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 We need to move beyond outdated zoning laws).”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

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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