’s Salem features a dozen or more fine dining restaurants, European-style terrace bistros, bric a brac shops, banks and investment letter offices, and the vastly expanded Peabody-Essex Museum and its smaller sister, the Essex Institute, wherein as a kid I browsed the family records and gossip chronicles of Salem’s past. Into this trove of memories and garden of impulse purchases come those thousands — tens of thousands — of visitors who I mentioned. Some even come to live. Driscoll’s Salem has draw into it more newcomers in 20 years than chose Salem in the previous 60. By all measures, Driscoll’s Mayoral record is one of growth and triumph, of rebirth and more for a city which even 25 years ago smelled as dead as it looked.

In 2017 Driscoll won another term by better than two to one, against fierce competition supported by much of the city’s pre-Driscoll establishment. Long-term residents conspicuously set the tone of an opposition whose message was “no more of this, we’re going too far.” Driscoll’s decisive win seemed to close forever the power hopes of those who had set the city’s pace and direction in the decades before her.

It now looks that I was wrong, very wrong to assume so. There are 11 candidates seeking the city’s four at-large Council seats, and several of them represent long-term Salem, the very Salem which got electorally crushed in 2017, but newly led. Then, and for years before, the opposition leaders featured Paul Prevey, Steve Pinto, Todd Siegel, Elaine Milo, Steve Lovely, Jerry Ryan, Lenny O’Leary, Kevin Harvey, and Arthur Sargent — all of them City Councillors or former. This time most of the names one hears most are new to the scene or of recent arrival : Belle Steadman, Jennifer Brown, Melissa Faulkner, Bob Camire, and, above all, Tim Flynn, a City of Salem Fire Department lieutenant who was first elected as Ward Four’s Councillor in 2017.

Flynn’s win was noteworthy, as was Ward Four’s vote generally. On the ballot in 2017 was the question whether Salem should be a “sanctuary city,” proclaiming its refusal to assist Federal immigration officers seeking to arrest persons illegally resident. The question was voted Yes by about 58 percent to 42: Flynn’s Ward was the only one in the City to vote No.

The Sanctuary City ballot question divided the city as intensely as any political issue had done in my entire lifetime observing Salem politics. It created ideological factions within the city. Barely two years prior to this vote Salem had unified, without any controversy at all, as a “no place for hate” community, featuring then well-loved drag queen “Gigi” Gill as its symbol of unity and peace; now the city found itself riven, more or less along lines of long-term residents versus newcomers. (There were of course plenty of long-term residents voting Yes on the ballot question, as did I; but there were very few, if any, newcomers voting the No side.)

Flynn was a strong advocate of No. That fight is over, and he never now mentions it. But he has gathered into his camp all the No” activists — who were, mostly, opposed to Dtiscoll as well — and has outreached to support candidates running city-wide, well beyond his ward, who now look to him as their leader. Being a city firefighter, born in Salem, and in complete charge, politically, of his own Ward — a ward which has, historically, sent major city leaders to the Council — he seems stronger than Paul Prevey, a former Ward Six councillor, ever was — and his timing is excellent, for the current sentiment one hears a lot in Salem is that development has reached maximum benefit and henceforth a new direction is needed.

This is not to say that the Sanctuary City activists — “progressives” —  and the catalysts of downtown innovation, have lost their mojo. Far from it. They too have a slate of Council candidates — Alice Merkl, Jeff Cohen (who ran in 2017), Ty Hapworth. All three impress me. Each would be a diligent City Councillor. It also appears that Conrad Prosniewski may become a “no place for hate” candidate. Even if not, he’s a formidable candidate, known by all from his years serving as Salem Police’s community outreach officer. The problem with the “progressive” side is that they’re fighting 2017’s battles still. They’re the candidates of no change, of “give our side another term doing what we do.”

Affordable housing has become the issue of the day. The “wait a minute !” team wants less development, Mayor Kim wants passage of Governor Baker’s Zoning reform so that the City can approve more of it. But will any potential development be affordable ? The record in Boston suggest that every affordability measure does not really work, in fact may aggravate the situation. The progressives believe in residential affordability, and Mayor Kim is obsessed with it, but as I just noted, no one has a good or workable answer. As a result, the election may turn not on the issue but on a simple feeling that new faces and new voices should be elected.

This is not to say that the Flynnites do not have an agenda. They do. What they want is for Salem politics to detach from the national madness and become basic again : keep water rates low, use every tax dollar wisely, involve the long-term residents in every decision, take care of city workers, slow down the planning and developing process. Flynn is also skeptical of Mayor Driscoll’s “temporary” bike and scooter lane program for some of Salem’s main streets, a skepticism which I share: government shouldn’t be favoring one form of transportation at the expense of another.

The Flynnites not only have an agenda, they seem to have brought to their side Councillor Domingo Dominguez, leader of Salem’s Hispanic community, who finished first in the 2017 at large Council race and could well do so again. Dominguez is an old-school politician who believes in helping people and is effective doing it. In 2017 he befriended both sides. The “progressives” seem not to have liked that, and Dominguez this time has thrown in his lot more or less with Team Flynn. Salem’s Hispanic vote is small, at most five per cent, but five percent matters quite a bit, and having the city’s most visible immigrant community on your side is  a powerful way to sway the votes of people who may be skeptical of the Flynnites because of their 2017 opposition to the Sanctuary City question.

Of course only pundits are likely to see the Salem election in the light I have cast upon it. Most voters will do what voters have always done : vote for the candidates they know personally and like, for character, experience, and campaign diligence. Most voters do not live and breathe ideology, thank goodness; and at the City Council level, it’s much more usual for an election to be decided on personalities than agendas. That said, I do sense that many, many voters, the Salem-born in particular, want a return to “small ball” elections. (I think the same feeling may well govern next year’s national election, which is why Joe Biden looks so likely to win it all.)

So — who will be the four at-large winners ? It’s not easy to tell. The field of eleven is a very strong one. My own guess is that Domingo Dominguez, Arthur Sargent, George McCabe (a former Councillor and son of a former Councillor as well), and Elaine Milo will be hard to beat, with Alice Merkl coming fifth, then Belle Steadman, Conrad Prosniewsi, Jeff Cohen, Ty Hapworth, Gary Gill, and Melissa Faulkner, in that order. Yet I could just as easily be wrong. It would not shock me to see Steadman win, or Prosniewski. Alice Merkl ran for Register of Deeds last year; she has some name recognition from that race,m and this year she’s running one of the most diligent and imaginative Council campaigns. In a less strong field, she’d win comfortably. Jeff Cohen finished eighth last time; can he move up to fourth ? Not out of the question, though he may this time be on the wrong team. The same is true of Gary Gill. Ty Hapworth and Melissa Faulkner depend on slate voting by their respective sides. Their day is likely to be in the future, not now.

AS for my own votes, I wish I could vote for them all. I like them all. All do credit to the city. There isn’t a nuisance candidate among them — and in past Salem elections there have been nuisance candidates and less. I know which four I’m going to vote for, and I hate having to disappoint seven. I’m not telling you who my four are. Very likely you have a different four in mind, and in no case would you be making a mistake.

I do hope, however, that you will vote for at least one Council candidate from the “wait a minute,” Tim Flynn side. The City needs to embrace its long term residents and multi-generational Salemites in a way that it has neglected to do these past two decades.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

ANNALS OF COLLAPSE : THE NATIONAL GOP

Mueller Trump

^ Two Republicans : one from the era of reform, one from the era of losing

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Today, with very few exceptions, the national Republican party is all but dead. Yes, numbers of living people call themselves Republican, but a name is more than the sounds that come out of one’s mouth when speaking it. What we call the national Republican party now is a negative thing, a subtraction, not an addition.

The Republican party was formed in America in the 1850s to be an American political party pursuing American ideals; and so it remained, generally, for the next 130 years at least. Republican electeds initiated great reform legislation and saw them to enactment : the Land grant College Act, the Homestead Act, anti-trust laws, the Interstate Commerce Commission (which regulated railroad rates so as not to bankrupt farmers), and even labor legislation : the Norris-LaGuardia Anti-Injunction Act gave labor the right to picket as a tool for organizing and bargaining with employers. Republicans saw the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments presented and ratified. Republicans supported the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, even if by then a large part of the party were opposed. Republican-appointed Judges and Justices enforced those civil rights acts and, earlier, gave us the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision that ended legal segregation in schools and public accommodations. Republican-appointed Justices like the two John Marshall Harlans, Wiliam Brennan, and Oliver Wendell Holmes led the Supreme Court into the modern era of Constitutional rights. As late as the 1970s, Republican reformers like Nelson Rockefeller, Ed Brooke, Jacob Javits, and Clifford Case effected important reforms in Federal housing policy. Republicans enacted the Clean Air Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1991. It was a fearless heritage of idealism in action on the practical level.

But that Republican party is no more. Less than 30 years — just one generation — after President Bush 41 signed the AWDA into law, the Republican party has become the enemy of reform and, indeed, of the nation’s ideals themselves. We see it every hour : the cruelty of Mr. Trump, the corruption, the ignorance. We see Mr. Trump degrading LGBT people, immigrants, and people of color expressly othering them all and calling for them to “go back where you came from” — the exact opposite of what America calls upon people to do : come here, from wherever you came from, just come and be part of us.

We see this, and we see almost every national elected Republican go along or even endorse it all.

We see Mr. Trump condone and even applaud direct Russian manipulation of our elections, and we see nothing counter except for a few elected Republicans,. most of them not running for re-election .

Those who are classic Republican — economically conservative, jealous of our national est interests, and embracing the national mission, including welcoming all immigrants of god will — have had to quit the party, as Congressman Justin Amash has done. Joe Scarborough, Max Boot, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Ana Navarro, and dozens of state legislators.

Yes, Republicans of reform persuasion still find place in the states, which, thanks to the localizing checks written into our Constitutional system, continue to elect reformist Republican Governors and a few such legislators. How long this sort of Republican can continue to exist is unclear.

The destruction of the Republican party begins in 1957, when Lyndon Johnson, as senate majority leader, got the Democratic-controlled Senate to enact a Civil Rights Act which, however, token, predicted the coalition which would, eight years alter, enact Civil Rights Acts that truly mattered. The 1957 act split the Republican party and gave the Democrats the Civil Rights initiative. By 1965, that year’s civil rights acts were passed with bipartisan majorities, but though they split the Democratic party, anti-Civil Rights Democrats who became Republicans confirmed the direction of the times : the Democratic party would now be the party of rights reform, the Republican party its opponent : a complete reversal of 100 years of political custom.

The more anti-Civil Rights Democrats who became Republican, the more they weakened the party, now torn free of its roots and traditions and in the Congressional minority to boot. As such, the Republican party more and more became home to the losers in the many reform fights of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. When, in the 1980s, Evangelical Christians — losers in the battle to secure women’s rights to abortion — began to organize within the Republican party, its status as the nation’s losing side party became destiny.

A party of losers is a party of grievance. It’s a party of negatives. And pretty soon a party of losers forgets the actual loss that brought them a loser frame of mind; and they begin to view everything political that is happening as directed at them, so that when it enacts, they are somehow defeated by it, no matter what sort of law is being enacted. Thus, when the Bush ’43 administration opened its major anti-AIDS initiative, somehow that was a loss for Republicans. And when Ronald Reagan, and then Bush ’43, oversaw immigration reforms, these too were somehow loss for the loser mindset. When war hero John McCain became the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, this too was, in the loser mindset, a loss to be complained of. Yet again when Mitt Romney became the 2012 nominee : another loss for those whose political identity was “in all battles, the loser.”

But losers eventually tire of being outnumbered by winners. They want the politics of losing to become the majority. By 2016 it wasn’t enough for candidates to embrace the Evangelical platform to make the nation’s public law conform to Evangelical writ. That was nice, but it wasn’t the truth. The truth was LOSING. Losing as an attitude, losing as a policy, losing as a statement of purpose of identity. For the plurality of Republicans who voted for Mr Trump, the tipping point was his loser attitude, his loser language, his loser opinions. Everything that had won in America, he spat upon. Everyone who was respected in America, he degraded. And if the committed Evangelicals resisted — supported Ted Cruz — well, Mr. Trump turned upon his own loser platform and embraced theirs: and why not ? The evangelical platform had also lost, and though it seemed paradoxical to depend upon a loser to get the laws that they wanted, they could see which way the political wind was blowing : losers of the world, unite !

Had Mr. Trump lost the 2016 election, the Republican party might have turned from its 25 years of loser attitude and loser policy. (I say MIGHT have. It also might have not.) But the election went Mr. Trump’s way, and this gave to a loser party the one gift it cannot achieve by itself : power.  All of the terrible things that have happened politically since January 20, 2017 owe their existence to the anomaly of a party of losers having winners’ power. What does someone do with power who never expects to have it and whose entire mindset is dedicated to despising everyone and every principle that has defeated them, and to keeping themselves in the loser position ?

We are seeing the answer to that question now. A policy of against. Everything you have lost to must go. Everything that you felt you had lost to, even though you didn’t lose at all from it, that too must go, because you felt that you had lost to it. If LGBT people secure the right to love who they want to and live as they want to, well, that is a loss for those who find every change a personal loss. If some categories of undocumented immigrants secure permission to reside in the nation, well that too is a loss. Because immigrants ARE America. And the more American an idea, the more that a professional loser dislikes it.

The loser in power invents all sorts of losses to feed his or her appetite for loser-hood.

People watch this orgy of losing causes embraced and say “there must be a bottom.” There IS NO bottom. Neo-nazis, the KKK, “go back where you came from,” anti-Semitism, harassing Black people who are just living life, scrawling graffiti on Synagogue walls — all of it becomes a revelation to the loser as he or she realizes that you can actually be a hero to the “loser community” by being a punk.

(So far actual violence seems off limits, but how long will that last taboo on loser-hood last ? Charlottesville doesn’t exactly give one comfort that violence isn’t the next phase of losers embracing being loser heroes, loser martyrs even.

And one further step down the road to negation : an entire species of attention-getter has blown up on cable Tv and in social media, dedicated to saying and publishing outrageous, disgusting, loser’s shit — punk’s, jerk’s, liar’s, con gamer’s shit — because it gets them attention (from fellow losers but also from the shocked rest of us, who cannot believe the stuff these attention addicts say) and thus advertising dollars which makes them rich.  The money being real, there’s a veritable swarm of liars competing to become “influencers” — Laura Loomers, Milo Yannopouloses, Tomi Lhrens, Jacob Wohls, Mike Cernoviches, Jack Posobiecs, Pam Gellers, what have you — and thus the nation today is smothered in every sort of broadcast pollution, the stepchildren of supermarket tabloid sensationalism which purports to be political punditry but is nothing more than the monetarization of the loser attitude and loser policy which Mr. Trump’s victory has given a momentary currency.

Of course it cannot last. Negation is its own destroyer, and soon enough the torrent of negation will swallow itself as a black hole swallows gases and masticates particles that get near to it. Thus we see the Republican party turn on itself, devouring its own body, as Mr. Trump, the President of losing, attacks a Republican of the old reform type, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, and is joined in said attack by losers for losing’s sake.

You cannot build a political party on negation, only destroy it. Most people believe in their lives. Most people want to succeed, not to lose. Most people believe that they will succeed and should succeed and that losing is a ditch in which one should never wallow. Confidence and success will win out; it always does. And confidence is the foundation of political achievement. Which fact is no comfort to a Republican party completely trapped in the black hole of losing, a hole that material people know to avoid at all costs.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

TIME TO COOL POLITICAL THINGS DOWN

 

Biden and Mccain

^ decades of friendship, compromise, and meeting of minds : always better than an overnight solution

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We will defeat Mr. Trump. All we have to do is vote. We have the numbers, he doesn’t. We have them even in the states that he needs to get to 270 electoral votes. He is underwater, with the voters, in almost every state where the outcome is not assured. He is down in Michigan, down in Pennsylvania, down in North Carolina and Arizona. He is down even in Texas, down in Iowa, down in Georgia. He could well by landslided out. All we have to do is vote.

The defeat of Mr. Trump is not by any means the 2020 election’s chief challenge. The factor that engages me — troubles me — is that a cutting edge of those who are working to defeat him seeks to go as far in the opposite direction as Mr. Trump has taken the nation in his direction. How that edge is not worrisome for people escapes me.

If Mr. Trump’s radicalism is dangerous, and undesirable, why would radicalism of the opposite sort not be dangerous and worrisome ? If it is bad to call mainstream journalism “fake news” and “:the enemy of the people,” why is it not equally bad to censor journalism or hound and harass speakers of unpopular opinions ? If unbridled corporate speculations are bad as greedy and short-sighted, why are not price controls and regulation of management not equally bad, as stifling initiative ? If Presidential executive orders (“E/O’s’) are bad when Mr. Trump tries them, why are they not equally bad when Democratic candidates propose E/O’s of their own ?

To defeat Mr. Trump, we must vote the Democrats in. This is not without risk. When I hear Democratic candidates talking about how we’re in “an emergency,” I think about all the rules that govern most emergency situations : hurry, dispatch, doing away with procedural safeguards, rush to judgement. Emergency politics opens the door to — encourages — rash acts, prejudicial orders, the creation of enemies to be done away with. Think 1789 to 1794 in France. Think 1917-1939 in Russia. Every totalitarian tyranny talks of facing emergency situations and of the drastic acts it must adopt in order to meet said emergency. Who decides if the stated emergency actually exists ? Usually the person or people who decide that end up judge, jury and executioner.

Agreed, that the Trump administration has created many situations that some might justly call a crisis : detention of asylum seekers at the southern border, abolition of climate science, demonization of LGBT people, attacks upon women’s health rights, disdain for our alliances, indifference to Russian and Chinese attacks on our cyber existence. All of these acts need to be rolled back and much fairer, wiser, more tolerant governance and diplomacy installed in their place. What should NOT be allowed to happen is the substitution of equally repressive alternatives. This sort of substitution begins with prejudicial slogans and pre-decided arguments. A depressing example is the phrase “believe the women” or “believe survivors.” First of all, I don’t believe women any more than I believe men. I believe facts and only facts. Second, in order to be a survivor you have to have survived something; but the existence of that something must be established first; otherwise you are not a survivor, just a claimant. Nor does the Presidency of Mr Trump override these basics. If anything, the presidency of Mr. Trump makes adherence to process and ascertainment more vital than ever. Verification as a standard of justice,m rather than accusation, becomes more important as the desire to accuse becomes more insistent.

Insistence has nothing whatsoever to do with fact finding.

Times of emergency call for more skepticism — more patience, more circumspection — than ordinary times.

Cold water should equally be thrown upon heated assertions of identity. Just because Mr. Trump and his cult say that brown people are bad does not mean that brown people are good. The good or bad of a person has nothing to do with their skin color, nor their national origin, nor their sexual attributes, nor their biology. The present tendency, among people boiled by social media, to cook up racial criteria of goodness is a misuse of moral fire and customary cookware. Cooled off, the meal of personal worth tastes much better, as we realize that every person is a child of God. There is no racial, national, or sexual qualifier in Rabbi Hillel’s great precept “whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow.”

So there it is, my political friends: calm down. Do your job. Organize, canvass, vote. Send Mr. trump back to the ghost world whence his sort arose. But do not put in his place an opposite species of ghost, equally bladed, blindly sure, touchlessly harsh, Philistine and censorious, illiberally tolerant, violent about violence, fervently generous with other people’s money — despising compromise because, after all, why not have it all, and now ? — and demanding overnight solutions to every problem that confounds entire generations. Be slow to the front lines, late to the party, derelict in hasty duties. Be patient: those who went before you did not change there world very much, and neither will you. Be satisfied with small wins gained on the margins. The most radical changes arise from war. And war is the stupidest, most destructive, unprogressive fact of all the miserable facts that human beings create in our dreadfully imperfect attempts at a better and more just world.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere