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^ Marty Walsh blames the system, not John O’Brien. in a significant sense, he is right

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Mayor Walsh of Boston has been pied pretty good by pundits for what he said about John O’Brien, the now convicted former head of Massachusetts’s Department of probation. Doubtless Walsh wanted simply to defuse the entire matter; to not pick a fight with Speaker DeLeo; and to not throw an old friend from his Dorchester neighborhood under the bus. After all, the Probation department is not a City of Boston matter — of those Walsh has quite enough to handle as it is.

But in any case, neither Walsh’s remarks, nor the questions asked of him by radio emcee Margery Eagan (a Boston Herald columnist) did more than duck the real question, the truly serious question : what specifically went wrong at the Probation department ? Why was O’Brien able to turn the entire Probation staff into his own personal hiring agency ? And pervert it utterly, subvert judges, shove aside probation officers already on the job ? How was O’Brien able to do that ? Why did the legislature — and Governor Patrick — allow him to do that ?

These are the questions that need answering. And there actually is an answer.

it begins, as does so much in Massachusetts public life, with Billy Bulger, who was once President of the State senate, and a,most powerful senate President was he.

Bulger as Senate President had control of the state budget, which originates in the legislature and must be enacted by it. Bulger was also one of the most avid patronage providers. Among the most plum of plum positions are court jobs; and so when Bulger wanted a relative — for there were very many of these — or a supporter appointed to a court job, the judge of that court was told that next year’s budget for his court would be decreased — maybe even that judge’s salary — unless Bulger’s guy got the job.

Some judges balked, and their budgets were cut. Thereafter, judges got the message.

O’Brien thus adopted the Bulger method. He was not Senate President, of course, but he was close friends with the new top power in the legislature : the Speaker of the house. If an O’Brien candidate didn’t get the probation job that O’Brien wanted for him or her, that court’s budget would be cut next year in the House. Legislators knew that O’Brien would get those whom they sponsored hired, and how he would do it; and so the system began, and continued, and worked until it entirely took over the entire probation department’s hiring and promoting.

The conviction of O’Brien and top aide Elisabeth Tavares ends their careers, but it does nothing to reform the legislature’s willingness to use court budgets to bully the state’s courts onto hiring patronage hires. As long as a House Speaker, or a senate President, or both, are willing to bully the state’s judges, probation department hires (and of course clerks of court too) are at the legislature’s mercy.

Granted, that for the near future, the legislature will not dare to bludgeon court judges in this manner for this purpose. But the budget comes up every year, and there is nothing except the public’s memory of outrage to prevent it happening again. And as Mayor Walsh says, it’s part of a legislator’s job to help out his constituents, including helping them find a job. A legislator has a perfect right, maybe even a duty, to write a letter of recommendation for a constituent : government departments do want to know that a job candidate has the ear of a legislator, for state agencies are always needing to communicate with legislators who oversee them. That’s as it should be.

Yet to prevent powerful legislative leaders from abusing their advantage, what can we do / because we ought to something. Myself, I suggest that agency budgets itemize prospective hires (and promotions) for that budget year as a separate budget item, and that that budget item be published, in timely fashion, in every major newspaper and online; and that “job postings” be subject to independent monitoring by a watchdog organization such as Sam Tyler’s Municipal research bureau.

In other words, transparency — the buzzword of this campaign season and a major reform. Transparency won’t eliminate abuses, but it can curb them before they become epidemic.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Baker and Local 26

^ going to the flash point of a Boston election ; Charlie Baker meets with officers of Local 26 Hospitality and Hotel Workers

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The fight is on now. To win Boston, and thereby, probably, the entire election.

You may think my assessment wildly crazy. How can Charlie Baker, the Republican, win a city that has of late voted three to one Democratic, and more than three to one ?

Maybe Baker cannot win the city outright. But even if he comes close, he wins the election. And he is definitely staking his claim to doing just that.

Baker’s move on Boston didn’t begin last week. He has been working the city steadily for many months now, on e community at a time. But last week he made two moves that up the intensity of his Boston effort by a lot : first, he door knocked the heaviest-voting precinct in the city, Dorchester’s ward 16 precinct 12 — a precinct that Marty Walsh won, for mayor, by more than four to one. Second, Baker met with officers of Local 26 Hotel and Hospitality Workers. Local 26 last year made the move — endorsing Marty Walsh over their personal favorite, Felix G. arroyo — that started Walsh’s momentum rolling. Their endorsement of Baker, were it to happen, would surely do the same for him.

Baker hasn’t won the voters of that Dorchester precinct yet, nor has he gained local 26’s endorsement so far. But the fight for both is now on, and beyond it lies much ground : many Boston -based unions of great significance — SEIU Local 1199 in particular — and about 150 voting precincts, low and moderate income, in which the Democratic Governor candidates have yet to make much impact, their campaign having concentrated on the high income suburbs and on Downtown boston’s upper income areas.

Baker has much to offer the voters of these precincts and the members of the city’s major private industry unions. To the voters in communities of color, he offers support for additional charter schools — something that prompted State Rep. Russell Holmes to sponsor a charter cap lift bill that the Senate amended and killed. (Nor will Baker’s support for charter schools put him at odds with Mayor Walsh, who sat on a charter school board and is backing John McDonough’s efforts to transform how Boston public schools are managed). To voters in Dorchester (and beyond), Baker offers a continuation of Boston’s building boom — his proposal to dispose of much State-owned land for development — and thus continued work for everyone in the Building Trades. Continuation of the building boom also offers the workers of Local 26 a prosperous future, just as the recently enacted minimum wage hike — which Baker supported — offers the members of SEIU Local 1199 a chance to earn a decent living.

If all of this reminds you very much of last year’s Boston Mayor campaign, it’s no coincidence. Baker appears to be campaigning Boston very much on Mayor campaign issues, to constituencies (including Mayor Walsh’s core supporters in the Building trades, service workers, and Dorchester) ; and it is shrewd of Baker to do so, because this is what last year’s intense Mayor campaign ingrained into Boston voters’ political expectations generally.

Baker now has the pole position in the race to win boston. Of course the ultimate Democratic nominee can catch up; Boston is Democratic enough that a campaign to catch up to Baker in the city has plenty to work with. But if the Democratic nominee — probably Martha Coakley — has to spend time winning back Boston, that is time that she will not be able to spend winning votes in parts of the state far less favorable to her but where most Massachusetts elections are decided. And Coakley is hardly the candidate to win a game of catch-up. Her vague, surfacey campaign is geared for front running. A catch up candidate has to hit and hit hard and to be specific on the issues, sure of itself, pointed, forensic. I have yet, in five years of watching, to see Martha Coakley be any of these things.

I cannot say enough about the boldness of baker’s 2014 campaign, about its shrewdness, its instinct for how campaigns are run and won, its tone, its currency. We have become accustomed to seeing Republican campaigns run on spin-doctored talking points, delivered to robo-voters, or campaigns of virulent, petty negativity — who can forget Scott Brown making a fetish of Elizabeth Warren’s supposed Cherokee ancestry ? — that alienate everybody not of “the base.” Baker’s campaign — and that of his charismatic running mate, Karyn Polito — look, sound & feel entirely different from all that. theirs is not a campaign of think-tank manifestos but of outreach to actual voters and to what actual voters — of all kinds and in all neighborhoods — want and expect.

This is campaign in the classic manner, as big an effort as i have seen a Republican do in Massachusetts since 1990, maybe even since the days of John Volpe almost 50 years ago.

Little wonder that Baker and Polito continue to raise tons more money than any of their five rivals — and raised it from Massachusetts, not out of state PACs. Great campaigns give great confidence to those with smallish donations to give, from budgets that can spare only smallish funds. Baker will have all the money he needs to bring his city campaign to every urban precinct. The campaign to win them is now “game on.” Big time.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ seeking an open State Senate seat : Mike Valanzola and friends

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Town greens, farms, senior citizens, and woods : that’s what i saw a lot of yesterday as I traversed much of the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, and Middlesex State Senate District, where a race is afoot to succeed long time incumbent Stephen Brewer, who is retiring.

I also saw posters for fish & game club cookouts, old-style main streets in many towns, homee ancient and brand new, and lots of uninhabited stretches through which slender, 1950s roads bumped and twisted, almost without markings. This is GPS country.

It’s also some of Massachusetts’s most forgotten territory, filled with towns that got cut off from cross-state traffic when Quabbin reservoir — forming the District’s eastern edge — was filled in the 1930s. Long useless factories loom like sad ghosts along the main streets of Ware, Spencer, Winchendon, Barre, Warren and Charlton. Even in Athol, where the Starrett Company soldiers on, there is little evidence of a manufacturing future, much less expansion.

Mill towns closer to Boston — Clinton, Hudson, Stoughton, Peabody — have already passed through their eras of decline, forgottenness, and re-invention. Technology now occupies their industrial paces. In the “WHHM: there is some technology — I saw a biotech firm called “rEVO” on Route 31 in Spencer — but for most WHHM workers, you either commute the 50 to 70 moles to Boston or you work at low paying jobs in the District.

There aren’t a whole lot of Starbucks coffee shops in the WHHM. Exception : Sturbridge, where big-deal tourism keeps things busy much of the year, wages aren’t uniformly minimum, and small, tourist-serving businesses can prosper.

Upon this nature-beautiful but mostly hardscrabble District, there are three (3) candidates running to become the next State Senator :

1 Anne Gobi w Stepehn Brewer

1. ^ State Representative Anne Gobi, of Spencer (D) (with Stephen Brewer)

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2. ^ Town of Wales selectman Mike Valanzola (R) (with Susannah Whipps Lee, R candidate for state representative, 2nd Franklin District) and

1 James Ehrhard 2

3. ^ James Ehrhard (R), a former selectman candidate in Sturbridge.

Yesterday I made my first journo-ing trip into the District, driving through Charlton, Sturbridge, Holland, Wales, Brimfield, and Spencer and stopping at two events.I also surfed the candidates’ FB and twitter accounts and read Mike Valanzola’s literature.

So what are my first impressions ?

1. Both Mike Valanzola and James Ehrhard make a point — Valanzola soft spoken, Ehrhard in full barn burn cry –of saying something like “refuse to reward illegals with in- state tuition or divers’ licenses.” To which i respond, “In what way does denying them drivers licenses do anything whatsoever to help the people of the WHHM improve their job prospects ?” Indeed, why is the issue relevant at all ?

One can’t help but note that, as Steve Grossman told a Boston audience two nights ago, “there would no farm industry in Mass but for undocumented workers.” The WHHM is a farm district par excellence.It is filled with undocumented workers whose difficulty getting from farm to farm, for work, without drivers licenses, in this NH border to CT border District I can only imagine.

Lest you incline to lump Valanzola and Ehrhard together, don’t. the two men, albeit voicing somewhat similar agendas, represent bitterly opposed portions of Massachusetts’s GOP. Ehrhard has the endorsement of the so-called Massachusetts Republican Assembly, an organization as right wing as any talk show host you can think of — and which endorsed Mark Fisher for governor. Valanzola has the backing of the Governor GOP — Charlie Baker’s team — and of those grass roots activists who care more about winning elections than flinging inflammatory demonizations. There’s no love lost between two factions so completely at odds, and the Valanzola – Ehrhard primary on September 9th is likely to be a contact sport event.

2. Ehrhard and Valanzola are thus campaigning hard. Both have lawn signs aplenty, and Valanzola drew a large crowd to his BBQ yesterday. Of Anne Gobi’s campaign I saw nothing. Still, from Gobi’s twitter account I learned plenty. Her issue seems to be conservation and nature — not a bad issue in a farm and woods district — and she spends a lot of time with (1) seniors — significant in a District with many older people and (2) town activists — also significant in a District with very little option for urban entertainments.

Gobi also has an inflammatory issue — should Kinder Morgan’s Northern Pass gas pipeline be built or not ? — and it’s an issue which, unlike drivers’ licenses for undocumented people, actually matters to her District (the pipeline will pass through all the towns on the WHHM’s northern border). Gobi is opposed to building the pipeline, presumably on conservationist grounds. . From her two rivals I have seen nothing on this issue: it’s probably a wise decision on their part.

Gobi’s conservation position and general practicality would seem to be by far the best approach — and she seems much more widely visible in the WHHM than her rivals; except that she is a Democrat; and in the WHHM the word “Democrat” means “Beacon Hill,” and “Beacon Hill,”to the farmers and seniors of the WHHM,usually means turnpike tolls, high taxes for city stuff, Boston especially, and not much for the WHHM, and — as we now know — corruption. The WHHM includes many of MA’s most GOP-voting towns and not many — if any — that vote Democrat. So the question is : will Valanzola’s soft spoken accusations prevail, or Ehrhard’s all out, talk show condemnations? Because one of these men seems more likely than Gobi to be the next WHHM State Senator.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ speaking to the few : steve Grossman at Merengue Restaurant on Blue Hill Avenue (to his right, Merengue’s Hector Pina and, to the left of Pina, Mrs. Grossman)

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Here’s the riddle ; Steve Grossman, Massachusetts’s State Treasurer, should be the front runner for the Democratic nomination, but he isn’t. In every poll, he badly trails his main rival, Attorney General Martha Coakley.

That he won the Democratic convention’s endorsement doesn’t seem to matter at all. It often doesn’t matter to ordinary Primary voters, but never have I seen a convention endorsee trailing a rival by 30 points, as Grossman has until recently.

Grossman is articulate and authoritative, Coakley glib and vague. Yet she leads, and he trails. badly.

Grossman attributes it to “lack of name recognition,” and he’s right about that ; over 50 percent of voters intending to vote in the Democratic primary ay they don’t know him at all, or too little to have an opinion. But why is this so ? Grossman was elected statewide in 2010, in a hard fought and close race, and for at least twenty years before that he was a major Democratic activist — party chairman, national committeeman. Granted that these are party offices, not general public. But you would think that most members of his party, at least, would be fairly familiar with their top leaders.

I certainly thought so, but I have been wrong. Grossman’s lack of name recognition tells me that in Massachusetts, party identification doesn’t matter very much. Who we elect to state offices — unlike to national ones — is pretty much a non-partisan thing.

That, i think, is the real reason that Steve Grossman polls so poorly only seven weeks before the Democratic primary ; nonpartisan is something he has scant experience at being. His entire career has blossomed inside the cocoon of Party.

This year, Grossman’s career as party man especially hurts, because in this election the Democratic party — Grossman’s party — has concentrated its efforts almost entirely in the high-income, technology-oriented suburbs that surround boston and drive its economy and culture : Newton (where Grossman lives, Brookline, Watertown, Belmont, Cambridge, Wellesley, Lexington, Arlington, Concord, Lincoln, Winchester. In these communities os the money that Democratic candidates need. And the activists : the first Governor Forum of this season took place in Lexington in January and was attended by at least 300 people. When Juliette Kayyem chose a location whence to re-up her underdog candidacy, she chose Arlington. even Don Berwick, the Democrats’ ,most outspoken progressive, voices the issues of the high-income suburbs.

Meanwhile, the big cities, the most Democratic-voting communities in our state, have gone almost unattended until lately, and it shows. Last night Steve Grossman held a meet and greet at Merengue Restaurant on Boston’s blue Hill Avenue : about 20 people attended.

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20 for Steve : that was all…

This had to disappoint Grossman. He’s the convention endorsee, the meet and greet was hosted by a major Boston political player — Jovita Fontanez, a former election commissioner and veteran of 30 years of campaigns — and yet only 20 people showed up. Only two months ago, Felix Arroyo, running for a low-level office, Register of Probate in Suffolk County, put 100 people in the same room; and last year, Mike Flaherty, running or Boston City Council, drew at least that many to the same Merengue room.

Quite obviously, city activists have noted where the Democratic candidates have put their chips down and where not.

All three Democratic governor rivals — Coakley and Berwick as well as Grossman — are now making campaign stops all across boston, but it’s very late in the game, and it’s summer : many boston voters are off to Cape Cod or thinking vacation, not politics. it was so even in last year’s intense Mayor campaign. all the more so for governor candidates who talk the talk of Newton, Brookline, Lexington, and Arlington.

But Grossman is beginning to get it. campaigning to city voters entails something other than high-minded reform. it entails jobs. Speaking to the 20 attendees at last night’s meet and greet, Grossman hit a home run, not by voicing his strong support for the 1,000 refugee children now in Massachusetts — that was a given, for this entirely hispanic audience — but when he mentioned that “as governor i will supervise 85,000 jobs. imagine what it would mean for diverse communities if 35 percent of them were from diverse backgrounds !”

Jobs and more jobs. That is indeed what city activists want to hear. Jobs that won’t be laid off — as united Airlines is now doing to 650 gate attendees, whose $ 50,000 salaries will be replaced with minimum wage subcontractors. Jobs that can help a three-decker, renting family move up in life.

That Grossman cannot simply fire 35 percent of the state work force and replace them with his supporters didn’t seem to matter to his listeners. It was enough that Grossman at least understood what the objective is.

Grossman knows all the issues and articulates sensible answers to most. He spoke about the obstacles faced in Massachusetts by small businesses, especially those run by immigrants, women, and minorities — Merengue is just such a small business, nd its owner, Hector Pina, was in the room — and touted his work as Treasurer in securing $ 1.7 billion of bank loans for small businesses owned by women, minorities, and immigrants. No candidate for governor this year has a better handle on what such small businesses need; certainly Martha Coakley has yet to say anything of substance about it.

Grossman speaks with equal authority on just about every issue you can name, from state management to technology to energy to transportation, even education; yet it hasn’t mattered much — so far. That may be changing ; today’s Boston Globe poll has Grossman at 18 percent, Coakley at 46 : his best, her weakest showing yet.

A 28 point gap, however, is nothing to cheer about with so little campaign time left. And so Grossman is going to start door-knocking. He makes the point ; “door knocking, in a statewide race ? Yes. i want the people to see me and hear from me,” he told last night’s attendees.

He may well want voters to see and hear him; but the big reason for him to door-knock is that it will likely get him major media attention. door knocking, in a statewide race ? That IS news. And news, he needs. Lots of it, and lots more. Door-knocking is Grossman’s Hail Mary pass.

It may work. That and the one million dollars that he has in the bank, to spend on advertising, the final two weeks of the campaign, to all those 52 percent of primary voters — probably mostly City people — who don’t know much about him.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 refugee chilren

^ 1,000 refugee children : a threat to white picket fence, suburban fantasies ?

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By the narrowest of margins, according to Boston Globe’s poll of opinion on the refugee children coming to Massachusetts, our State passes the moral test.

It appears that a bare 50 % of voters support Governor Patrick’s plan to shelter 1000 refugee children temporarily, with 43% opposed. The poll also finds that only 52 % of Massachusetts voters favor a path to citizenship for immigrants here undocumented.

Not surprisingly, the poll finds that 79 % of Republicans oppose Massachusetts housing the children. More surprising is that only 69% of Democrats favor the children. Independents are evenly split; younger voters more inclined to favor the children than older.

You should read the entire Globe article :

Some observers want to say that the poll’s findings contradict Massachusetts’ reputation for progressive views. I disagree with this. On immigrant matters, Massachusetts voters have always exhibited a nativist, even violently bigoted, strain, beginning with opposition to Irish Catholic immigration in the 1830s-1840s and continuing with opposition to Italian and Jewish immigration in the period 1900-1919. Who can ignore the burning, in Charlestown, of a Catholic convent, in the late 1830s, by Protestant nativists ? Or the rise of the anti-Catholic “know nothing” party in the 1850s ? Or the Sacco-Vanzetti case that roiled Massachusetts for seven years beginning in 1920 ?

Allied to our nativist strain has been, at times, an equally fierce slice of out and out racism. Who can forget the school busing crisis that beset Boston in the 1970s and poisoned the city for almost twenty years ? Or that the suburbs, asked to share the desegregation burden — and it was a big one — refused to do so ?

Housing segregation has also been — continues at times to be — a dark presence in our state. Though our cities are strongholds of amazing diversity of peoples, the suburbs almost entirely lack the presence of people of color and of diverse origins. Much suburban policy is directed to keeping diverse peoples out. It is there that one finds movements to repeal the MGL c. 40B housing law. Suburban gate-keeping is why the Blue line has never been extended, as it should be, to the North Shore; why the Orange Line has never has made it past Forest Hills — to West Roxbury and Needham, as has been proposed in times past; and why communities constantly fight — by means fair and foul — the construction of affordable housing.

The same division also affects lifestyle civil rights for people living in Massachusetts. Though our cities have fully embraced and mainstreamed LGBT people, most of our suburbs have not. It’s one reason why Massachusetts still hasn’t enacted full civil rights protections for transgender people despite 17 other states having done so. Progressive we are, on economic issues; on diversity issues, we barely pass the moral test.

A Republican candidate for statewide office — his name John Miller — issued a statement yesterday in which he made plain that to him, the refugee children are first of all a public health crisis and a budget burden. Not a word about their humanity ! It made me angry to read his statement. It makes me angrier still to know that an actual candidate said it.

Guess what, Mr. Miller ? The refugee children are not coming to your picket fence Ozzie and Harriet-ville. They are coming, almost all, to our cities — our overcrowded, triple-decker, public school, dance culture, pig-roasting, ghetto-fab — cities, as their predecessors always have.

Myself, I welcome the children. I wish all 57,000 would come here and impart their enthusiasm and diversity to cities already enriched by thousands of Viet Namese refugees, Haitians, Cape Verdeans, Somalis, Trinidadians, Iranians, Albanians,Koreans, Syrians, Iraqis, Bosnians, Irish. Ride the bus into Boston, and you will see them — taking always the hard road, because we deny them drivers’ licenses, to hard and thankless jobs. Ride the “T” and you will see them again. They keep our society going. They are our drive train, the diesel for our engines, the stokers in the stokeholds. I take my hat off to them and wish their children a rapid rise to the top of a nation that should be grateful for their coming here and thankful as hell if they choose to stay here and make us a better and more imaginative society.

I only wish that those who do not, like me, live in our cities, could see what I see, feel what I feel. Maybe someday.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ being a Massachusetts governor means speaking Massachusetts language : Charlie Baker speaking Massachusetts-ese to voters at a meet and greet

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The Boston Globe’s new poll of Massachusetts’s Governor election yields Charlie Baker his best numbers yet. He now polls 36 percent, while his likely Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, draws only 39 percent.

Last week, the same poll had it Coakley 40, Baker 35. And that poll was a better Baker result than the previous Globe poll, which showed Coakley at 40, Baker at 32.

Clearly, Baker is amassing support, and doing so the best way : slowly, gradually, one voter at a time, so to speak. He is doing it as it should be done : by increasing his own support, not by taking support away from an opponent.

The strongest campaigns take care to run themselves : not to negate the other guy or gal, but to create a Yes and add many Yes’s to it. Positive support is hard to lose. Voters voting against one candidate can be swayed easily; their loyalty is to “dislike,” not to a candidate. Baker will surely take votes from people disliking his opponent, but he much prefers — or should much prefer — votes that want him no matter who the opponent is.

Baker seems to understand that in Massachusetts, voters for offices other than national do not vote party, they vote the man or woman. And though in November, there’ll only be two candidates, it’s much wiser for a candidate to run against all of his or her rivals than to pray for the “right” November opponent. Baker is doing that. He is running as if he, Coakley, Grossman, and Berwick were all in the same primary. This is how one wins in Massachusetts.

One runs for Governor of Massachusetts not on a party basis, because the issues aren’t party issues. 80 % of Massachusetts voters know what they want : a positive agenda, progressive but not pie in the sky, well managed, reformist, sensible and flexible, on issues economic, administrative, judicial; on energy policy, criminal justice, immigration. The one issue that almost all Massachusetts voters agree should be uncompromised is civil rights. A governor must voice passionately full rights for every sort of person. A governor candidate who trims on civil rights is in trouble; one who opposes them is toast.

Because 80% of Massachusetts voters agree on what they want and to what degree, the deciders become (1) who can do the job the best (2) whose priorities do we want and (3) who can best work with the Legislature to get them done.

None of this is a party matter. Baker gets this. His campaign has been devoid of party bias. He is campaigning in Massachusetts language and doing so convincingly.

Baker is quite lucky that none of his three opponents matches his command of Massachusetts-speak. Berwick cannot do so because his policy agenda is too radical. Coakley cannot do so because she speaks vague rather than competence. Steve Grossman can’t do so because his support rises from the Democratic party voters who insist on being Democrats first. The party Is their agenda, as it is not for at least two-thirds of Massachusetts voters. Only of late — probably too late — has Grossman begun to sound less like a Democrat and more like a Massachusetts. He remains far, far behind Coakley in the new Boston Globe poll.

But now to the Poll and its message about Baker.

Baker’s favorable-unfavorable-not well enough known numbers are 47 to 18 to 35.
Coakley’s numbers in this regard are 54 to 37 to 9.
Grossman’s numbers here stand at 33 to 14 to 52.
Don Berwick’s numbers embarrass his progressivism : 10 to 5 to 85.

Head to head, Baker gets 36 percent to Coakley’s 39; 37 to Grossman’s 29; and 42 to Don Berwick’s 18.

On the issues, Massachusetts voters differ hugely from voters in “red” states :

Do you own a gun ? 66 % say no, only 30 % say yes.
Should we have stricter gun control ? 47 % say yes, 35 % say we have enough; only 15 % say we should have less gun control.
Should the casino law be repealed ? 51 % say no, 41 % say yes.
Do you feel safe at night ? 96 % ay yes, only 4 % say no.
Do you feel safe walking your neighborhood at night ? 84 % say yes, only 13 % say no.

Clearly Massachusetts voters are not ruled by fear and thus are not obsessed by guns. Indeed, far more people (37 %) have a very unfavorable opinion of the NRA than the 17% who have a very favorable opinion of it.

28 % of our voters identify as liberals, 28 % as conservatives, although of the 39% who identify as moderates there is a 26 to 39 lean toward conservative. Query, however, what Massachusetts voters mean by “conservative.” i doubt that they mean Tea Party or Koch Brothers. Probably more a state of mind than a political agenda.

Massachusetts voters are optimistic about themselves and their community, pragmatic, open minded, wanting reform but not repeal — a way of saying “decided questions should remain decided” — and ready to think as citizens, not loners. Thinking as citizens, Massachusetts voters want a governor who knows what he or she believes in, who can articulate an agenda authoritatively, who speaks the phrases of flexibility, open to new facts and situations, able to change his or her mind if need be, to walk back inadequate remarks without hedging; a shrewd dealer and a good guy or gal who treats everyone as a friend and neighbor.

As you must already have surmised, that is a description of Charlie Baker.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ embracing the diversity of everybody : good guy Mayor Marty Walsh

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It took some time, as we knew it would, but after seven months in office, Marty Walsh has definitely put his stamp on our City. It’s a strong stamp inbdeed, one with much good in it. Let us take stock of his strong moves :

1.He appointed a chief of staff, daniel Koh, who is a technology whiz of established brilliance

2.He appointed is best campaign operative, Joe Rull, to be his personnel boss. Rull will hold walsh staffers to account and demand — and get — their uttermost.

3.He has given full backing to Boston Public Schools superintendent John McDonough as “Mac” gradually recreates, top to bottom, how Boston’s schools operate.

4.He appointed as Police Commissioner the best of the likely candidates, Bill Evans, and followed that by appointing the City;s first Police Chief of color, Officer Gross.

5.He added both Felix G. Arroyo and John F. Barros, both mayoral candidates in 2013, to his management team in important policy roles.

6.He has established a real time on line connection to Boston voters and made sure that the City knows of it.

7.He has gotten the MBTA to offer late night service on weekends (albeit not as extensive as hoped for).

8.He has fully embraced the diversity of City life — and diverse people and made sure that all know that they are as cherished as any other City resident.

9.He has made himself a civil rights leader of passion and almost combative intensity.

10.He won from Local 718 Firefighters a new contract that does not break the City budget. He also appointed the best of likely candidates, Joe Finn, as our new Fire Commissioner.

11.He provided the Uphams Corner area, badly in need of funds infusion, a large grant for establishing an arts center at the Strand theater.

12.In a move straight out of “The Last Hurrah,” he, son of Irish immigrants, told the still Yankee-ish Beacon Hill, which has often viewed itself as exempt from City directives or even common social decency, that he will install legally required handicapped accessibility ramps in the area, and do it now : no ifs ands or buts.

Much remains to be done. Walsh’s Mayor staff still hasn’t mch diversity. The City continues to be often unsafe, its nightlife discouragingly segregated, its schools in transition, its neighborhoods unevenly developing, its internet connectivity patchy in places, its jobs growth still stacked against the City’s poorest neighborhoods. Taxi reform has yet to unfold from its currenty “investigation” stage. Traffic jams beset the entire Central Artery. The BRA hasn’t yet a new director. Much of the City’s technology remains several phases behind the times.

But many of these are, challenges well beyond the power of any Mayor to remedy. To remake Boston’s most entrenched failings Walsh will need lots of help from Beacon Hill and Washington. Huge income inequality impedes the City, and it is worsening every day. There’s little that Mayor Walsh can do about it, though the recent law raising our state’s minimum wage to $ 10.50 an hour (up again to $ 11.00 in 2016) will help him, a little.

Walsh will have to tackle the BRA, and soon. He will need to make clear to devlopers that they will no longer command tyhe City’s tax rules. Housing devlopment needs to rfocus, from luxiury condominum projects to dwellings for middle and working class families. Boston has done a marvelous job of becoming an entrepot for the money successful. It now needs to become a good home for those for whom money success remains a pipe dream.

That said, Walsh has made a good beginning — about as strong a first half year as could be expected, maybe, of any new Mayor. Optimistic I now am about what he will achieve in the coming two years before he readies facing the city’s voters in 2017. i actually look forward to the City that he will be shaping in that coming time frame.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ the five, but no Charlie Baker at Boston Foundation’

s Skills Forum at Roxbury Community College …

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The big news about the Boston Foundation’s Skills Forum on Wednesday night at Roxbury Community College is that Charlie Baker wasn’t there.

Every time looked at the five candidates who were there, or listened to them answer a question, all i could think was that the 200 or so people in attendance weren’t going to find out what the candidate most likely to be our next Governor has to say to Boston’s Skills community.

Even though his name was never mentioned, Charlie Baker had to be on everyone’s mind.
All the more so as many of the five — Don Berwick, Evan Falchuk, Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman, and Jeff McCormack — gave answers sometimes informative, occasionally innovative, once in a while brilliant, but also often vague or off topic.

Questions were asked by Forum moderator Peter howe and by some who he called “real people” : audience people, including young graduates, business hopefuls, and owners of growing start-ups, many of them immigrants.

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^ Agnes Young of new tech firm Equitron Inc., asks question

Don Berwick hit the evening’s home run when, in answer to a question posed to all, “what was your first job and what did you learn from it,” he said “I was a waiter at a summer resort in my home town, and I will never forget how hard that work was. Which is why I support a living wage !” Much applause ensured, the event’s loudest.

Still, Steve Grossman, who is never vague and rarely jejune, produced a much more detailed internship proposal — paid internships, half from business and half by the state — than Berwick’s generality answer.

Grossman also attacked Martha Coakley for her support of secure communities and her refusal to endorse driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants — ‘it’;s a public safety issue,’ Grossman insisted — and thereby evoked from the usually vague Coakley a pointed, feisty response : “Steve, you insist on misrepresenting my record 1 Yes, I supported secure communities at first, as did Mayor Menino. It then seemed like a good idea. Since then, we learned that it wasn’t, and i withdrew my support. as for driver’s licenses, we need to co-ordinate that with the Federal government. i am already looking into that.”

I fully expect to hear more clashes between Grossman and Coakley as Primary day approaches. We also now know that Coakley is fully capable of, and quite ready to, defend her positions, whether or not we agree with her.

Les dramatic, but informative, was independent candidate Jeff McCormack, who gave a business start-p executives’ answers to many questions. Being a governor is by no means the same as steering a start-up business, but McCormack was right to suggest that the next governor apply performance measurement — what we usually call ‘evaluation” — to state administration. i suspect that Charlie Baker will do all of that and more.

Forum attendees also heard from Evan Falchuk, who seeks to create a third party in Massachusetts, although it’s not clear what a Falchuk party stands for other than being a third path. he said that we need to elect people who are actually committed to doing what they tell the voters they will do : easy to say, but complete;ly oblivious to the complexity of the political process. Falchuk also took a demagogic swipe at Charlie Baker (without naming him) that did lttle to enhance his alternative politics.

So where WAs Charlie Baker while all of this was going on at a Forum whose stated purpose was to promote job growth, business opportunity, and connectedness for young school graduates ? Out meeting voters, actually. He and running mate Karyn Polito attended two fund raiders, both on the North Shore, including one at Longboard, a Salem waterfront restaurant, hosted by Young Professionals of the North Shore.

Baker is concentrating a sizeable part of his campaign on the North Shore,. it’s his home base, and he is working it deeply and broadly. Carrying Essex County by a big margin is essential to his win strategy, and from what I have seen of it — quite a lot, actually — the plan is working.

Still, it would have been good to see him at a Forum. He has eschewed most of these. I wish he would change his tactic. He can handle all of his rivals and should do so face to face.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ State Senator Sonia Chang-diaz : her Senate version of Russell Holmes’ charter cap lift bill was amended with poison pills, and as intended, these killed it.

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Yesterday, the Massachusetts State Senate killed, by a 26 to 13 vote, a charter cap lift bill much changed from the proposal that the House voted for by 113 to 33 a few months ago.

The bill voted down in the senate included, if i am to credit the Globe’s cot Lehigh, who wrote of it, many provisions that made no sense and were rightly voted down. Its transportation formulas, funding compensation,  attrition rules, and equivalents guaranteed that charters enabled under this law would not really be charters at all, or would fail.

Much of the Senate bill’s content was put in because of protests by teachers’ unions and groups allied therewith. My friend ed Lyons has called these provisions “poison pills,” and he’s right. they were meant to kill, and they did.

Undoubtedly, the teachers’ unions will view yesterday’s charter cap lift vote as a victory. It isn’t. Yesterday’s vote will only anger charter school supporters and assure a huge issue for this year’s Governor race — except that almost certainly both candidates will voice strong support for increasing the number of allowed charter schools, this assuring that yesterday’s vote will be a defeat for the teachers’ unions.

Ever since i began my in depth coverage of last year’s Boston Mayor race, it became apparent to me that teachers’ unions were going to take the route, not of spearheading reform, but of intransigence in opposition to the school reforms that almost everybody in Massachusetts wants. This is a shame and quite beside the real point, which is that public schools in low income neighborhoods and most communities of color do not work because of deep-seated racism and class bias. Poor people have almost no political power, even in supposedly progressive Massachusetts; and people of color have not much more. Almost all the problems besetting our public schools arise from this.

The charter school cap lift bill arose from the state’s communities of color, whose district schools are among the worst in our state. We need to assure, probably by legislation,l that public schools are funded equally, regardless of income level of the district or the racial composition of the student body; and we need to assure that schools especially in low income and COC districts are accorded the best, most committed teachers. Today these schools often get the worst. Let me repeat : this is a matter of institutional, cultural racism and class. it can be broken by assuring full hiring autonomy to the superintendent AND to the individual school principal. Raising the charter school cap does nothing to solve this cultural bias; indeed, raising the cap — for “underperforming districts,” mind you — aggravates it, in two ways ; (1) by taking the most ambitious students out of low income or COC public schools and by taking funds away from those schools, thereby assuring they will continue to draw the worst teachers. Of course my solution will probably not work, as the poor have no political clout at all in a Citizens United America, and COC people have not much more. All the clout lies in the upper income suburbs, whose people have zero interest in improving the schools that other kids go to and thereby increasing the competition (with the high income kids) for college admissions and, eventually, good jobs. Heaven forfend that low income or COC kids should actually compete with Johnny from Belmont and Mary of Wellesley !!!
Charter schools — innovation schools generally — should be accorded all respect and opportunity, both as laboratories for reinventing how we educate and as best practices alternatives. I support their existence. But reform of schools — transformation of them, as John Connolly eloquently said — must arise from within the public school environ, not in opposition to it. he Horace Mann idea, that all kids of a community larn together and grow up together,. and thus become a more positively bonded community, is a noble one, a democratic ideal that fulfills our nation’s most basic premise : that all kids matter equally and must be given the same level of primary education.

Innovation education may allow kids to grow their own life missions, diversely and more : but schooling is also about citizenship, and the common school teaches it by demonstration and example and does so better than any alternative method. It must be maintained and cherished. Looking to charter schools as an escape from bad public schools is an act of desperation, not improvement. looking to charters as a way to bust unions is an act of selfishness. And in such a con text, charter schools will look more and more, to teachers’ unions, as a threat rather than a boon. we are traveling the road of education disaster if we do not stop and recalibrate our political GPS.

Yesterday’s Senate vote should be taken as an opportunity to do just that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 abortion protesters

^ the reality of no buffer zones ; perfect strangers getting in the face of women seeking pregnancy counseling

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Much there is in today’s news here in Massachusetts about immigrant children being sent here for ICE detention and of the legislature’s crafting a law to replace the recently struck down Buffer Zone Law.

Both situations present Massachusetts people with basic questions about what kind of a society we are. Being a “values state,” we are well situated to make the right decision. Below, I will write what I think we should do. First, however, a few words about today’s Boston Herald, which screams loud headlines about the busloads of immigrant children being sent to detention at county lock-ups in our state : the gist of Herald immigrant headlines is that “we don;t want these dirty foreigners bringing their diseases into our society.” Yes, to the Hera;ld, immigrants are pests, locusts of a plague, so to speak. And there are voters out there who think the same, or worse, of immigrants driven to refuge with us.

When you actually look past the “plague of locusts” headlines in the Herald, however, what you read is much ado about nothing. The Governor says that it’s an ICE contract with local sheriffs — he’s not involved. The sheriffs want the Feds to pay for the kids they must house. Steve Grossman attacks Charlie Baker for not voicing our state’s concerns in Washington. Charlie Baker berates the Governor for not doing so. Martha Coakley says she isn’t sure of what the ICE is up to.


Meanwhile, the kids await closure. Will they be welcomed into our society to grow up safely and, maybe, prosperously ? Or be sent back to parents who sent them here for safety ?

I see no good resolution to these questions. I see failure on our society’s part, and it hurts me.

Meanwhile, the legislature is hurrying to enact a new abortion clinic law that will provide women seeking pregnancy counseling space within which no stranger can assault, harass, intimidate, or imcede their access. The proposal includes a moving 25-foot protection zone and specified hours during which protesters can protest. The bill also enacts quite severe criminal liability for those who assault, harass, or intimidate women coming to pregnancy clinics.

Will this new proposal succeed where our 35-foot Buffer Zone Law did not ? I think the criminal liability sanctions will be approved, because no free speech rights give speakers any right to assault, harass, or intimidate anyone. The moving 25-foot zone, and the restriction of what times of day protests can take place, may not survive, however. If panhandlers can get in one’s face by way of the First Amendment,and if Jehovah witnesses can ring my doorbell every morning to find out if I know the Bible, why can’t abortion protesters ? I really think there’s no good answer to the intimidation of women seeking abortion counseling than a large police presence at clinics, all day long, to keep the peace. At great expense to taxpayers.

I hope that I am wrong.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere