BOSTON 2015 : OUR CIVIC PREDICTIONS

1 seaport housing

The Boston Building boom ; here seen at its heartland, the Seaport District, will expand to almost all of Boston in 2015 —- —- —- —-

The major election of 2014 now decided, and the even bigger vote in 2016 yet to arrrive, 2015 may seem an interlude. Yet there will be a Boston city election this year, and a special election in East Boston, and perhaps others, if Governor Baker is of a mind to add still more local office holders to his bold team. There will also be issues politics, because Boston is changing faster, at street level, than almost any of us realize.

In that vein we now make three big-time predictions.

1.The BRA will enlarge the city’s already bullish building boom, bringing major development to the “neighborhoods.”

Billions of dollars have already committed to the Seaport District and Downtown : hotels, mixed-use mini-cities, loft buildings converted. The City’s public transit system is expanding service. Businesses are relocating, or starting up — and billions of dollars have committed to start-ups as well.

Every week brings new projects to the drawing board and from the drawing board to the BRA’s approval process. Mayor Walsh has called for creating 53,000 new units of “affordable” housing, and Governor Baker supports this program.

As 2014 wound down, many such projects began to arise in neighborhoods abutting the “downtown miracle” : Roxbury, East Boston, Allston. (Lower Roxbury had already been sited for development during the Menino years; that trend is quickening.) now that transformative movement will expand. Thanks to a home rule petition sponsored by City Councillor Ayanna Pressley, Boston now controls its own liquor licenses ; and these new licenses will abet restaurant development in all the neighborhoods, thereby enabling other forms of business creation and residential building.

Roxbury in particular will be the playing field for varsity development. From along Melnea Cass Boulevard up to the Dudley Street corridor, innovation and renovation, new construction (including a bright, big bew Tropical Foods supermarket) and, yes, higher rents and house prices will be the neighborhood story all year long. Do not be surprised if development extends beyond Dudley, up Warren Street and Walnut Avenue at least to Malcolm X Boulevard.

1 the new Madison Park

what Tremont Street may look like, near Roxbury Crossing, once the Parcel 9 Madison park development is finished

2. Boston will elect 13 city councillors to a two year term, probably with a disappointingly low turnout.

You would think that with all the activity going on in Boston — all the change, some of it radical, much of it with consequences few are taking stock of — there’d be a big vote in November. But in the major 2013 Mayor campiagn only 37 percent (152,000) voted, and in last year’s even bigger Governor race almost the exact same number came to the polls. Why this happened, I cannot be sure : but certainly one reason is that, for many Bostonians, work takes up every waking hour of one’s day, be it low wage work for people holding two and three jobs to get by, or high tech work demanding 70-hour work weeks. When do we have the time to vote ? Frankly, it’s a credit to Boston people’s civic enthusiasm that even 37 percent took time to vote.

In most non-Mayor elections, 27 percent of Boston voters cast a ballot; some elections see even fewer numbers. There aren’t many juicy  issues in city council elections — nothing like a major policy dispute –because, in the at-large races at least, a voter has four votes to give. No at-large candidate wants to alienate the supporters of any other candidate and thus lose second, third, fourth choice votes. Which means that the at-large contest is feel-good, a personality contest : who do you like the best ?

City-wide, a potentially fiercer race than usual is shaping up  between the four incumbents — Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu, Michael Flaherty, and Stephen Murphy — and Dorchester’s Annissa Essaibi George, who finished fifth in 2013 and has already begun her 2015 campaign. Whether she wins this time will probably depend on her ability to symbolize — and speak to — the big changes going on in today’s Boston more effectively than one of the four incumbents.

(disclosure : I am advising the George campaign)

As for the nine District Councillors, few ever face a serious challenge, at least in part because the Council has so little actual power. Boston has a strong-Mayor charter. The Mayor controls all City Hall jobs that aren’t civil service except for Council staff. The Council can approve a city budget but does not initiate one. The Mayor can veto council action that he doesn’t like ; the Council almost never overrides his veto.

Few politically ambitious people see much advantage in making the effort, raising the money, or gathering campiagners, to challenge an office so powerless.

Right now I know of only one District Councillor who faces a serious opponent. That would be Charles Yancey, who has represented District Four since the current map was created in 1983. Yancey is the target of well-connected newcomer Andrea Campbell.

3. Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games will fail.

I support bringing the 2024 Olympic Games to Boston. The energy of them encourages me; the fans; the big structural developments necessary to support them. But the bid has opponents, and they are quite determined, and I see no major surge of support for the bid. Support there is, including that of many Boston civic leaders and political voices (Juliette Kayyem and Steve Kerrigan both support Boston 2024). But unless a much larger and more vocal number of boton’s sports fan base — and beyond it — get aboard the 2024 Boston bid, we are going to get passed over, by Los Angeles and maybe also by San Francisco.

What of the East Boston special state represehtative election that i mentioned earlier ? No prediction so far. The date hasn’t even been called yet. Three candidates are already making moves — Adrian Madaro, Joe Ruggiero, and Ed Deveau — but who can tell me there won’t be more ? I’ll reserve reportage of this campaign until it has an actual voting date.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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