PROFILING BOSTON CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES: AYANNA PRESSLEY

 

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In the November 2009 election, Ayanna Pressley became the first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council. She was re-elected in 2011, finishing first in 13 wards and in the City as a whole. Her rise from unknown to the top has surprised many; but in the internet age, when candidates can become very known very quickly, and where a fresh face and articulate person can become liked almost as quickly, her rise seems less unique. There will surely be more Ayanna Pressley stories than not in Boston elections to come.

She grew up in Chicago and came here to attend Boston university. Until recently, growing up 1000 miles from Boston, and not being at least the child, or grandchild, of Boston residents, was an all but impossible start for any success at all in┬áBoston elections. But the internet age has modified that; today one can grow up anywhere and have Boston voters feel close friendship to you. Pressley’s success proves it.

Granted that she did have some political experience here in Massachusetts, first as an aide to Congressman Joseph Kennedy II and then in the office of then Senator John Kerry.

We first heard her speak in person at a “community conversation,’ as a candidate house party is now called, at a house named “Ashmonticello” on Dorchester’s Adams Street hard by the Neponset River about a block from Lower Mills. There she answered questions from about 5 people, many of them schools or progressive-issue activists. She stood in front of the gathered, dressed in professional businesswoman style and, in a sweet soprano voice — her meet and greet voice too — gave detailed, evenly delivered responses.

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Most of the questions addressed the proposal that has become her hallmark : a Home Rule Petition, to the legislature, to grant Boston control over its own liquor licenses.

Some background : under Massachusetts law, all Cities are state-chartered entities; and as such, they must petition the State if they desire to make changes in the state statutes governing their charter. Boston is thye only city whose liquor licenses require State approval. This was done over 100 years ago, when State and City were grievously at odds politically and ethically.

Pressley explained her petition at the “Ashmonticello” as something needed not just for its own sake but becaue the granting of liquor licenses enables restaurants to succeed; and restaurants, as she pouts it, create “destination neighborhoods.” She wants all of Boston’s major neighborhoods to have destination strength; and, as she adds, successful neighborhood restaurants give rise to successful neighborhood businesses of many other kinds.

Every City Council candidate in this year’s election hashad to state a position on Pressley’s Home Rule petition, the most significant home Rule reform presented seriously in many years. It also provides a specific example of the neighborhood-centered planning thaty she, like so many candidates running in this election, including the mayor candidates, call for as an overdue BRA reform.

Pressley has conducted as city-wide and active a street-level campaign as any Council candidate. We have seen her in Meeting house Hill, on Dochester Avenue, in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and downtown. She has endorsement of palnned parenthood and of several Democratic party Ward Committees. After the Primary we will focus in greater length on the focus and outreach of her seeking a third Council term.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : MARTY WALSH HITS A HOME RUN

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^ Boston’s City Hall : to be sold and razed ? Walsh says “do it !”

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Trapped in a Labor union suit by a week of editorial hits and campaign rivals’ debate points,. Marty Walsh today proposed as significant a single initiative as any other candidate has put forth.

He would sell the current City hall — as intimidating a foreboding palace of cold, cement bureaucracy as any structure I have ever visited — for about 135 million dollars and then develop all of City Hall Plaza for around-the-clock economic growth. “This area must evolve from a 9 to 5 weekday government-dependent culture to a culture economically driven to add value 24/7,” Walsh told the Boston Globe.

Unlike previous efforts to move City hall — Mayor Menino’s plan wanted to build it in the Seaport District — Walsh’s proposal would build the new Hall in the downtown area. The building would be privately built and leased to the city for 20 to 40 years, at a fixed rent; at the end of which term the City would buy it for one dollar ($ 1.00).

Some of Walsh’s rival candidates — but not John Connolly — criticized his proposal, and Rob Consalvo raised the point at today’s Back Bay Association Forum : “how would the city function while the present City hall is bull-dozed ?” asked Consalvo, a bit snidely. Walsh stated the obvious, that City hall would not be sold and razed until the new City hall was built.

I like Walsh’s idea a lot. As he said at the Back Bay Forum, “the next area of the City’s economic growth is Government Center.” His way of getting to it is bold, but the next mayor should be — HAS to be — bold if Boston is to move forward in an ever more complex and technologically fast-paced economy. Walsh’s proposal scopes smaller than John Connolly’s “school transformation,’ but it is a firmer step than anything Connolly proposes. All of Connolly’s school transformation goals have yet to be cast into shape; nor is it easy to envision them shaping up without huge controversy, with the BTU especially. Walsh’s proposal is specific — and achievable quickly.

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^ Marty Walsh ; “this area must evolve from a 9-to-5 weekday government-dependent culture to a culture economically driven to add value 24/7 !”

The proposal makes clear just how significant Walsh’s “Construction Boom” candidacy is for the City’s future direction and look. Score a big one here for Marty Walsh.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : BIG BUSINESS AND DEVILISH DETAILS @ BACK BAY ASSOCIATION FORUM

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^ Dan Conley, John Connolly, Rob Consalvo at this morning’s Back Bay Association Forum

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This morning the Back bay Neighborhood Association held its Mayor Forum in an appropriate setting : the conference center of Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Big granite-walled office bureaucracies are the Back Bay’s money machine.

People fear money machines, and no neighborhood association in the City is more feared by the various business seeking to locate, or to develop real estate. Members live in some of the City’s highest income census tracts; achievement and dominance come naturally to the 200 well-dressed Forum attendees. Attentively they regarded the twelve candidates, answering questions put to them by Tom Keane and his co-host, as if they were job-interviewing — grilling — a room full of interns.

The Forum topics featured, unsurprisingly, zoning, permitting, development, the BRA, and late night closing hours — seriously complex issues all — and the banning of plastic bags.

But to the questions. Some were addressed only to some of the candidates, others to all.

To a question, to some, about what to do with the BRA, John Connolly gave the most well thought answer : “Planning should be an independent function. It’s about having real holistic planning — the process should not be for influence peddling. We need to modernize Inspectional services (ISD). (we) need honest conversations about zoning. We need to move beyond outdated zoning laws).”

The City’s permitting process has come under severe attack in most of this campaign’s Forums, for good reason. All the candidates want the process reformed, som radically. Charles Yancey cited “hostile employees’ at ISD’s office due to “inadequate training for the job.” Dan Conley promised “a bottom to top review’ and said that permitting “should be able to be done online.’ He would also “reform the zoning process.” John Barros decried the process a “illogical…unpredictable.”

Clearly ISD is in for a huge shake-up no matter who becomes the next Mayor.

To a question about “90 % of fire alarm calls not being for actual fires,” Rob Consalvo insisted that :we need more public safety, not less.” Marty Walsh, who has the Boston Firemen’s Union endorsement, admitted that the “number of fires are down” but insisted that “I don’t want to be the mayor who closes a firehouse.” Felix Arroyo said “municipal research says that we need to increase fire efficiency” — whatever that meant — and Charlotte Golar-Richie gave a similarly non-committal answer. And then it was Dan Conley’s turn. He did not waste it :

“There is overwhelming evidence that the Fire Department needs a full review and thus a Mayor who will reform the Fire department,” he said, aiming his remarks directly at Marty Walsh, whom polls show him tied with for second place in the Primary.

To which Conley added, “reform… was posed years ago when I was on the Council, but it was put on the shelf. (Stare Rep) Nick Collins has a bill in the legislature to allow fire people to respond as EMTs. it’s a crazy bill, but the firemen don’t have enough work to do, so this is a way to give them some work.”

Conley’s could have been the Forum’s big moment, but he was immediately knocked back by Charles Yancey, who said “If someone is injured within a block of a firehouse and the EMT’s can’t get there first, the Fire Department must save that life !” Mike Ross’s follow-up — “I’m the only Council member who has stood up to the Fire Department” — sounded like a shrug.

All the candidates were then asked a series of “yes or no, do you support” questions. Most of these at various Forums have been no-brainers to which all answered an easy yes or a no. Not so at this Forum. candidates had to think about whether to allow later closing hours, a “traffic congestion tax,” plastic bags, and Segway. Responses were divided.

Last came a round in which one candidate posed a question to one other, until all twelve candidates had either asked or answered. Obviously the intent was to have candidates emphasize their differences, but only two of the questions rose above the minutiae of Council votes little known to average voters.

The first useful question was Rob Consalvo’s to Marty Walsh, who has proposed razing the current City Hall and redeveloping its huge, centrally located plaza : “How will the city function while city hall is bulldozed, as you suggest ?” Walsh’s answer was as good as Conley’s on Fire Department reform : “Bulldoze is not my word,” said Walsh. “it aas the Herald’s. I want to offer City Hall Plaza to developers for proposals. It will give us 135 million dollars and 12 million a year in tax revenue. I want to reconnect Hanover steer and Quincy market…the next growth area in the City is government center !” Walsh’s answer highlighted his support by the city’s construction unions –and his being the Building Boom Candidate.

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^ Bill Walczak and Marty Walsh : the moralist vs. the building boom candidate

Mike Ross then asked Bill Walczak what he would do for city development if the city had no casino — as Walczak endlessly repeats — but one were then created “seven feet from our door” (in Everett) ? This gave Walczak his opportunity to rail against casinos in general — “I don’t want casinos anywhere” — in the moralistic manner that he truly believes and which gives his candidacy something of the social-issue darkness that has bedeviled a great deal of the national political debate these past five years or so. Who is he — who is anyone ? — to tell people how or where to spend their money ?

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^ Charlotte Golar-Richie and Mike Ross : on Ross’s home ground ? Or maybe not ?

It was difficult to tell which candidates most impressed the association’s members. Unlike the teachers union activists at their Forum, no one cheered or clapped hands. They received the candidates’ often passionate talk as calmly as candidate David Wyatt sits on a stage — though without his facial shrug. Many of the 200 worked laptops ; were they noting points ? Recording testimony as if at a deposition ? Maybe so. And who will they vote for ? This is Mike Ross’s home ground — the Council district that he represents — yet he hardly seemed the crowd favorite — although in the Forum’s humor moments, when he laughed, so did the 200. Maybe that was it. Maybe this Forum was a kind of in-group entertainment, and Mike Ross has its 200 votes in the bank.

If i were he, I wouldn’t count on it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : YES, THE GLOBE POLL MATTERS

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^ well ahead : John Connolly

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The University of New Hampshire finally released its poll of the Boston mayor race, and its message has locust-plagued the City’s spin doctors. Just about every candidate purports to believe that the poll is good for him — or her. If only !

It’s hard to believe that none of the twelve candidates is known by more than 68 % of the voters polled. Does that mean that the poll sample has reached well beyond the 100,000 “likely” voters who even the least bullish pundit thinks will turn out ? The poll also doesn’t say how many of its respondents came from which of the city’s 22 wards. We are left to guess what electorate was polled.

Nonetheless, the poll does not drop out of the sky. It accurately reflects, in fact, the money raising that we’ve been reporting — amounts and trends up or down in each candidate’s deposits. It also accords fairly well with what we glean from our observation of the various campaigns. We believe what the poll says. So here are the numbers for the top four :

John Connolly gets 15 % of the vote and is known by 68 % of the voters
Dan Conley gets 10 % and is known by 65 % of the voters
Marty Walsh gets 10 % and is known by 58 % of the voters
Charlotte Golar-Richie gets 10 % and is known by only 50 % of the voters.

Striking facts : (1) Though clearly less well known than Walsh or Conley, Golar-Richie polls equally with them (2) Connolly is measurably ahead of all three, well beyond the poll’s margin of error (3) Walsh has actually lost since the last UNH poll, in which he had 11 %. He has lost 10% of his vote, after a week of being slammed as a union guy — a loss well in line with the political rule that attacks can cost a candidate up to, but not likely more than, said ten percent.

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^ Marty Walsh : must prove on Primary day that he’s more than a union guy

Can Walsh recover and secure the second Final spot ? Of course he can. He has lots of money, is running excellent TV ads, and has a superb election day organization working hard and enthusiastically. He doesn’t need many more votes to put him close to Connolly.

Nonetheless, the poll shows that a full 25 % of its voters remain undecided. That’s a lot of undecideds only nine days before voting day. This is where Golar-Richie’s potential looks big. If she can get 10% of the vote with only 50% of voters knowing her, how hard will it be for her to get another 5 % from the 25 % who are undecided ? All she has to do is win the same percentage from them as she has won from the decided.

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^ Charlotte Golar-Richie : big potential to move up

Will 15% be enough to secure second spot ? It will not win the top spot. Surely John Connolly will win additional votes from that 25 % undecided. My guess is that he finishes with 21 %. As for the second spot, I will be surprised if whoever gets it wins more than 15 %. It is unlikely that a catch-up candidate will win more undecideds than a candidate who is strong AND perceived to be strong.

I will give Connolly an additional 6 %, Golar-Richie 5 %, Walsh an additional 5 % on the basis of a strong election day pull, and Conley only 4 %, because he polls only equal with Walsh although better known.

The poll shows that the other eight candidates are very much out of the running. Felix Arroyo, John Barros, and Rob Consalvo all win 6 %, Mike Ross 5 %, Bill Walczak 4 %, Charles Yancey 3 %, Charles Clemons 2 %. Arroyo is not known by 34 %, Consalvo by 50 %, Ross by 47 % ; the others poll even less well known. How likely is it that candidates so not-known will garner major vote numbers from the 25 % who remain undecided ? My experience is that the undecideds tend to vote for the most known candidates, not the less well known. Many are undecided because they don’t know any of the candidates, but just as many, likely, are undecided because they know several and like them all.

My guess for these following candidates is that Arroyo wins 7 % but not more. I am truly surprised to see in a poll that though he is better known than Walsh or Golar-Richie, he draws much less of a vote and has a higher unfavorable (21 %) than ANY of the other candidates. Ross wins 7 % — on the strength of substantial funds in his account. Barros wins 7 % (he has surged since the last poll, doubling his vote from 3 %). Consalvo wins 7 % (and maybe less; he has no money). Walczak wins 5 % (he is, after all, against casinos). Which leaves not much for the others.

My guess could be wrong and probably is wrong. But not by much, unless a major story breaks in the next six days or so. Marty Walsh is battling Charlotte Golar-Richie for the second spot on the November ballot. It’s his election day enthusiasm and reach versus her ability to win the same proportion of the undecideds a she has won of those who have chosen. And even then it looks oh so close. Maybe even a recount. It might be a very long night on Primary Day.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere