^ A 1000 lemons are zooming toward the man who will have to tend the Boston lemon grove….

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Those of us who preferred John Connolly as Mayor may wonder whether our preference was a blessing or a curse. Because the mayor we did get, Marty Walsh, faces an avalanche of problems verging on intractable. Well might John Connolly be grateful to have dodged the 1000 lemons descending upon Walsh’s first year in office, any one of which could derail his agenda and all of which might leave him muttering “why me ?”

Consider : ( 1 ) Boston Public Schools face change in every aspect, from teacher evaluation to curriculum development; from facilities upgrades to a new union contract; from competition for school funds to a revised school assignment plan that, hopefully, prioritizes close-to-home; and the bugaboo of charter schools, loved by supporters (and Walsh has been one), demonized by the Ravitch-ians ( 2 ) a Police Department that miserably failed to administer the City’s taxis, which entirely lacks diversity at the captain level, that has in many cases lost the trust of neighbors in the most violent zip codes, that just won a budget-busting pay raise heavy with money from public works details ( 3 ) a Fire department ready to rumble its own forthcoming contract negotiation; which now lacks both top administrators; is utterly resistant to firehouse and work rule reform even from a Mayor independent — which Walsh is totally not ( 4 ) city finances standing $ 50 million in the red even before the Police pay raise award and which can only redden more deeply as the funding needs of school reform, future union contracts, and public works present their bills — not to mention tax breaks that project developers will demand, and likely be granted, as the price of moving Boston’s Building boom forward (and thus providing continued work to Walsh’s core support, the building trades workers).

Consider also these : ( 1 ) major school reform that will be demanded — not requested — by employers who will either get job applicants who can meet entry-level requirements, at least, or will move to cities whose graduates do meet those requirements ( 2 ) expanding the City’s hubway bike system without aggravating car traffic flow ( 3 ) figuring a plan for Sullivan Square / Charlestown Neck that makes useful space of it, rather than a traffic-clogged jumble of trash, old brick, and rusty rails; and that takes into account the likelihood of a Steve Wynn casino in Everett, directly across the Mystic River ( 4 ) making the city’s parks safer to use, grounds-keeping them, and opening them — Franklin Park in particular — to tournament sport ( 5 ) devising a platform that makes middle-class housing profitable to build and affordable to buy — and deciding where to base it, in the face of neighborhood NIMBY-ism ( 6 ) configuring the BRA to increase neighborhood input (as most voters want) without enabling NIMBY-ism ( 7 ) choosing new hires without succumbing entirely to favoritism (although at a lower level, favors have value to the collaborator that Walsh has built his following by being; and, lastly ( 8 ) hiring a substantial presence of people from Boston’s Communities of Color (“COC”), and seeing many into the building trades : because without strong COC support Walsh wouldn’t have come close to winning and without which he won’t be re-elected.

Then comes the City Council Presidency flap now roiling some commentators and overly mind-busy “progressives.” The last thing that Marty Walsh needs, given the lemon grove of problems zooming at his head, is a Council President who can credibly run against him in 2017. Walsh will almost certainly face a strong opponent anyway. How can it help city governance to box Walsh further than he is already boxed ?

I wrote two days ago that Walsh may have made a big mistake by holding so many public hearings on the eleven issues that his transition team prioritized; that he might have been better served to put a lid on it all until a few months into his actual term of office. But perhaps his public hearings have more value than not. They give issues constituencies opportunity to speak, insist, petition; to feel that this new Mayor sincerely wants to listen. I think he does.

Listening — which he does well — is true to who Walsh has been, as union leader and legislator : a collaborator who works by bringing various interests together for a common purpose. The weakness in his method is that it depends on the willingness of those interests to collaborate with the collaborator. We will find out soon enough if that happens, and with how many lemons.

One asset that Walsh does possess is a wide circle of “wise old heads’ who trust and respect him and whose reputations in the City;s various communities Walsh now commands. He will not lack for good advice or for spokesmen and spokeswomen to argue bis case to the various interests arguing their cases to him. Other than these folks, however, his team looks young and quite all of a kind. He need to diversify his core staff, and soon.

Most of all, he badly need to hire top people now working for the various entrenched interests that now confront him AWAY from those jobs and INTO his administration.

The success of his lemon grove lemonade depends on it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Lisa Moellman

^ Guest Contributor Lisa Moellman

Editor’s note :

We received this via inbox at our personal facebook page. It was sent, said Ms. Moellman, in response to an article that appeared in Sunday’s Boston Globe, by Christopher and Sarah Lubenski, to the effect that by some measures Public Schools perform better than private ones. As her response addressed the article in question most persuasively and, as well, highlighted a major urban public school set-up as rebuttal, we have decided to publish it as a guest contribution, after which we have posted an essay of our own.

This is Lisa Moellman’s letter :

“I sent an email to Prof. Lubenski sharing my response to the Globe piece highlighting his and his wife’s conclusions about why they found public schools outperforming private ones on a math measure nationally. Here it is:

“I just read the key conclusions of your study highlighted in the Boston Globe piece today (site based autonomy and school competition bode poorly for math achievement).

“I taught in one of the best PUBLIC school districts in North America (approx. 100,000 students)–Edmonton Public Schools–which in fact maintains a portfolio of schools in which EVERY school has site based autonomies, student weighted funding and the ENTIRE district is an open district of choice for families. It is a public district of autonomy and competition–extremely high performing. This flies in the face of your rationale about auntonomies and competition at the core of the differences you found between public and private…take a look at this summary about Edmonton Pubic and take a deeper dive into understanding the developmental histroy of this district–it’s a beacon for districts across Canada and the U.S., as well as some in the EU.

“Further, a 2010 McKinsey report notes that public districts moving from poor to good need to centralize professional development, curricula, etc. but that once districts are at a good level, if they want to become great districts, they must decentralize and provide leadership and teachers with site based autonomies.

“In my experience and reading, your conclusions are not justified by your research findings. It’s troubling because this article was just tweeted by a key advisor to Mayor Elect Walsh in Boston on #Bosmayor. Scaling back our movement toward pilot and in district charter autonomies as Boston Public Schools attempts to move from ‘good to GREAT’ would be a misstep and deeply troubling as we strive to close the Achievement Gap.”

—- Lisa Moellman / Guest Contributor

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Editor’s Note : first, the Lubenskis’ article talks of private schools in general. No distinction or classification is made. This stacks the deck. Because private schools operate almost entirely in competition with one another, the fact of competition becomes the standard, for many such schools, rather than the rigor of the curriculum.  It is unfair to pit ALL private schools, of whatever sort and however set up, against public schools, which must adhere to a common, legislative standard. The argument is not whether public schools do better than ALL private schools but whether they do better than the schools most parents would be comparing to public schools. Most parents would not pay money to send their kids to a poorly performing private school.

Second, by choosing mathematics, the Lubenskis have already made a structural choice as well as a curriculum decision. They do not seem to realize that we school our children to two very distinct obligations : citizenship and the workplace. Mathematics do not get taught at home as often as reading, history, and civics because these are citizenship disciplines, while mathematics is almost entirely a workplace knowledge, at least in our society (to the Greeks, mathematics was as idea-based as te other liberal arts and formed the basis of much of their awareness of the real world).

Much of the otiose discussion going on these days about education arises from the failure to distinguish the prerequisites of citizenship and workplace. For citizenship, we teach reading, writing, argument, the arts, and music; and ethical, societal, moral, and legal knowledege (including history) that does not change — or, at best, slowly evolves — because human nature does not change; whereas for the workplace, everything changes constantly. This has implications for formal education that almost no one talks about. One is that teachers of citizenship knowledge should have long experience of the world — tribal societies used councils of elders to instill such knowledge in their young and to test their mastery of it. Whereas, with workplace knowledge, long experience often impedes instruction. In our rapidly innovating world, the best teacher of workplace knowledge is, likely as not,  to be very young — the younger the better. A career in workplace teaching contradicts the experience of the innovation economy, in which collaborative competition renders career knowledge relentlessly obsolete.

When thinking workplace knowledge, we must never forget that we are educating children for tomorrow. Not for today, not for yesterday.

Much workplace knowledge is most effectively imparted on the job, by apprenticeship. This is what our society used to do, but because apprenticeship was often a form of child labor and indentured servitude, it was given up as immoral or illegal. today it should be brought back, in a new form, as internships.

Unfortunately the huge institutional power of academe has all but monopolized our society’s teaching functions, so that subjects that should be learned by doing (as John Dewey knew 110 years ago), in apprenticeships or internships, are now “taught” in  formal schools by “teachers.” Why should future lawyers go to a law school ? The law, for example, is quintessentially a practiced art. It is best learned by “reading law’ or “clerking’ for a lawyer.

We also ask our schools — public especially — to do too much that isn’t education at all. Teachers are not set up to be day care providers, baby sitters, psychologists, nursers. Parents can NOT simply dump their children at the school door and say, “here, take them, I need a day of quiet.” As long as we allow our schools to be thus imposed upon, schools will be hard pressed to do what schools do. the only way that this “here, take my kids, I need quiet’ system works is with boarding schools. (It’s not such a radical idea. Our first Massachusetts antecedents, back in the 1600s,  often sent their kids at age 12 away to live with a family not their own. It was thought — correctly — that the child would be less likely to fight discipline at someone else’s house than in his or her own. Having been sent to boarding school myself, at age 13, I can attest the truth of this custom.)

At the primary, middle, and high school levels, however, it is fair to ascribe almost all citizenship and work skills education to formal schooling. This we do. But just because we do this, we cannot lose sight of the gulf that separates the two curriculum paths. Citizenship requires learning of one kind, the workplace of a completely different kind.

Of course we could always decide to teach mathematics as a conceptual art, as did the Greeks. The relationship between number and computation as concept, and number and computation in empirical experience, was the first pathway by which Greek civilization developed its sense of what is as opposed to things imagined merely. And it is from Greek speculative research that our civilization’s axioms have developed.

But that is a discussion for another day.

For now, suffice me to assert this education proposition : 1. first is the child — all children, at first.. 2. second is the curriculum : what we agree to teach him or her. 3. third is a teacher we hire to teach it to him or her. 4. fourth is the evaluation of how well the instruction is being done, both by teacher and student. 5. fifth is the site ; where will we teach the student ? (In Athens it was the Lyceum, a building and grounds set aside for that purpose.)

These are important. Everything else in the education discussion is gossip, self-seeking, or house cleaning.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Seminar Day : much attention and then discussion at the Morning’s Education “Break-Out session”

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It has been a strange week in Boston City Politics. The Mayor-elect, Marty Walsh, has hosted an entire series of gatherings to discuss the eleven issue categories that his Transition Team has endorsed. Singly, night by night, these issues gatherings have taken place and will continue to do so well into January. On Saturday, all eleven issues gatherings held meetings again, all day long, in what Walsh’s Transition Website dubs “Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh Town Hall Meeting.” The title misleads. The actual gatherings felt, to this participant, more like college seminars. Perhaps that’s because they were for the most part led by college educators.

That’s the strange part. The eleven issue categories — Arts and Culture, Basic City Services, Economic Development, Education, Energy-Environment & open Space, Housing, Human Services, Public Health, Public Safety, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Youth — all develop in a political context (some of the issues more than others. Arts & Culture seems appropriately collegiate, Basic City Services hardly at all); and political space is certainly where Walsh will have to decide how to structure them and choose priorities. So why the college-y format ? Yes, Boston’s a city plenteous with colleges. It’s nonetheless peculiar to think of Marty as Headmaster Walsh.

I attended the Morning Education seminar, then the afternoon Transportation/Infrastructure conference. At each, participants offered suggestions on what to keep — stuff that the City is already doing right; on what to implement — stuff that the Mayor can initiate without state legislation or huge budget outlays; and on what to dream about — a wish list for the future. Lists of each were made on large sheets of yellow art paper, and these were read from at the “general session” after all the seminars had ended. From the two sessions that I attended, I photographed both “keep” and “implement” lists. To see just how comprehensive these became, I invite you to peruse the “List” photographs below :photo (27)photo (28)^ the Education Session developed these ^ Lists of “Keep’ and “Implement”

Below —  the Transportation/Infrastructure attendees came up with this “Implement” List :

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After the seminars had concluded, each seminar moderator delivered a report — and the lists. It was a lot to digest. Walsh sat on stage, in their midst and made an heroic effort to pay attention.

Walsh delivered opening remarks and spoke after the session as well; he then did question-and-answer with the hundreds of citizens who more or less populated the Reggie Lewis Auditorium at Roxbury Community College, ground zero for the day’s discussing.

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^ school headmaster ? Marty Walsh addressed the gathered seminar goers after the day’s teaching

His opening remarks told of  a trip to the Nation’s capitol, from which, he said, he had returned only the night before: “The problems we face, the challenges,” said Walsh, “We’ll take them to Washington. Unemployment insurance must be restored…State and federal aid has been cut. we need to change the discussion.” The gathered citizens applauded. After the session ended, Walsh said in summation, “I was told by somebody that they had never seen a mayor and citizens have the kind of conversation we’re having today,” he said. “We need to continue this conversation after today too.”

Clearly Walsh has made a decision that stirring the pot of citizen petitioning the City is good politics. It continues the brilliant move that he made in his campaign, to engage hundreds of educators and public interest advocates in drafting 40 policy papers for future Boston governance. Those papers — 37 were actually completed — made Walsh look Mayoral, not just the Union guy he had been (quite correctly) seen as. No wonder that he is bringing such a thumbs-up campaign device into his transition work. Seminar and conference have much value convincing citizens that City hall is listening diligently. It can. Walsh has brought to his side an impressive group of Bostonians, many of them long known by me, with experience of the City as extensive as my own. And yet…

And yet I’m not sure that Walsh realizes that by keeping the issues pot boiling he is ( 1 ) raising participants’ expectations of his administration very high ( 2 ) will almost certainly disappoint some — maybe many ( 3 ) and thereby is setting the stage for a strong opposition candidate — surely a person of color — in 2017, a campaign that is likely to begin almost immediately after the 2015 Council elections.

Already the early moves are being made, as we see in the serious implications underlying the silly — and distractive — flap about “progressive” Councillor Michelle Wu supporting “conservative’; Bill Linehan for Council President. Already we see the formation of “monitoring’ groups which intend to hold Walsh to a variety of campaign promises — in particular, bringing people of color significantly into his administration at all levels — many of which he will be hard-pressed to keep, especially given the City’s $ 50 million budget deficit (which number is mounting even as I write). Eleven issues seminar groups can only whet the appetite of those with agendas to press.

Politically, it night have been wiser for Walsh to put a lid on politics during his transition — and beyond. This is what John Connolly has done, and most of his supporters. Few Connolly people have participated in the Walsh seminars; fewer still have been much heard from since election day, and John Connolly himself not at all, except to invite supporters to a December 27th “thank you” party. But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it’s a pleasant vacation from politics to hear a speech such as Professor (and Boston Globe columnist) Ed Glaeser, emcee of the Seminar, delivered, almost without notes, at session’s end; an eloquent, even stirring, history of The City, in America and elsewhere: what cities are about; why we need them; how they advance the human condition and shape our thoughts; in particular, the history of Boston, with its immigrants, universities, its “human capital,” which, as Glaeser noted, is more valuable than the coal, oil, and minerals that Boston does not have.

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^ History 307 — The City — Professor Glaeser tells it sweepingly

Glaeser’s narrative reminded me of the awe-inspiring History lecturers at whose podiums I studied at college. It was a thrilling experience to feel my mind carried back so many decades to when we students felt ourselves graced and awed by such narratives as Glaeser’s. hearing his speech, I almost forgot that this was a seminar about things to be done.

Talking is not doing. Silence often is.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE : Marty Walsh badly needs to expand his reach beyond the team that has gotten him to victory. At the “Town hall” he was surrounded by all the familiar faces — hard working all, idealistic many — and accompanied by legislative and Council endorsers who strengthened his campaign. Of the rest of the City’s power players, however, I saw very very few. Some conspicuously had other plans. Clearly there is skepticism about Walsh’s readiness to the entire City. There’s also still a strong tide of continuance, of no giving up, by the “new Boston’ constituency that almost won on election day. It’s a constituency that doesn’t need City Hall to give it vision or goals to achieve and wants the Mayor to rethink the City, not merely improve it ; and will do so without him, if that’s how it is to be.  — MF

photo (40)^ drawing upon practical experience of the wise heads too :Marty Walsh conferred in a time-out moment with my old friend Pat Moscaritolo, of East Boston, who has managed much economic development work in Boston since the 1970s.


On Thursday I received a letter from the “Committee to Elect Fisher for Governor.” Since I am Here and Sphere’s politics reporter, I had heard of Mr. Fisher — had surfed his facebook page, in fact, and not favorably. I wondered why he would be writing to me. I read his letter. Half way through it, I was moved to answer him. As I read to its end, I found in it truly serious questions about what our politics is all about and thus decided to answer him by what political people call an “open letter.”

“Dear Candidate Fisher :

“You write me because of my ‘service to the Republican Party,” for which I thank you. I am, as you note, a registered Republican, as were four generations of my forbears. The Republican party meant something to my Dad, Grand Dad, and Great Grand-Dad, and it has meant something to me since I first became active just out of college. I thus looked in your letter for some commitment on your part to what it has meant to us. I found none. What I did find, I reject.

“You say that you were moved to run for Governor because Governor Patrick “re-opened the tolls on the western part of the Mass Pike.” You then say that “tolls are great for only…Patronage,’ and you decry the men and women who work as toll collectors.

“A candidacy that starts by denigrating people who work is a strange candidacy. Toll collectors work hard under sometimes horrible weather conditions and at all hours. If they earn an average of $ 76,000 a year, as you write, that is hardly a king’s ransom ; but it is enough for them to participate in the consumer economy that keeps our economy — and their family’s lives — moving forward.

“You also miss the larger needs that the resumed tolls address. Our state’s roads and bridges badly need repair, and our public transit facilities break down all the time for lack of money to maintain them, much less upgrade them.

“You talk about ‘conservative values.’ I’m not sure what ‘conservative’ means any more, but on your facebook page you cite several agendas which defame whatever defensible adjective you want to ascribe to them.

“You would deny to women control over thrir own bodies and health care, something that neither you nor I have any right to do and a contravention of the policy of every Republican Governor this State has had in my lifetime.

“You want gay and transgemder people to not have the full civil rights that all citizens are entitled to and which the Republican party was created to fight for. Your position is an affront to all people of good will and incompatible with a Republican nomination for any office.

“You talk about ‘gun rights.’ Such talk was offensive long before Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown, not to mention George Zimmerman. To talk of ‘gun rights’ now is to pit yourself against the entire society which your candidacy seeks to govern. Mr. Fisher, guns HAVE no rights. people have rights. And our society has the right to be free of individuals with loaded guns putting everyone in fear and worse — for what ?

“You dehumanize the people you call “illegal immigrants.” you say they cost the state almost two billion dollars. Mr. Fisher, that’s just wrong. As Jeb Bush — a Republkican — said at this year’s CPAC conference, ‘undocumnted immigrants are a boon to the economy. and because of their young demographic, they’re also how we rescue Social security.’

“Mr. Fisher, undocumented workers pay more in taxes in one year, every year, than Mitt Romney has paid in his entire lifetime. Do you have any idea what the life of most undocumented peope is like ? I have seen them standing outside in summer or the cold, at dawn every day, across from Home Depot in my city, hoping to be hired for a day’s pay. Undocumented people — and immigrants similar — take the subway to work at 5 AM, working at the toilet-cleaning and janitor jobs, in office buildings hospitals hotels and universities, for pay that until recently was minimum wage. Yet you decry these people ? Mr. Fisher, they are heroes.

“Reading what you think of the least among us, do you have the slightest idea what is entailed in governing the 6,000,000-plus people who live in Massachusetts ? The Governor  has to administer our roads, bridges, transit system; to maintain our clean water and environmental quality; to assure a strong public school curriculum; to operate the State’s parks, beaches, courts, district attorneys, prisons, half-way houses, career retraining centers, welfare offices, retirement, veterans affairs, and a variety of administrative agencies, licensing divisions, tax collection, and more. All of these exist because in our extremely complex, diverse, and changing society that we call Massachusetts, capable administration keeps our intricately adjustable State moving forward with as little friction or confusion as human capabilities reasonably manage.

“I read nothing, in all your campaign talk, of any plans to improve, reform, or add to any of these Governor’s responsibilities; indeed, nothing of any of the public policy issues that activists everywhere are discussing and proposing. All the other Governor candidates who I am following have plenty of policy suggestions : where are yours ?

“I can only conclude that your candidacy isn’t about us, the 6,000,000 and more. It’s about you. It is ALL about you. As you say near the end of your letter, “in the past I would vote and then complain.” But “my circumstances have now changed.”

I, I, my, me, and mine ! Mr. Fisher, I hate to tell you, but being Governor is NOT about you. It”s about everyone, diversely, equally respected and all of us together.

Sinerely, Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ much love for Juliette : Kayyem speaks to Democratic activists in Barnstable last Sunday

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In the parlance of now, there is much love afoot for Juliette Kayyem, one of five Democrats exerting to be that party’s nominee for Governor of Massachusetts. At 10.24 AM on this December 13, 2013 morning, Kayyem has gained 1,089 twitter followers since I first checked the numbers on November 10th. No rival compares. Don Berwick has added 374; Steve Grossman, 194; Martha Coakley, about 600; Joe Avellone, 67. (On the Republican side, Charlie Baker has added 307 followers, while Tea Party Mark Fisher’s newly posted twitter account has 36 followers.)

Kayyem’s total twitter following stands at 5,321 ; about 1600 behind Grossman’s and way behind Coakley’s 12,400 ; but she already tops Baker’s 4,311 and Berwick’s 2,203. As for her presence on facebook, Kayyem trails the “big’ names, yes ; Charlie baker has 32,317 “Likes”; Martha Coakley, 19,193. But Kayyem’s 3,469 isn’t far from Steve Grossman’s 5,520 and leads both Don Berwick’s 2,011 and Mark Fisher’s 1,367. Adding these numbers up, Kayyem has risen to the top of the “second tier” already. So what is going on, that has produced slo many Romeos for this Juliette on our State’s 2014 political scene ?

Charisma first. You need only look at her pictures to see that she connects to people. She leans forward to them, not back away or ramrod straight. She’s casual, even slangy, gets the humor on the net and gives it back. She casts better as the candidate of “now” than any of her rivals — only Charlie Baker has a similar degree of “now”-ness.

Second, her issues and how she addresses them. Of course no one should expect a candidate to accomplish, if elected, what he or she proposes in a campaign ; government isn’t that simple (witness Mayor-elect Marty Walsh’s back-walking his “overhaul the BRA” proposals). But you can tell a lot about how a candidate will approach the office he or she seeks by the temper and content of his or her campaign proposals. Here’s what Kayyem’s website says about “reforming the Criminal justice system” — as pressing a need as there is in State governance right now :

Massachusetts cannot continue to imprison more and more of our citizens at an ever increasing cost. This trend is not fiscally sustainable, it often doesn’t make sense from a law enforcement perspective, and it does not reflect the kind of Massachusetts we want to be. Juliette will make sure that our criminal justice system becomes more evidence based and less wasteful; more rehabilitative and less purely punitive; and, perhaps most importantly, more focused on integrating those who have served their time back into society as productive citizens rather than ignoring their problems once they leave a correctional facility. In order for the Commonwealth to seize the opportunities of the future and build inclusive and productive communities, we must do better when it comes to our criminal justice system.”

Then there’s health care, a huge issue nationally and thus one that we in Massachusetts also talk about, even though for us universal health care has been a given for almost a decade. Kayyem says this :

Massachusetts is a national leader in ensuring that all residents have access to quality, affordable healthcare. As governor, Juliette will work to: Continue to bring technological advancements to Massachusetts’ health care system that will bring the cost of health care down while improving service; and Reduce health disparities in the Bay State’s underprivileged communities.”

Note that last sentence. How many candidates these days for high office ever talk about the difficulties faced by people living in poverty ?

Don Berwick, who is a doctor, confronts the health needs of poor people at least as directly as Kayyem; on other issues of fairness and civil rights he stands, ahead of what Kayyem has published so far. But from the huge love now being accorded Kayyem online — and the immense schedule of meet and greet events with activists that she is pursuing, all of them drawing large crowds — one has to conclude that in person, Kayyem persuades that she — the person she is — will be most able, as Governor, to do what she talks of. One need only ask the large crowds who have recently met her up close in Melrose, Brewster, Franklin, Barnstable, Worcester, and, especially, at the “JPProgressives’ candidates’ night at Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica plain.

Or perhaps it’s the “Elizabeth Warren” effect ? Until recently, Massachusetts voters had hardly ever elected a woman to high office. Then came Senator Warren, and now Congresswoman Katherine Clark — the State’s third female Congress member. Massachusetts Democrats, at least, are acting like converts do : once seeing the light, they become more than merely enlightened; they become apostles. It helps that, in Kayyem, they have a candidate with a resume and education approaching Warren’s. Especially is Kayyem the object of a ton of Romeos in contrast to the dry and reticent Martha Coakley, the memory of whose befuddled 2009 US Senate campaign has hardly dimmed at all and whose current campaign for Governor hasn’t generated much better.

If you haven’t yet paid much attention to Juliette Kayyem — or to the race for Governor in general — it’s time now to do so. The Democratic party caucuses begin in less than two months. The Republican meetings follow soon after.

NEXT FOR #MAGOV : the mid-December OCPF fund-raising and expenses report

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ a Councillor, not a Don Quixote ; Michelle Wu (with Philip Frattaroli and Marty Keogh at the Frattaroli family’s post-Columbus Day Parade reception

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There’s much flap going around now,as silly a brouhaha as I’ve observed in this entire Boston campaign cycle, including an op-ed by my old Boston Phoenix colleague Yvonne Abraham, to the effect that Councillor-elect Michelle Wu shouldn’t vote for Bill Linehan as the new Council President.. Supposedly she should vote for a Councillor who “shares her agenda.” Today’s Globe quotes several persons, described as “progressives,’ who promise not to support Wu for re-election if she votes for Linehan. This is zealotry of the Tea Party kind, to which the Left, as we’ve seen in the past, is hardly immune. One quoted voice even says that “Unless (Wu) changes her mind…she’s a one-term city councillor.”

This is rubbish. It’s also as silly as a political kerfuffle can be. Boston’;s City Council has no power that the mayor doesn’t want it to have. It can propose, it can debate, it can re-arrange the musical chairs by which Council Committee chairmen are chosen; but it can’t do a damned thing of significant importance without the Mayor thumbing up.

Sure, individual Councillors can have an independent impact, if they’re willing to get frozen out by the Mayor. John Connolly pursued an independent course. Others have done so. But when the chips are on the table, and the Mayor’s agenda is at stake, you will no more find a majority of the 13 Councillors opposing than you’ll find a sting ray in your briefcase on Christmas eve.

So what’s the big deal here ? Let’s try a little political reality, for a change, and lose the ideological version of cgi-created film monsters.

The rule governing voting for Council President has long been : “vote for the weakest.”

In this case ( 1 ) Bill Linehan is no threat to run for Mayor against Marty Walsh ( 2 ) ramping up either Tito Jackson or Matt O’Malley to Council President — both of whom want the honorific — would be a threat and ( 3 ) ramping either man up to Council President would impede the 2017 (or 2021) mayor race plans of the REAL potential candidate of significance. (It’s Jackson’s and O’Malley’s very strength as Councillors that make them musts-to-avoid as Council President. Get my meaning ?)

^ Matt O’Malley of Council District 6 : his record-breaking vote makes him unelectable as a Council President

Most important, Linehan has no base at all independent of Mayor-elect Walsh’s core support and thus has no power to oppose him on any item of import.

THAT is how Council Presidents are chosen. Stupid indeed is the newly elected Councillor who bucks that reality; and Michelle Wu is far from stupid. I applaud her acumen in this matter.

As for being re-elected, Wu’s husband notes that even if you subtract her entire vote from wards 4, 5, 11, and 19 she still won by 14,000 votes. This is an apt subtraction, because 2015 will be a Council-only election, and in these, the voters of Wards 4, 5, and 11 turn out far fewer voters than they do in a Mayoral election. Wu’s re-election will be decided in Wards 20, 18, 2, 16, and 17, and of course also in Chinatown’s Ward 3 Precinct 7. All of these feature constituencies very different from the wards identified with Tea Party Leftism or comfortable urban reform. And you know what else ? Wards 4, 5, 11, and 19 contain plenty of voters who aren’t Tea-Left. Of the 15,000 or so voters who will likely turn out in 2015 in those four wards, Wu will comfortably win at least one-third — probably more. She may slip from second to third or even fourth (though I doubt that); but re-elected she surely will be, assuming that she does the job of city-wide Councillor in painstaking daily detail. Which I have no doubt at all she will do.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere


photo (19)

^ Boston public school students lined up to testify and support the issues on order at Mayor-elect Walsh’s education Hearing

—- —- —-

Last night Mayor-elect Walsh’s Transition team held its Education Public Hearing, at English High school in Jamaica Plain. For two hours, from 5.30 Pm to 7.30, three of Walsh’s Transition Team menbers, including his Education Team chairman, John Barros, heard testimony from at least fifty witnesses. Students, school parents, teachers, advocates all spoke.

Less people attended than came to the previous night’s education rally held by Boston Truth. There were at least a hundred vacant seats at English high’s auditorium. listening to the testimony, it was easy to tell why. With hardly any exceptions — more on these later — every witness said basically the same thing : more funding for public schools, downplay charter schools. It was the sound of one hand clapping.

photo (19)

^ plenty of vacant seats : the elephant wasn’t in the room

There isn’t much to learn from a soundless sound and hardly much more from hearing the same message repeated again and again, with only the age, gender, or skin color of the speakers differing (and these aren’t policy matters, although identity issues were raised by some of the witnesses).

photo (17)^ Boston Latin student (and Student Advisory Council President) testifying against charter schools and thus, basically, that there shouldn’t be any additional Boston Latin schools. “Making history,” wrote one activist about my post of this photo 🙂

It was especially odd — unsettling, too — to hear the students who testified. How does a 17-year old Boston Latin student — smart, yes; Chairman of the Studernt advisory Group; but — acquire an interest in curbing the number or funding of charter schools ? Did he learn his view in debate at school ? Was he coached to his position ? Quite possibly, because he read his testimony from a prepared statement. I found his testimony manipulative. Contradictory, too ; after all, Boston Latin, the City’s totally competitive exam-entry school, is the ultimate “charter” school. Was he really telling us, not that charter schools are bad, but that Boston Latin doesn’t like having its exceptionalism duplicated ?

photo (21)

^ respectful : Education Transition team members George Perry, Jen Robinson, and John Barros (Team Chairman)

The Transition Team members, George Perry, Jen Robinson, and John Barros, listened respectfully to all. Barros, at least, knows all these issues masterfully. At numerous Mayoral Forums during his candidacy for the office he heard, and responded to, all manner of school reform agendas. Last night surely tried his patience. At times I saw a bored look in his eyes. Did he really need to hear the applause given the various witnesses — the louder, the more in agreement — by the Hearing’s audience, heavy with Boston Teachers Union members (including its President, Richard Stutman, and its organizer, Jessica Tang, who testified) and Boston Truth activists, in order to get the evening’s message ?

photo (16)

^ “I’m a Boston public school parent,” she said, and told of her difficulties getting her child properly assigned to a school convenient to her home. I wondered : Hadn’t she asked Councillor Connolly to help with that — as did so many Boston school parents ? Then I noticed her LOCAL 26 T shirt…

Fortunately for those who might have expected the incoming Mayor’s Education Team to hear a diversity of views rather than a one-hand clap, a few witnesses did offer opinions credibly their own. Jason Williams, an executive with of Stand for Children, hoped that Mayor-elect Walsh would continue his commitment to charter schools, noting that as a legislator, Walsh worked to increase their number. Applause ? None. Another witness, who said that he was a Boston Harbor captain, suggested that BPS should offer 6th grade students a course with sailing experience. Applause ? A few. Karen Kast, organizer of Boston Truth, challenged Mayor-elect Walsh to keep his campaign promises. Aplause ? plenty.

Most interestingly, Mary Pierce, who heads a special eduaction advocacy group, voiced her personal experience of frustrations dealing with Boston School Department administration. This was risky territory : reform of Boston Schools administration was a centerpiece of John Connolly’s education agenda. A door was opened — a bit; but the moment passed.

Sometimes the elephant is in the room; sometimes he is not in the room. John Connolly was the elephant not in the room. Other than Jason Williams, there likely wasn’t a single person testifying (or applauding) who on November 5th stood with Connolly’s 48.5 % of the vote.

Education became a key issue in the campaign entirely because John Connolly made it so. Most of the other candidates would gladly have left it aside — Walsh too — to be dealt with at the State House. Connolly made sure that Boston schools would be front and center — the decider — on election day. The major effort now being assembled by the Boston Teachers union and its allies, to push the schools reform agenda in its direction, would likely not be taking place had John Connolly not forced school reform sharply, radically forward.

This history makes many people wonder why the Mayor-elect even bothered to have an Education Hearing last night. As I was preparing to write this column, I found on my facebook page the following comment (excerpts follow) by friend Lisa Moellman :

“At 5:30 on a school night, just before Christmas — thry are stacked so that BTU representation/agenda dominates. picking up and feeding kids, holiday commitments prevent so many parents from participati9ng. Why would Walsh hold these important forums…at a difficult hour….? Why not the first weeks of January when actual diversity of participation could happen ?”

Why, indeed ? Myself, I think it’s public relations — Walsh’s showing the voters (and the media) that “he will listen to the people.” Nothing more, nothing less. Education is an issue that Walsh wants to put aside as much as possible ; to hand over to whichever poor sucker accepts becoming his new School superintendent, so that Marty can get on with his first priority : keeping the Boston Building boom alive and expanding, so that his building trades workers — including the many new hires that he will insist upon — can keep on earning hefty pay checks.

As for public schools and charter schools, compared to the issue debate that took place the prior evening at Boston Truth’s gathering, and much more so at every Mayoral Forum during the campaign, last night was a complete waste of auditorium heating oil.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE at 3.11 PM 12/11/13 : am informed that during the 20 minutes prior to my arrival at the Hearing at 5.50 PM, other opinions, including from representatives of charter schools, were given. These sure didn’t last long. Still, it’s good to know that the Hearing wasn’t completely one thing. — MF

MISSION: Silly Snipe the PRESENT Snooper.

Coffee or Vodka?

Dear: Parenting 911

Binaucular kid

I have a HUGE problem…….  Technically I guess it’s more like a  pint size child of mass destruction. Sam is 6 1/2 and since I can remember his first independent movement — he has been NOSY… His curiosity was healthy even down right cute at ages 1 and 2, but by three the new motto in the house became “If it’s new, IT WILL NEED GLUE”! Sam seems to have a superpower of sorts — he can find ANYTHING you DON’T want him too….. For instance Christmas Presents, his or not matters none..IF THEY’RE HIDDEN HE WILL FIND THEM.

And I mean we have hid them in every crevice of our home — HE ALWAYS FINDS THEM. The last few years we hid them fully wrapped, I mean bows and all. We hid them in the attic which is a very difficult space for him to…

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^ “Reclaiming the Promise” table discussions at Boston tTruth’s schools-reform meeting last night

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Truth is a risky word for an organization to name itself. Who knows the truth ? At best we can approximate — maybe. So there I was, last night, at Madison Park High school, where a new “Boston Truth” coalition, with at least 200 people on hand — held its first “discussion session” on how to achieve its stated objectives as set forth in a four-page brochure from which I will quote from time to time as I write this report.

200 people meeting on a wintry night made an impressive beginning. As one of “Boston Truth”s key organizers is a dear friend, I was glad for her, proud of her part in the accomplishment. On hand were many Boston Teachers Union activists, students, retired teachers, union organizers, some members of the press, and two political figures at least : Eric Esteves of the Boston NAACP, who intends a candidacy for State representative from the 7th Suffolk District (in which the meeting was held), and Marty Keogh, who ran for Boston City Council this year and finished seventh.

The meeting began with several public school students advocating — from scripts provided them — one or other of Boston Truth’s stated goals. “Public schools are public institutions,” for example; “Our voices matter,” spoke another. A third pupil recited : “strong public schools create strong communities.”

It seemed odd to watch students speaking mission statements scripted, but there they were. They very much enjoyed themselves. One after another they spoke, were applauded; then all took stage together, holding their placards, applauded by all, photos snapped.

The meeting divided into discussion groups of six or seven to a table; I joined the group that included Marty Keogh — he seemed the most likely to say something quotable. This proved not easy to get to, however; it wasn’t made clear what we were to discuss, or what conclusions our “discussion group” was to come to — there wasn’t an agenda, and the table monitor of my group did not impose one. People were reluctant to speak. Two women offered school-parent and teacher experiences; everyone asserted approval of the brochure’s goals. We were getting nowhere fast.

So I decided to speak up. “There isn’t a thing in these stated goals that anybody would disagree with,” I said. “What the City is arguing about right now is, how do we get there ?” A lady sitting two to my right responded. “We need equity,’ she said. “Schools shouldn’t have to compete against one another.”

“In that case,” I asked her, “How are parents to tell if their kids are receiving the education they need ?”

“Oh they can tell,” the lady answered me. “they get a feel for what the climate is. A rigorous curriculum. Parents can tell.”

In other words, parents DO judge schlools competitively.

I then opined that (1) the biggest issue facing schools — the acculuration that kids receive, or don’t receive, at home — is beyond the power of any school to control and (2) one way to encourage the parents of school age kids to focus on home preparation is to have strong PTAs — these were Boston Schools’ glory, back 50 years ago : now, hardly at all. At this assertion Marty Keogh finally spoke up and spoke well : “school assignment designations need to change,” said Keogh. “You can’t have a PTA if kids are transported all, over the city, parents can’t drive such distances to do PTA. Need neighborhood schools !”

Keogh even addressed the issue whence arises school competition — exactly as I had hoped. “Testing ? Yes, testing,” he said. “we need some way of deciding if a school is performing.” He and I discussed the matter — we were getting somewhere, at last.


^ agenda scripts at Boston Truth schools-reform rally last night

Other than Keogh’s unscripted discussion, the meeting, as far as I could tell, dedicated almost all of its words and energy to assertion, not discussion. it was more a rally of the already convinced than a session for persuasion. Everywhere in the room were “BTU” campaign buttions, BTU literature, workers’ rights handouts, organizing fliers. That’s fine if you treat school reform issues as a job action, not a policy debate. But a job action will not do anything to move the debate toward even a partial consensus. It doesn’t seem to me, from last night’s talk, that the BTU, especially, has moved one inch off its insistence on its own program of school future: no competition among schools, no change in evaluation systems, no change in work rules, less testing of kids, of teachers, of principals; and full funding for all schools regardless. All it has done is to gain allies, mostly from union organizings and union-friendly school parents.

Tonight Mayor-elect Marty Walsh holds HIS Schools reform town hall meeting, at English High School in Jamaica Plain. it will be interesting to hear what his transition task force on eduaction has in mind that can move the discussion beyond stand-pat.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere


^ Marty Keogh spoke well, indeed, best in show. (with Angela Cristiani and Jacqui davis)



^ flexible flirty techno, exotic and almost ballet deft : Tomiie at RISE Club last night

—- —- —-

If you, as a long-time fan of Satoshi Tomiie’s DJ work, came to RISE Club last night expecting to hear his dreamy, lissome, almost deliquescent house music — his signature for two decades — you found yourself puzzled. Until very late in his set Tomiie played none of his signatures. Almost 50 years old Tomiee may be — and, greying, he looks the age — but his three hour set was all about what DJs are dropping now, at the doorway to 2014. Tomiie played lots of grumbly boomy techno; and when he did lift the lid to give chants, streaks, and melodic echo a chance, even these effects felt edgy, uneasy in the headlights.

Still, this was no Chris Liebing or Lutzenkirchen factory work. Tomiie, who performs all over the world and knows his distinctions,  favored undulating rhythms, Brazilian beats, and exotic sound effects — a kind of mechanistic Africanism — and where most techno sets clash by night like poet Matthew Arnolds’s ignorant armies, Tomiie’s techno shapes fluctuated from glide to traipse, flexible and flirty. Active at the mix board, Tomiie fashioned voices to chatter, piano solos to percussion, rumble to romp. Using a Traktor running two channels only, and steering his tracks with an iPad mix board upon which textures and tones were pre-set, Tomiie cut his music constantly, lively. The impression as of extremely complex sounds competing for attention or dominance, but nothing dangerous : more like a clique of people conversing excitedly trying to be heard over the multiple babble. A stylish babble it was. Tomiie’s breaks didn’t slam, they evolved. his cuts chattered and ceded. the music sounded seamless even when most complex, in ballet terms a pas de douze, if one can picture twelve dancers tiptoeing in synchronized individuality.

Still, I waited to hear what “Virus,” “Love in Traffic,” “Scandal In New York,” “Backside Wave,” “Storyreel” and “Aruba” would play like in live Tomiie performance; and I was disappointed not to hear much of these until finally, at 5.25 AM, his set almost over, Tomiie dropped what sounded a lot like “Love In Traffic.’ And a seductive drop it was, the sighing voice commandingly seductive, the moaning music capturing your moment. It made me easily imagine Tomiie, rather than Giorgio Moroder, producing Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” with all its body and physique translated to the lithe, finger-silky way that Tomiie makes the music love him — and you — all over yourself.

—- Deedee Freedberg / Feelin’ the Music