MEEK AT THE MOVIES : Twelve Years a Slave ( 4 stars )

 ^ being sold off like livestock : Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in Steve McQueen’s “12 years a Slave’ (Paul Giamatti as the slave trader)
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The stain of slavery on American history has seen many vast renderings on celluloid, from the misguided pro-South, silent masterpiece by DW Griffith, “Birth of a Nation” (1915), where Klansmen are embossed in a heroic light, to Quentin Tarantino’s recent revisionist fantasy, “Django Unchained” where the Klan are little more than Keystone cops in hoodies, and an embolden slave, freed of his shackles and armed, rains down his wrath on skin trading vermin. Both are cinematic achievements in their own right, but neither gets at the foul plight of rooting day-to-day under the duress of an overseer’s whip. Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” came close, but that sweeping epic took place centuries ago, long before the pilgrims hit the shores of Massachusetts and our European forefathers began an unwritten policy of treating people of non-white pigmentation, like pests and livestock. The good (or grim as it may be) news is that director Steve McQueen, who is black, British and an auteur of recent reckoning, goes at the matter in “12 Years a Slave” in a fashion that gets under the viewer’s skin in unexpected ways. It’s uncomfortable and telling. What McQueen achieves is a visceral experience that, while not a history lesson in the factual sense, becomes the de facto moral rendering of an era that should only be recalled with remorse and shame.
Ironic too, as McQueen’s last movie also bore that same notorious branding. “Shame” plumbed the torment of a sex addict trying to come to terms with himself. In “Slave,” Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in antebellum upstate New York, too is a tormented soul, but his torments are not self-inflicted. Not in the least, they come at the hands of amoral slave traders and sadistic, bourbon-soaked plantation owners bearing jealous outbreak and a cat-o’-nine-tails.
How, one might ask did a free man in the Abolitionist North come to be a slave? Northrup’s ordeal really happened, though the film based on his 1851 memoir, plays loose with the circumstance that delivered Northrup into slavery. In quick wisps we understand that he’s an educated man, a talented violin player and has a family and a revered reputation among both black and white in his community. We hardly get all this when he’s hastily introduced to two traveling performers who want to recruit him for a well-paid, short-term gig in DC. After a handshake we then see Northrup with the two men dinning and drinking liberally in a fine establishment. It’s the last time Northup’s face bears a smile. Next, he’s throwing up in an alley, and then waking up in chains in a hellish dungeon right out of a cheap horror flick. It’s a very bad hangover indeed.
It’s here too that McQueen makes his most stinging social observation as the camera slowly pans up and out through the grating of the cell and over a brick wall to reveal the Capital in the tantalizing near distance: so much injustice, so close to a bastion of justice.
While questions of Northrup’s incarceration persist (Who are these guys, what drives them and how could Northrup be so naive?), the film delves into the denied existence of the slave as Northrup and others are covertly boarded onto a boat and shipped to Louisiana where they are sold off (Paul Giamatti playing the head slave trader). Northrup quickly learns that to appear educated or to protest his incarceration (he is given the name Platt) only means a lashing, so then it becomes a sheer matter of survival. He tells one grieving woman, ostensibly once free herself and separated at auction from her son and daughter, that she needs to get over it and save her own skin for as long as she can. His cruel words are just about the kindest act that occurs on a plantation. Northrup is initially sold to a benevolent owner (Benedict Cumberbatch) who allows Platt to engineer the fording of lumber down the bayou to make the harvesting process more efficient (like the British prisoners in “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”) which enrages the short-fused overseer (Paul Dano, really coming into his own) and leads to his near hanging.
Platt’s next passed  on to a drunken cotton plantation owner (Michael Fassbender, who starred in each of McQueen’s previous features) who regularly beats slaves so gruesomely it’s vomit and tear inducing and freely takes pleasure with young slave women; much to the protest of his equally turbulent wife (Sarah Paulson). In short, it’s hell where abuse comes from all angles and there is no right or safe path to stick to. All one can do, is but endure.
How the ordeal comes to term, is somewhat redeeming, but not just. If you’ve ever seen “Amistad” and recall the disturbing scene in the ocean where slaves, shackled to each other, some weak, some hale and some dead, are dumped into the ocean, where they all go down in a daisy chain of certain death, that’s the type of grim inhumanity that fills the middle third of “Slave.” And, as a viewer you can’t escape the oppressive torment of the bayou’s humidity and bugs, which McQueen serves up as a sensual feast akin to a gauzy Terrence Malick immersion.  It gnaws as you the way the American tragedy as relayed through one man’s eyes (Ejiofor is more than Oscar worthy) does.
The power of “Slave” is not so much its rote plea to ‘not forget,’ but its invitation to understand. 
— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies



^ Old politics, good friendship at Ward 15 Democrats’ dinner rally for Marty Walsh (at John Barros’s restaurant Cesaria on Bowdoin Street, Dorchester)

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Much is being made, in this second phase of Boston’s Mayor campaign, of who is the progressive candidate. Marty Walsh’s campaign has claimed the title. John Connolly’s supporters beg to differ. I agree with John Connolly’s supporters. Connolly is the progressive. Here’s why:

To be a progressive, a candidate has to offer progress. A progressive must seek to change things, evolve, develop, innovate. Boston is changing even as I write, and we need to elect a guiding hand for that change rather than allowing it to be a matter of chance. The change begins in the campaign itself. In that regard, Connolly has already delivered. Not since the 1967 election — to which I often refer — have I seen such an uprising of new activists; indeed, activists almost of an entirely new culture. Many are new to Boston. Few have any awareness of, much less connection to, the old tribal, ethnic, neighborhood insularities that defined Boston politics for 100 years at least. The new activists live in the world at large. Their Downtown is a European-ized marketplace of ideas, goods, talk, and music. Their neighborhoods, too. Radically they do not live the past. Radically they are about creating a future device by device, code by code, connection by connection, and creating social circles based on that connectivity, code, and device creation.

Perhaps not since Americans of 1910 to 1930 created the car, the radio, the national highway system, subways, and the movie and music industries has a generation of Americans so utterly rewritten the book as these new Bostonians are re-writing our city’s annals. Connolly is their avatar, their political voice, their trekkers’ guide, their enabler.

The word “Progressive” first came to use in the 1890s and continued into the 1920s. It was a vast movement with five components : reform of government; civil rights; conservation of natural resources; school reform, and financial regulation. Progressivism also had a temperance component that has long since dated — nobody today would take a hatchet to saloons as Carrie Nation did — but it retains a moral fervor, directed now to a celebration of skin color, cultural, and lifestyle diversity.

The moral component of progressivism is present in Marty Walsh’s campaign, but is the cutting edge of Connolly’s. Walsh has himself been a hero of civil rights fights, but Connolly has lived it. So far, so good for both.

But when we look at government reform, schools, and conservation — today, green agendas, bicycles, and parks — the win goes to Connolly. Looking at the two campaigns’ cultures, it’s no contest.

Marty Walsh is far the less radical of the two candidates. His agenda seeks adjustment, not transformation. He is the candidate of an interest group which itself has but a single agenda : jobs and better wages. (Not that jobs and better wages are not important. Of course they are.) He doesn’t grasp what Downtown is all about — and admits it; a likable humility to be sure — and has nothing to say about the kind of Boston he envisions four, eight, 20 years from now. I question whether he thinks ahead at all. It is said that Marty Walsh has helped a lot of people. I believe it. He is all about helping others. His heart is in it. But that is a 1900 ward boss’s definition of politics. You can’t today just help people, because for everyone you help in a huge city there’s 1000 others you can’t get to. And even then, what ? The Mayor has to see the future for everyone and build them a road to it.

Attending the Ward 15 Democrats’ dinner rally for Marty Walsh last night at John Barros’s restaurant Cesaria, I found great food and several dear friends from the old politics. It was like going back to the 1983 Mayor campaign : politicians, laborers, ward heelers. Face to face and hugs. All great people, I have sweated precinct work with many of them (or with their predecessors). Theirs was — still is — a politics of the physical, just as was and is their labor. Boston was built by their ancestors, long-shored by their parents. But it was distressing to me to see just how back in time many of these folks walked. And yes, I walked with them back then. Theirs was for a long time my politics too. But the City has changed, and is changing, and if I do not change with it, that’s my fail.


^ new beats, new dance, new politics ; BREK.ONE SUPREME dropping a set at GEM and introducing John Connolly

At the same time that Ward 15 Democrats were gathering, John Connolly’s new-city supporters were dancing at GEM Night Club, downtown, to the beats, rumble, and strobe light dark plush of DJ’s Akrobatik and BREK.ONE SUPREME.

I do not mean to disparage Marty Walsh’s Ward 15 people. Not at all. The next Mayor of Boston badly needs to bring them into the new City being made even as I write — made, re-made and made again so rapidly that what ripens obsolete today will rot like a mummy before you know it.

It may well be that entrusting the leadership of Boston to a radical transformer like Connolly is too risky for a vote base that seeks immediate security first; that dares not chance tomorrow’s job for next year’s career; that sees admission to a union as the ultimate accomplishment. Understood. But to call the urgency of Walsh voters progressive is a mistake. It is a politics of safety and security, of resistance to change because it sees — has learned to know — economic change as a grave threat.

It is a threat — if one takes it as such. It is hard to chance jumping onto a moving train. But what do you do otherwise ? Those industrial jobs are NOT coming back, and the well-paying union jobs at Verizon and National Grid won’t all survive technology change forever. Even the Boston building boom — the rain that water’s Marty Walsh’s political crops — won’t last forever. What then ? If not the John Connolly, technology future, what then ?

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Marty Walsh at his humble and practical best : at BostInno Mayor Forum

One candidate speaks the syntax of hi-technology, the other means well. The folks who bring us the media publication BostInno — voice of the “Innovation District,” Inno for short — know the difference. They go first-name with john Connolly, who helped set up the Inno; with Marty Walsh, not so readily. Yet at this morning’s Forum the moderators clearly appreciated Walsh’s humility and readiness to listen to the concerns of people very different from his base. Walsh’s 45 minutes of question and answer showed him at his best : not exactly ready with the answer, and willing to be seen as such. And when an answer was given, it proved practical; and the Forum attendees appreciated Walsh’s practicality and laughed at his self-deprecations. But his answers also proved revealing.

Walsh offered no radical transformations, sees no major shifts. He will bring new kinds of people into his circle of advisors. There will be diverse conversations, diverse decision making. Clearly, Walsh sees access to the Mayor’s ear as his top priority.

Some questions that Connolly would have dined on, Walsh ducked. Asked “how will you win the support of THIS community as you have the unions,” Walsh said “Innovation will be central to my cabinet.” To, ” a question about keeping the city open late at night, he offered “if people want to get a meal late or to install a juke box” — he laughed : “do they still call it that ?” — “it’s a matter of permitting.” Quizzed on what will be his Big Idea — the moderators cited New York mayor Bloomberg creating a technology campus high school — Walsh said “not sure….growing the City is what I’m focused on.”

At other points, however, Walsh outlined regionalized economic initiatives, innovation districts all through the city, arts festivals all weekend; and spoke of them all easily and in detail. Within his comfort zone, Walsh commanded the Forum-goers’ quiet attention, just as he had throughout the marathon of Forums held prior to the Primary. He may not win any debate prizes, but at the BostInno Forum he showed once again that when interviewed, he is an appealing figure.


^ the passionate bold innovator : John Connolly being moderatored

Then it was John Connolly’s turn. He too ducked the toughest question. Asked how he would handle fights with the Teachers Union, he responded “I want to fundamentally alter the culture in city administration, make it like the apple store” — which is his mantra: but sweet ear candy to the folks at this Forum. He also gave boiler plate answers to many questions and talked on too long, in a drone that dissipated the drama. It wasn’t the strongest start I have heard from him, not at all. But then he found his feet and began to assert, as only he can do.

“We aren’t preparing kids to compete in today’s economy…We need highly talented principals… and reforming the teacher contract. We have one of the most antiquated contracts in the country. We have to change it. Seniority cannot be the only way to choose teachers.”

So why, asked the moderators, haven ‘t you changed it ? Connolly replied thus: ” on the Council I don’t get to make any decisions. All we (the Council’s education Committe, which Connolly chaired) could do was be a watchdog…and to redirect some resources. (And) we had hearings on the teachers’ contract. A thing that they hadn’t thought possible. We had parents testify, we even had teachers come in and say that the teachers’ contract was wrong.”

Connolly then mentioned Walsh’s bill to take away from City Councils the power to review labor arbitrators’ awards. He said “The mayor has to represent the whole city…be independent…he can’t just represent one interest. My opponent’s legislation would damage the City’s bond rating and hurt city programs.” He was then asked the same question that was asked of Walsh : “what is your Big Idea — like the Mayor Bloomberg technology campus ?”

Connolly smiled that broad teddy bear smile.”My big idea ? It’s that every child in Boston get a quality education !”

The Forum people loved it. Connolly was among friends, and the rest of his time on stage was devoted to technology advance questions, innovation district questions, late night open hours discussion. It was less a Q and A than an office conversation.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MEEK AT THE MOVIES : All is Lost ( 3 STARS )


^ nameless upon the sea shall he chance : Robert Redford as “Our Man” in J. C. Chandor’s “All Is Lost”

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Open vastness can be an aesthetic wonderment, breathtaking to behold, like the dark cold of outer space in “Gravity” or the endless desert in “Lawrence of Arabia,” but given a rip in a suit or a missed rendezvous at an oasis, that hypnotic intoxication with the serene forever can quickly become the edge of a hapless demise where outside intervention becomes a mathematic improbability and personal perseverance, the only shot at salvation.

In his sophomore effort, “All is Lost,” young filmmaker J. C. Chandor, who received an Academy Award nomination for his bold debut “Margin Call,” employs the sea as his beauteous hell. The film’s title is a shard from a letter written by a hopeless yachtsman adrift at sea in a life raft. No, this is not the second coming of “The Life of Pi”; “All is Lost” is not that existential, though the lone character, who has no name (the credits list him as ‘Our Man’) does go through an existential crisis of sorts. He also endures a series of Jobian trials that would force most people to just cash in their chips and go swimming with the sharks.

The imperiled seaman is played by none other than Robert Redford. Who, well into his later years, has the handsome grizzled look of one who has been at sea for some time. Not a salty old tar mind you, but the preppy, pleasure cruising version of Hemingway’s ‘Old Man,’ dressed ruggedly effete in cable knit sweaters and Bermuda accoutrements.
When we first catch up with Our Man penning his letter, we make just a tang of his hopelessness and sense of imminent demise before the story back-jumps eight days. Our Man now comfortably rests in a well-stocked, thirty-nine foot yacht somewhere in the Indian Sea. But the tranquil moment falls ephemeral to a sudden disturbance that rocks his boat violently from the side, the way that Bruce, the pet named shark in “Jaws,” effusively, fatally weakened the Orca. Examination atop reveals that a shipping container from a passing cargo ship has fallen off and ruptured his hull, and, without the divine intervention of a foaming mad Robert Shaw wielding a baseball bat, has also trashed his communication systems too.

So there he is, marooned on the high seas, and we don’t know much about Our Man. We don’t know if solo cruises in exotic and far flung places is something he does on a regular basis, or who exactly might be waiting for his letter back home. What we do know is that he’s confident at sea and at terms with himself as he takes to mending the ship’s hull calmly and methodically. He’s no MacGyver per se; there’s no presto-magico invention to save the day, just slow knuckle-breaking work and hopeful trial and error validation.

The repair merely stays his execution, as violent tempests and other extreme maladies close upon Our Man. Redford’s understated and nuanced performance along with Chandor’s simple, yet embraced rendering of the open ocean both as celestial body and chalice of death, fill the film’s sails with wonderment and purpose. There’s nothing else, and both players are on their game. In each ensuing ‘it can’t get any worse’ (and it does) scenario, you can always see in the corner of Redford’s eye a faint trace of fear. It’s a brilliant touch. Like Sandra Bullock’s astronaut in “Gravity,” his sailor knows, that to give into panic would result in his immediate demise and that calm perfunctory progress is the only way to remain alive and afloat. That struggle plays palpably upon the storied actor’s face without word or unnecessary exposition. In saying nothing it tells us oceans about the man who’s name we don’t even know.

If there’s any short coming to “All is Lost” it comes in the ending, which is neither a closed loop nor satisfactory. Perhaps Chandor was reaching for something more. It’s a bold but hollow grab. No matter, the film still showcases the talents before and at the helm and will only add to Chandor’s nascent reputation as one to watch.
— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies



John Connolly — Marty Walsh ; time to prospect the numbers

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Enough polls have been taken of Boston’s Mayoral Final now that we can already conclude much about the race. By the numbers, taking the average of all five recent polls, John Connolly holds a lead of about 43.4 % to Marty Walsh’s 37.3 %. The remaining 19.7 % of voters say they’re undecided. The next ,most important statistic is how steady the two candidate’s support has been. Since the first Final polls appeared, Walsh has polled either 36 % or 37 %, with the exception of one poll that gave him 39 %; Connolly, meanwhile, has polled 44 % or 45 % since before the primary, although two of the five recent polls showed him backing to 41 and 40 % respectively. And in those two polls, his lost voters did not move to Walsh. They became undecided. Walsh’s okay performance in the first debate moved some, his endorsement by a platoon of well-known’s moved the rest — but as i said, not to him; only to undecided.

My former editor in chief at the Boston Phoenix, Peter Kadzis, says that the race is now all about Walsh; that Connolly is “holding on” — his words — and Walsh is moving ahead. I see it just the opposite. Connolly’s support seems consistent, unshakable. The question in the minds of the 55 to 60 % of voters not yet moving to Connolly is whether he really SHOULD be the next Mayor. They are either giving Walsh a second look or — more likely — just learning who he is and willing to hear more. that does not translate, in my mind, to “moving Walsh’s way.”

A closer look at the Globe poll’s numbers seems to weaken Kadzis’s argument. If the poll’s “leaners’ are added to the committeds, Connolly has 47%, Walsh 38% of the vote, with only 15% undecided. this is a significant gap. A candidate who is 9 points down with only 15% undecided practically has to win every undecided vote or else lose.

The poll also suggests that all the energy that Walsh put into winning his spate of endorsements hasn’t helped him much,. Though he gets Arroyo’s September voters by 15 to 9, and Barros voters 13 to 9, he loses Charlotte Golar-Richie voters 19 to 26. Winning his three endorsers; votes by 47 to 44 won’t cut it.

No poll yet done reflects Connolly’s commanding performance in the second debate, held two nights ago. My guess is that that debate moved a measurable chunk of the 14.7% undecideds to Connolly. Even if that is true, however, even if a new poll shows the race Connolly 46-50 and Walsh 37-40, the race is far from wrapped. This is not a presidential election, where almost every voter is sure to vote. many voters won’t bother unless they are TAKEN to the polls. Which means organization, a field army, as all pollsters take care to point out. Walsh is the field-army candidate. That his army may be mostly union activists is a problem impression for him to risk, but on election day that doesn’t matter. Even if the burliest union guy who ever snarled on a picket line shows up at your door to take you to the polls, you will go, because yes, you know it’s your duty to do so. And your almost uncast vote will count just as much as the most dedicated supporter’s.

How much is a dedicated field army worth ? In the many Boston city campaigns that I field-directed, each election day door-knocker could bring eight to ten voters to the polls, of whom maybe half would not have voted without that contact being made. The biggest precinct organization I ever worked with had about 16 people aboard. So, assuming all 16 do their job all day long, good “field’ can add about 64 votes to the total. Walsh probably can’t do much “field” in Wards 4, 5, and most of 3, but in the other 19 he can do plenty. They total 227 precincts. If all his “field people” do their job all day, they can add 227 x 64 = 14,528 votes to the total turnout. that equals about 9.5% of the likely final turnout number.

Of course his “field vote” WON’T total 14,528, for four reasons:

1.On Primary day his people already turned out almost all its vote, in walsh’s strongest precincts. There isn’t much new vote there to get.

2.Some voters whom “field people” bring to the polls don’t vote for that candidate. Not many, probably, but some.

3.All of Walsh’s field people can NOT “do their job” all day long. Traffic, missed communication, voters not answering the door — the fog of election war degrades even the finest field organization. From personal experience I can attest that if Walsh’s field works accomplish two thirds of their goal, they’ll have done well.

4.Connolly may not have a ready-made army of union activists, but he is hardly without committed, hard-working volunteers. Whatever vote Walsh people bring to the polls, Connolly can bring at least half that.

My conclusion ? Walsh can probably add about 8,000 votes to the total, Connolly 4,000. Which gives Walsh a net plus of 4,000 votes. that will likely be about 3 % of the total turnout.

in the Primary, of course, that 4,000 additional vote was good enough, with 12 candidates on the ballot and nobody having a huge number, to move Walsh past Connolly into first place. He managed slightly over 20,000 votes on that day. His field 4,000 comprised 20 % of it. No such bump will Walsh get on November 5th. If he is to win — and he well might — he will have to EARN it, not bring it.

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^ 1967 : Tony D’Arcangelo, who was John Sears’s East Boston guy in that campaign


Melnea Cass : what Clayton Turnbull and the Black Ministers have been to John Connolly, she was to John Sears in 1967.


^ John Sears, 1967 :much of what John Connolly is this year, he was in 1967.

POST SCRIPT : Is this 1967 again ? It seems that it is. Then we had a patrician urban reformer, John Sears — a Republican, even — running against the ultimate, South Boston Irish traditionalist, Louise Day Hicks. Sears did not win in the Primary — being a Republican hurt — but Kevin White, who did win, stepped right into Sears’s shoes. And what sort of voters did Sears command ? The young and well educated voters of Wards 3, 4, and 5; italian voters; and the black community. Does this look familiar ? Of course it does. John Connolly has John Sears’s vote, to which he has added his own Wards 19 and 20 and his mother’s home Ward 2 in Charlestown.

It almost amazes me to see how little has actually changed in Boston’s voting patterns and community alliances. The one thing that Has changed is the political party. in 1967, high-minded, education-oriented, parks and green, visionary urban reform was the hallmark of the Massachusetts Republican party — and still very much in power — as was the party’s solid connection to Italian voters and the Black Community (Melnea Cass, after whom the Boulevard was named, was a pillar of 1960s Black Boston — and was, in those days of senator Ed Brooke, a Republican state Committeewoman very active in the Sears campaign.) Today, the policy and community descendants of the 1967 Republican party are almost all Democrats : Obama Democrats, in fact. But then, is Barack Obama himself not precisely the educated, urban, high-minded reformer who would have been that kind of Republican two generations ago ?

— Micahel Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Master of City budgets : explaining. Master of labor negotiation ; listening.

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John Connolly easily carried last night’s second Mayor debate, but not for any of the hot button reasons being touted in the blog-o-sphere or news media. He did not win it because he crushed Marty Walsh on the “smear flier” matter. He didn’t win it because Walsh had no good reply to co-moderator Margery Eagan’s question as to why he hasn’t withdrawn his State Legislature bill to abolish city Council review of arbitrators’ awards. Nor did Connolly win it when Walsh made the mistake of saying his many endorsements by elected officials came from “a lot of my friends,” thereby reducing their prized blessings to an act of buddy-buddy.

Nor, even, did Connolly win it because he spoke eloquently while Walsh seemed unwilling at times to talk (David Wyatt ??) and when he did talk, often came across as chromosomically clumsy. After all, our current, beloved mayor, Tom Menino, epitomizes clumsy.

So forget all of the above for the moment. The reason that John Connolly won this debate, and a big part, too, of his mastery of the first debate, was his commanding knowledge of the city budget — its finances and its process. Time and time again, when Walsh tried to tie Connolly to this or that Council decision, Connolly proved Walsh’s attacks untrue, or misinformed, even clueless, at times, about how the City’s financial decisions are made, or why.

Mastery of the city budget isn’t just dry leaves. It’s the very essence of what City government is all about. Indeed, budgets are the core of all governemnt. It’s why we have governments and how they operate. Voters may well excuse Walsh’s clumsy debating ; especially because he is not the incumbent. Voters do expect a Mayor to speak authoritatively and readily on City matters, but a guy not yet Mayor is accorded some slack. But given another guy who is also not yet mayor, and who knows the City’s most basic function in and out and can explain it in a way that makes it seem as crucial as it is, voters cannot help but notice who is ready to govern and who might need some on the job training.

Rarely was Connolly’s mastery of the city budget on display before the primary — though I do recall one instance of it, in which, at Forum, he crushed one opponent who simply did not know the budget at all. Connolly’s entire campaign was predicated on school transformation — his phrase — and he became “the education candidate.” Yet last night he was asked few questions about education, though these he responded to with focus and passion, and, quite frankly, these questions probably did not matter much to voters watching. They already know where Connolly stands on education in the city, and they are learning quite rapidly that Walsh, too, has a well-thought-out city education plan. What they did NOT know – indeed, what I too did not sufficiently grasp — was that Connolly has such command of City budget matters. During the primary, at dozens of Forums, it was Dan Conley who made city administration has hallmark; Connolly rarely spoke of it.

But that was then. The fact is that because of his Budget process prowess, Connolly has now moved very close to becoming the man who will operate it for the next four years.

Post script : It is not that surprising to find that Walsh is no match for Connolly as a city budgeter. in a city labor negotiation, the labor negotiator says ; ‘this is what we want. How you do it is your problem.” Walsh is now looking to switch to the other side; to it being HIS “problem.’ it’s not an easy switch to make, especially when there’s a guy already there who knows the “problem” inside and out.

Walsh has one week to get in this game. he has the support of three current City Councillors : Felix G. Arroyo, Frank Baker, and Tito Jackson. They had better teach him fast. And he had better be ready to explain what they teach him.

Not all the Greater Boston Labor Council — hardly an “outside group” to a man who has been part OF it for many years — anti-Connolly fliers in the world can save the City Budget Day for Marty Walsh. Not all the local 1199 members door-knocking — and thus reinforcing voters’ perception of Marty as “the union guy” — can do it. Nor all the picket-line stand outs. This campaign has so far showed itself unwilling to learn anything about what voters outside its circle of interest are like. Can they do it now ?

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ a classic stump speech ; Clayton Turnbull saying it real for John Connolly

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Boston’s voters of color — black, brown, or yellow — have come of age in this campaign like never before. Whoever wins on November 5th, the breadth and sophistication of participation in it by voters Black, Hispanic, Caribbean, or Asian far surpasses anything that Boston has seen at least since the Abolitionist Era. Yes, you can say that these voters’ participation in the election of Barack Obama in 2008 (and in 2012) was strong, broad, and passionate. But Obama is himself a person of color. The participation this time is to the campaigns of two “white guys.” One man fairly well known, the other hardly at all.


^ the way it’s done — but until this year, not so much : State Senator Linda Dorcena-Forry going all out for Marty Walsh (with Felix G. arroyo at his side)

Not only the community leaders have participated, though they have upped their game in this respect. The new development is the participation of every sort of voter of color : union activists, church congregations, business leaders, hip hop DJs, restaurant and club promoters, artists, social networks, political operatives, contractors, and just plain folks. And not only are they participating; they are doing so with an issues agenda. On twitter and at facebook I have read their posts about the contest. Their observations show a knowledge of what’s at stake, and what’s behind the scenes, that matches anything I’ve read by anyone who isn’t a media pro — and show as shrewd a knowledge of the politics as even some media people. Nor is the participation in communities of color merely social mediating. Large numbers of folks are door-knocking, doing meet and greets (i.e., house parties), phone-banking, even fund-raising — for these two white guys who would be Mayor.


^ into the heart of the matter : Pastor Bruce Wall and friends stand with John Connolly

As one who, back in his political operative days in Boston, was often given the task of co-ordinating the City’s Black wards (in those days it was 9, 12, 14 and part of 13 and 15), I well remember when Black participation — the City then had few Hispanic or Viet Namese voters, and Chinatown was an entirely different matter — in a major city election consisted of paying hired volunteers “walking money” to pay to people who would stand at the polling places on election day and hold a sign or pass out palm cards. The candidate himself would rarely visit the Black wards, and what Black leaders there were did not protest this. They expected it. The candidate really had no reason to visit. “Covering the polls” on election day, if you could actually get it done in most of those 40 or so precincts, was usually good enough to win the day. And after that, it was usually good enough for a Mayor to hire a couple of Black ward leaders, to appoint one as an election commissioner, and, eventually, to hire Black youth workers. Even after the horrific crisis over school busing, in the mid-1970s, this situation prevailed.

Change began with Mel King’s campaign in 1983. King was then a state Representative, but not just that. He had a long history of involvement with progressive (indeed, very Left-wing) activism in Boston running back to the 1960s with the implementation, in Boston, of a local adjunct of President Johnson ‘s anti=poverty programs. King had a large following ranging from Robert Kennedy-inspired “white progressives” to activists in the black community, and, with their support and votes King reached the Final election — the first Mayoral Black candidate to do so. Ray Flynn, of South Boston, eventually won the election; but he made a serious effort to visit Boston’s Black neighborhoods and to connect with its leaders. Few votes for him resulted, but there were some; and there were activists who supported him, some quite vigorously. Once elected, Flynn brought those activists into City government. And more : he added Felix D. Arroyo — father of Felix G. Arroyo — into his administration at a high level and also connected as widely as he could with King supporters.


^ what Ray Flynn started with Felix D. Arroyo, Marty Walsh has summed up with Felix G. Arroyo.

What Flynn began, Menino built upon; but his building work was administrative. It remained electorally untested, for the most part. That phase has now definitively ended. Boston’s communities of color — and communities of new immigrants — are stepping now into the contact sport that is election politics and are being wooed by both Walsh and Connolly with an intensity that assures that henceforth the “communities of color” vote will be as necessary a part of any City campaign as “the Italian vote” has been for the past 60 years.

The prejudice evident in the Sacco-Vanzetti crisis of the 1920s, and its tragic end, made integration of Boston’s Italian vote into city politics a necessary goal. It took 30 years to complete that process. It has taken the city almost 40 years, after the “busing” crisis, to integrate its “communities of color” vote similarly, but it has now been done.

If nothing else comes out of this intense and sometimes nasty campaign, the work of integrating communities of color into Boston’s political establishment is an victory the city can take pride in.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Walsh endorsed

^ receiving the blessing : Congressman Mike Capuano says that Marty Walsh is OK

— — —

It is said, by Marty Walsh’s campaign, that it has “momentum.” Well ? What campaign doesn’t ? Every campaign worth a shiny ha’penny moves ahead with its things to do and tries to move more mightily. What “Team Walsh” — this year’s cant for “volunteers” — really means is that are catching up. As evidence they cite the bushel of endorsements they’ve received from current or past elected officials. (By my count, it’s now Connolly 9, Walsh 16.) But winning the endorsement skirmish comes at a price., In the 1959 Mayor election, John E. Powers had all the endorsements, John Collins none.

Collins won.

At a time when many people are fed up with elected officials’ inability to keep promises, and when many more no longer believe what an elected official says, having endorsement by elected officials as your big magillah may not be the win-win the endorsee thinks it is. Already Connolly is doing the John Collins move : pointing out in his speeches that, as he said this morning at a rally, “so many politicians have endorsed Marty Walsh I almost expect Barack Obama to endorse him !” (He laughed. So did the entire room.) “All I’ve got,” he continued, are the people !” Saying it as he nodded to the 170 or so leaders and people gathered to support him.

There does seem to be a gathering strength to Walsh’s campaign. I sense it. He is drawing larger gatherings than Connolly (although today’s rally at Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall drew plenty) and has more of them. Connolly continues to do house parties — tons of them — but at house parties he reaches 20, 30, maybe 4r0 people. Walsh at his rallies reaches 100, 200, even 300. This is what you’d expect, of a candidate scantly known to most voters but now endorsed by “big names.” Tons of voters must be asking “who is this Walsh ? I never heard of him before. But Big Pol # 6 is supporting him ? Guess I ought to go see what he’s all about.”

This is good politics. Marty Walsh has huge clout with the unions local and national, but his name recognition doesn’t match up to the clout. So, use the huge clout to draw the voters’ attention to (1) who you are and (2) that you have huge clout. It’s a simple tactic, and it is working. Walsh is by now a known name probably throughout Boston. It also impresses voters that the Endorsing Big Pols are, in some cases, working their supporters on his behalf and even are working themselves. This gives credence to the message that Walsh Has Clout.

Clout matters. Voters like to kn ow that their mayor is a Big Gun, a Giant who can make the State House salaam and the Feds say “Yessir !” Don;t we all want that Strong a Mayor rather than a merely local biggie. So the Walsh message does resound.

Of course the Big Pols pushing his clout have a purpose to their passion. I have written about their purpose often during this campaign — no need to revisit it right now. Today I’m merely recognizing that it is there and that voters are weighing seriously a man they hardly knew or didn’t know at all even two months ago.

Connolly today^ John Connolly endorsed by few, supported by many. But HOW many ?

John Connolly’s task is harder. As he is already fairly well known, having been elected to the Council citywide three times, he does not evoke voter curiosity as to who he is. The voters already know who he is. What Connolly has to do is say, “you know me, you know what I’m about, now I’m asking you to support what I’m about.” The phrase “what I am about” implies a MOVEMENT, not just “momentum.” But it is not easy to move people. If it were, there would be hundreds of Jesus’s and Mohammeds; but  there were only two. Movements rarely arise. Even at the lower intensity of political movement they come only now and then. Gene McCarthy for President was such a movement. Reagan in 2000. Obama in 2008.

All these were geared to huge national purposes. City politics does not rise to that level. John Connolly seeks to lead a school transformation movement (and, since the Primary, has connected it to several mother reforms and transformations). Yet at today’s rally, Connolly’s endorsers talked of his “independence’ and that he would give the community of color “not just an ear but a seat at the table” and “not just a seat at the table but a partnering.” To me it sounds like nuance.

Can Connolly’s school transformation and nuanced view of access to power beat Marty Walsh’ s “this who I am, and I have clout” ? We will see. Myself, I say this : IF it weren’t for the contradictions in his campaign, and the smallness of the single interest that it represents, Walsh would be the winner on November 5th. If.

Of course, if if’s were horses, beggars would be riders.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ friends maybe : Marty Walsh and John Connolly at the Rozzie Parade

— — —

My friend Gerry Seely, who worked more Ward 20 campaigns than I care to count, used to say “politics is a contact sport.” How right he was, and is. He loved the contact. So did I. That’s how we proved ourselves.

I know that many of you reading this are now asking : what does this phrase mean ? What IS “contact sport politics” ? Answer : take a look around you right now.

The Connolly campaign has built and is still building a huge organization of door knockers, house party hosts, social media posters, fund-raisers, sign hangers, etc. Precinct captains have been chosen; precinct organizations are forming. Soon the campaign will have — if it is on a success path — at least a dozen workers per precinct, all of them out there taking the Connolly message to every voter in their precinct.

The Walsh campaign is doing the same thing. Its tone is different, and Walsh is deploying his people on different platforms than is Connolly : less social media, more face-to-face. But the basics are the same as for Connolly : door knocking, sign hanging,. hose parties, meet and greets. all of it done in the precinct (there are 255 in Boston now) by precinct organizations.

you can’t have 24 people, let’s say, going about one single precinct — each has from 1500 to 2000 voters only — without them encountering one another’s work or even face to face. Thus the “contact sport.”

Passions arise in campaign organizations, because it takes huge physical effort, day after day, with few breaks, to do what campaign organizations musty do. Constant strain begets constant intensity. It becomes easy to think of the rival candidate’s organization as people to be bested, beaten, defeated. Those of us who engaged in campaigns all the time learned to hold our passions in check, more or less. we saw the rival organization as soldiers in the same war, and while we delighted in defeating them, when it was all over they were our buddies : we had both gone through the same test. plus, we both knew that though one of us won this time and the other of us lost, in the next campaign — which might begin the next week — they might win and we lose.

The problem comes when contact sport occurs between organizations peopled largely by first-timers. This campaign is such a one. how could it not be, when there hasn’t been an open race for mayor since 1993 ? Almost everybody working a precinct in this campaign is new to the game. It’s a truism that in politics, most workers do their best work in their first campaign. They’re more enthusiastic, less jaded, and because they are “fresh,” voters who meet them trust their involvement more than they do the “political pro’s.” Thus, campaigns want as many first-timers as they can get. his the Connolly and Walsh campaigns have done.

It becomes a huge management problem to keep the first-timers cool on the street; to police the behavior of rookie precinct organizations bumping into one another. As I have written, one of the key tests, for me, in whom I want as Mayor is how well he manages the day to day of his campaign. So far it’s really been no contest. The Connolly campaign has kept its cool from word to street. I’ve seen no disparagement of Marty Walsh, indeed just the opposite. Nor have I heard, even once, of Connolly volunteers leaning on Walsh supporters. The opposite has not been true.

Reading that sentence, you may respond that because Here and Sphere has endorsed John Connolly, i have a bias. I do have one. But as a reporter, I never let that bias control my finger on the laptop keyboard. In the Connolly campaign I see a cool excitement, a readiness to do the task at hand without animus,a discipline extraordinary, really. In the Walsh campaign I see — have seen since I first began to cover this election nine weeks ago — a passion so intense that it bursts its bonds. It lies at the heart of the contradiction that is his campaign. How to be union but not too union ? How to be excited but not so excited that you alienate people ?

Walsh supporters can feel very intimidating. At a distance, that’s OK; it’s even fun to watch. But up close, in the precinct, block by block and house next to house, it leads to confrontation. At which point “contact sport” backfires.

This campaign has already reached that point. The agendas of the two candidates differ hugely. They live on opposite sides of the city, draw from bases that have little contact with each other.

The next two weeks will require a ton of leadership example from the top if we aren’t to end up cleaving the city in half for many years to come.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MEEK AT THE MOVIES — The Fifth Estate ( 2.5 STARS )

^ no soul to sell ; Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange (with Daniel Bruhl) in Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate”

—- —- —-

WikiLeaks, the renegade news outlet that takes hacked secrets from government agencies and publishes them to the world sans redaction while protecting the identity of the whistle blower through an elaborate ‘submission platform,’ that’s so secure, even the publisher doesn’t know the identity of the leaker. That site’s notoriety achieved its apex when it published reports exposing US intelligence assets abroad and crass snippy inter-office memos from those in the State Department trashing world leaders. But that’s just the background and part of the denouement in “The Fifth Estate” which is really more a character study of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his meteoric rise to international infamy.

Assange is played by Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan in the last “Star Trek” chapter) who in long white locks and with piercing blue eyes looks somewhat ethereal or other worldly, like the fair-haired elves in the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy or the calmly maniacal Julian Sands in the “Warlock” films. Cumberbatch’s Assange is a hard beast to wrap your hands around. He’s guff, arrogant, but at the same time an idealist who spends time in Africa trying to expose corrupt governments stealing money from the people and killing anyone who questions their brutish entitlements. The film’s window of insight into Assange’s mystifying persona is his early collaborator Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl who played Niki Lauda in “Rush”), who at first idolizes Assange and his mission but later has clashing ideological differences over what to do with the Pentagon papers Bradley Manning leaked to them (it was Manning who exposed himself in a chat room).

The film is directed by Bill Condon, who had notable successes with “Dream Girls” and “Gods and Monsters,” and recently has been involved in the hackneyed “Twilight” series. Condon keeps things clicking along with Twitter-brisk editing and plenty of acerbic Assange diatribes. He makes sitting at a desk and hacking away against the clock a time bomb-beating experience. As far as composition goes, the film looks great, but there’s not much insight into Assange’s past. His stories of his white hair and his long unseen son (near adulthood) seem arcane and piquant at first, but then they feel like ploys used by Assange to manipulate others. And that’s the fatal fault with “Fifth Estate.” Assange is an asshole and you can’t wait for him to get his comeuppance. The well-heeled documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney earlier this year came out with “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” which got at Assange and the WikiLeaks story more satisfactorily. What Condon was aiming for is unclear. It postures well and Cumberbatch is riveting as the media shaping reptile, but in all the plumbing of the journalistic ethic and mad dash globe hoping, there’s just no soul to sell.

— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies