BOSTON MAYOR RACE : LABOR, CONSTRUCTION, AND THE B.R.A.

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^ Local 26 Hotel Workers have endorsed Marty Walsh

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On August 2nd, the Hospitality Workers union (Hotel employees) decided to endorse Marty Walsh for mayor rather than Felix Arroyo. This was a significant move. Arroyo had expected endorsement from a Union membership mostly people of color and not a construction trade, all of whose endorsing Locals have so far gone with Walsh, a former Building Trades leader.

The Hospitality Workers made a nuts and bolts ddecision that Arroyo, their sentimental favorite, could not win, but that Walsh can. That’a how it goes in crunch time.

You can make a good case, too, that hotel workers are bound to the construction trades. Why ? Simple : hotels have to be built before they can hire Hospitality workers. Much hotel building is going on in Boston, and more is planned. There’s construction of all kinds afoot, but when looking at the building boom and what it portends for construction workers, one shouldn’t overlook the hotel component. Thus the Walsh endorsement fits.

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^ construction jobs galore — hotel workers too 

Boston’s construction boom may be the most significant event affecting the election of a next Mayor. What to do about the City’s schools, and how to fit them into the City’s new, technology economy has wider provenance, but at greater length of time. Just as the school riddle boosts John Connolly’s campaign, so the construction boom lifts Marty Walsh.

He, alone of the twelve Mayoral hopefuls, seeks to replace the Boston Redevelopment Authority (B.R.A.), not just reform it (as John Connolly suggests) or tweak it merely (the position — no surprise — of most other candidates). Walsh told the Boston Globe, in response to its editorial board’s questionnaire, that he would replace the BRA with an economic development agency whose director would serve under a contract and be less accountable to the mayor’s office. Wrote Walsh, “Under my plan, the mayor will have less direct power; multiple current entities with similar responsibilities will be morphed into one, creating tax savings and eliminating duplication.”

Walsh’s BRA proposal would put economic development in Boston more into the hands of construction companies and workers than it has been. It also portends greater input for Boston neighborhoods.

His suggestion makes some sense. The current BRA, still much the same in its power relationships as when it was first created in 1957, answers to the Mayor and implements his policy goals. That mattered in 1957 and for a long time thereafter, when neighborhoods had not awakened to, or were formulating, their needs and identity. Walsh is saying that, today, a Mayor-controlled BRA works against the interests of Boston’s neighborhoods, which have found their own identities and needs now and want the power to pursue them.

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^ Boston, as the BRA sees it 

Still, the economic development agency that Walsh wants to create in place of the BRA, which in nits current form he would do away with, would give much power to the construction industry and construction labor along with local planning boards. This looks a lot like free-wheeling and, in part, a return to the 1950s, before Massachusetts instituted zoning laws. Today, all building projects must seek permits and zoning opinions at the City Planning Offices in 1010 Massachusetts Avenue. Would Walsh’s economic planning board engender a series of neighborhood permitting and zoning opinion agencies ? It could be. Under Mayor Kevin White, “Little City Halls” were set up in many Boston neighborhoods. Their authority was limited; their political outreach was almost limitless.

There would be good in localization of development planning but also much grief. And if Walsh does not foresee localization of zoning and development approvals, would his economic planning board be that different from today’s BRA ? What difference would it really make to have City development answer to the construction business rather than the mayor ? Would that be better for the city ? And what of the City’s centralized Water & Sewer Commission ? We would love to hear what Walsh has to say about these details of his plan.

Meanwhile, Walsh continues to accumulate Union endorsements and some high-fives from the City’s traditional businesses.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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