CHARLIE BAKER GOVERNING : THE BATTLE OF THE BUDGET

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^ newly sworn in, Charlie Baker is greeted by well wishers — but already looks worried about the task ahead

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The Inaugural festivities over, the forceful and bold speeches spoken, Governor Charlie Baker and his team now turn their attention to finding the $ 500 million that most students of Massachusetts’s state budget assert is the size — at least — of the 2015 Fiscal year budget.

I say ‘at least” because the Massachusetts Taxpayer’s Foundation finds the potential deficit even larger. Looking at ten categories of revenue and spending, the MTA tallies a deficit of $ 813 million : $ 288 million in revenue shortfall (predicted revenue less actual receipts) and $ 525 million of overspending : actual expenditures versus amounts allocated in the Final budget as enacted by the legislature.

Here’s a link to the MTA analysis or readers who want to take a closer look :
http://www.masstaxpayers.org/sites/masstaxpayers.org/files/MTF%20-%20FY15%20Budget%20Risks.pdf

And this is a,link to the actual Final Budget, enacted as chapter 165 of the acts of 2014:
https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FinalBudget/2015

A deficit of $ 813 million — 2.75 % of the total $ 326 billion FY 2015 budget — is no laughing matter. One allows for estimates of revenue to fall short, because, ater all, no one can predict exactly the future of money. But overspending has nlo such excuse. It’s simply bad governance.

Bad enough it is to budget expenditures that spend every dollar of projected revenues, leaving to chance a potential deficit (and our State Constitution forbids us from operating a deficit budget), rather than leaving a reasonable amount of projected revenue unallocated. A non-allocation fund would be wise, given budget planners’ awareness that Massachusetts has significant, ongoing expense obligation shortfalls : pension liability for State employees being one of the largest. But none was made.

Far worse to overspend the budgeted expenditures — doing so almost guaranteed a budget deficit of significant size. so it turned out.

So what is Governor Baker to do about it ? No one likes a skinflint, yet skinflint baker is goung to have to be. There will be cuts in spending, major cuts. Some are easy enough : millions of state dollars were wasted on implementation of the Health Connector, millions more on incoherent management at the MBTA (Boston area’s public transit). But waste will not make good more than half the $ 500 million, much less the additional $ 313 million foreseen by MTA.

How to make any such cuts, at all, with voters wanting better education (and more of it) ? From expansion of early education to the implementation of diverse school programs, communities will need the state to provide them much more local aid — Baker has already released to the state’s 351 towns and cities $ 100 million of local aid money held back by Governor Patrick as a kind of back-door rainy day fund. He’ll somehow have to find more local aid millions even while trimming other state budget accounts.

Baker has instituted a hiring freeze and ordered every state agency to conduct an in-depth review of its own budget accounts. This is bad news for DCF (Department of families and Children), the troubled social services agency that employs 3309 people and needs many more because its social workers now handle more cases per worker than allowed by their union contract, a caseload directly responsible for several highly publicized child care failures.

How many employees does each state department now have ? Here’s a link to the itemized list :
https://massfinance.state.ma.us/CommonCents/commonEmployeeResult.asp?pg=6

No one is suggesting layoffs. The likelihood is that several departments will need to expand. Yet consolidation of some management offices may well be on the table, and possibly early retirement buyouts. One looks especially at the vast numbers of employees listed in the state university and state college systems. Expenditure practices at state colleges have given rise to scandal quite recently; salaries of top executives seem enormously high — many times what we pay the Governor, for example. Change may be coming to this state account.

The state’s technology will be upgraded enormously. Most of state government still lives in the age of fax and PCs It needs to embrace the age of twitter, laptops, and iPads.

Modernizing the State’s technology will cost money at 8irst but save much more — in time not wasted, bad decisions not made, communication better arranged — than the confused mish-mash we’ve allowed to overwhelm many state services.

A quick look at Budget details turns up one feature that baker is sure to grab hold of : the state’s indebtedness costs. There are five separate indebtedness accounts under the 0699 tab, under which interest and principal is paid annually, plus some technical adjustment amounts. For FY 2015, payments total $ 2,309,436,764.

That’s over two billion dollars that the state shouldn’t need to spend but has to, because in order to fund our enormous public transit and highway costs, we authorized,in the last year alone, borrowing more than $ 12 billion. The new bond issue joined an already existing state indebtedness of an additional $ 12 billion or so.

Baker cannot order this large bond sum paid off in one year, but he can likely ask some additional user fees for highway travel — perhaps road tolls geared to mileage, as some are suggesting — which fees can be used partly to pay down indebtedness and partly to replace the $ 100 million revenue lost to the state when voters at the November election repealed Gas Tax Indexing.

Otherwise, and given the years it will take baker to pay down the state’s costly debt burden, you’d expect him to close the $ 500 to $ 813 million deficit by asking some departments to spend less. Managers will have to trim, line employees to economize, all workers to seek efficiency wherever feasible. Looking at the various department budgets, it’s not immediately clear which ones will have to shorten sail : perhaps the various Court, Legal services, and probation systems, which together cost about $ 737 million, will be a place to look. Education costs the state much, much more, but as everybody wants schooling expanded, this budget will likely expand as well.

Perhaps the state will receive additional Federal funds. The current budget shows Washington paying us $ 9,449,454,682. No wonder baker has met with President Obama and will likely do so again, and again.

Whatever happens will have to happen even as Baker forces state agencies to deliver innovative services to the public with greater effectiveness than the norm of now.

The rubric will be “do more with less, and do it better.”

I have scant idea how Baker will get that done; but get it done, he will. Whatever your view is, right now, of Massachusetts state administration, it’s going to be very out of date, compared to what will actually be, well before the 2018 election at which the voters will judge Baker’s record.

Count on it.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATED 12.37 PM January 12, 2015

ICYMI : THE OTHER SPEECH THAT GOVERNOR BAKER DELIVERED YESTERDAY

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^ Governor Baker and LtGov Karyn Polito converse with and speak to 200 community leaders and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative members yesterday at the Kroc Center —- —- —- —- —- Governor Baker delivered as inaugural address at the State House yesterday, and all of us in the media have covered it, analyzed it, opined about it. But Baker delivered a second speech yesterday, one that no one has yet written about. This speech was given at the Kroc Center on Dudley Street in Roxbury, where Baker and his Lieutenant Governor, Karyn Polito, heard from, and then spoke to, about 200 assembled community leaders and members of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, otherwise known as the “Promise Movement.” It was a speech of inspiration such as I have not heard a Republican deliver in at least 40 years, words of encouragement and uplift and quite pointed, a  speech almost revolutionary in its potential political consequences.

Baker said “there’s an awful lot of good stuff going on in communities of color…things you never hear about…which the media does not cover…we should pay more attention to the success going on, here and right up the street, at places like The Base.” Baker talked about the city of Lawrence too : “you don’t often hear about Lawrence in a good light, but two days ago we visited the Frost School there, a level one school in a city where education progress is going on right now. The city has doubled the number of top performing schools.”

Summing up his theme, Baker said “success usually mean doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t” and “We need to focus on the success stories !” You may be tempted to think that Baker was simply voicing a cliche about the news always reporting bad things that go on in communities of color and none of the good, but Baker’s meaning, addressed to an audience of people of color rigorously dedicated to self-improvement, went much deeper than that. He was telling the 200 that their personal successes matter : to the community of which they’re part; to the City; and to the state, as validation, as role modeling, as foundations to be built upon, not merely by money or programs but, most basic of all, by will power and confidence, attributes of the soul that work whether there’s money aound or not.

Before they spoke, both Polito and Baker wrote upon the organization’s “Promise Board” their promises to the community

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^ Baker and Polito writing their promises to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative on the group’s “Promise Board”

This was inspiration at the Deval Patrick level and then some, for dpecificity and resolve and becasue it was made to an audience of color by a Republican governor and lieutenant governor.

The 200 applauded every sentence of Baker’s speech, as well they might, given what most people in communities of color have seen and heard from Republicans recently.

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins was there, as were State representatives Evandro Carvalho and Russell Holmes, local business leader Clayton Turnbull, UMass Boston chancellor Keith Motley, Roxbury Community College president Gloria Roberson, incoming Labor Secretary Ron Walker, City of boston Development leader Sheila Dillon, and Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans. It was an impressive display of what in gospel singing is called ‘witness.” Baker also had with him two cabinet secretaries of great significance to the Dudley Street community : Business and economic Development chief Jay Ash and Chrystal Kornegay, who will be Baker’s Housing and Urban Development leader. Baker singled them out and also their recent work : Ash as Chelsea City manager and Kornegay as head of Urban Edge.

I thought of Senator Ed Brooke, who died barely days ago, and what he would have thought had he been on hand, in the neighborhood that he lived in, to hear Baker’s words. His life, his work, his politics exemplified “Promise.”

Baker’s speech reached back to that era in Republican politics and, for me at least, reclaimed it for himself, and, by implication, for Republican political priorities as well. And if Baker often sounded more like RFK than not, that too takes us back to a time when success-oriented urban reform, and the moral impulses that underlay it, were the driving force of successful Massachusetts Republicanism : and to its adoption, intentionally, by the Kennedys, who eventually made it a major Democratic mission even as the Republican party lost grip. But that was almost 50 years ago, and Governor Baker is now : potentially, a political force as game-changing as were the 1960s Kennedys. —-

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

IT’S GOVERNOR BAKER NOW

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^ LtGov  Karyn Polito and Governor Charlie Baker : to be inaugurated today at noon

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Here and Sphere endorsed Charlie Baker for Governor, and both of us who write Here and Sphere personally supported his candidacy. So it’s no surprise that we are happy to see him take office at noon today.

We think he will do exactly the job of governance that this state badly needs ; make state administration less confusing, less wasteful, less disappointing to those who need its services. We think that Baker will bring coherence to each agency’s mission; effectiveness to the state’s technology; and focus to budgeting. Baker campaigned on these grounds, and his presentations embodied his resolves. If you ask the voers to choose you for your mangerail mastery, there’s no better way to prove it than by running a masterful campaign. Baker did that and more. it was a campaign as bold as well targeted. We see no reason why his governance of the state won’t show the same leadership example.

Deval Patrick, who leaves office today, asserted even more boldness than Baker — but mch of the time failed even to identify a target, much less focus on it. Patrick did establish, for a very long time to come, social values that we all now embrace : equality, inclusion, the dignity of everyone. Foresight on budget matters, however, was not a strong point, nor was his legislation well crafted. He misplayed the game : instead of winning gthe Speakier of the house — the state’s single most important lawmaker — to his proposlas before annoumncing them, pattrick anouncved them and then waited for the Spdasker to respbd. ioften the Spoeaker said ‘nothing doing.” Patrick, knowing his popularity among Democratic actkivists, may have wanted to pressure the Speaker, who too is a Democrat; instead, the Speaker’s push back highlighted the weakness of the goverbor — any goverbor, but paticularly a Democrat.

This was a political failure; and Patrick was never a politician, not at the beginning, not at the end, by which time he seemed to have long since lost niterest in the details of governance.
In some measure Patrick’s failure at things political mirrored that of his predecessor, Mitt Romney, who never even tried to be political. At least Patrick tried, and on values issues, succeeded.

Charlie Baker has already proced himself a master of Massachusetts politics. as his campiagn to the cities and interest group constituencies showed political insight, so have bhis picks for top administrative positions confirmed it. Political party affiliation has played scant part in Baker’s selections, more of whom are Democrats than not. Republicans have wondered wny; Democrats deem themsleves pleasantly surprised; yet nheither get the point : that Baker really does see his job not as a boosting of partisans but as better state administration, for the good of all.

It’s a mission he can fulfill. Baker doesn’t need Speaker DeLeo’s permission, or accord, to accomplish this mission. all he needs is to pick solid administrators — and a solid core of net-level managers, because it’s a that next level down that state administration really gets delivered — and see that they do the job he’s entrusted to them.

There will be struggles. Baker has to find ways to close what looks to be a very large budget deficit; and then comes next year’s budget, which will be all and only his. He will need to confer with the Speaker beforehand,and he knows it. Baker’s selection of east Boston state Representative Carlo Basile as his board appointments secretary sent a signal, I think : no legislator had a closer working relationship with Speaker DeLeo. It’s a relationship which has legs. Baker’s budgeting decisions will not cahllenge the Speaker, they will include him.

Including the Speaker is really the key to loosening his monopoly of legislatibve power. It will be hard for the Speaker to block passage of budget allocations that he has helped to negotiate. I think that Baker understands this dynamic.

Of course all of this remaions to be seen. or now, it’s a new day in Massachusetts, a new tone, a new look and a new way of doing. Our incoming governor is a policy wonk, a brilliant explainer of otherwise complex governance issues, a man intimidated by no one and as caring as was Deval Patrick and as determined to surprise skeptics as to live up to believers’ expectations.

—- The Editors / Here and Sphere

THE TRIAL OF AARON HERNANDEZ WILL NOT BE A SLAM DUNK

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^ Aaron Hernandez in court with his lead lawyer, Michael K. Fee

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Now that the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial is underway, it is time to think carefully about the next high-profile, Massachusetts murder trial, set to begin soon enough down in Bristol County : that of Aaron Hernandez.

Unlike The Tsarnaev trial, the Hernandez process will be no slam dunk. Serious questions of motive stand unanswered. The time line of events doesn’t help. It’s difficult to grasp what happened in that car in which Odin Lloyd rode in company with Hernandez and his two imported sidekicks. As I see it, the decision to kill Lloyd happened during the ride, not before . If it was Hernandez who actually did the killing.

As best I can time-line what happened, here it is :

1.Hernandez learnede that Lloyd had talked to a club security man about the deaths, the prior year,of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado — deaths that Hernandez is also now accused of.

2.A few days after that occurred, Hernandez asked two friends to come up to Boston and ride with him as he picked up Lloyd at Lloyd’s house late that night.

3.Lloyd evidently feared no harm, as he came out of his house and joined the three men.

4.No one in that car took Lloyd’s cell phone away. He was free to text right up to just before the shooting. The inference is that, during the ride, Lloyd was a friend.

5.Lloyd’s discussion with the club security man was talked about. One man in the car has said that Lloyd and Hernandez straightened it out right there and that, evidently, all was good. (And why shouldn’t it have been? Lloyd was dating the sister of Herandez’s fiancee. He was almost family.)

6.One senses that Hernandez had asked his friends to join him and Lloyd as a kind of jury, to listen to the two men discuss the club matter and to weigh in if needed. As for killing Lloyd, it would be quite foolish to kill a man with two witnesses present.

7.Lloyd texted his sister that “I’m with NFL…just so you know.” The words might suggest that he now feared his life — but also implies only that Lloyd wanted to put his sister at ease about why he was off riding around with three men so late at night. (The text’s many possibly interpretations is good enough reason why Judge Gersh has excluded it from trial presentation.)

8.The four men rode aound for an hour. As the Attleboro industrial park where Lloyd was evidently killed is much closer than that to his house, clearly the long ride was long because of the discussion about the club matter.

9.They arrive at the industrial park. Lloyd is soon thereafter shot — outside the car. Why did Lloyd leave the car at all ? Was he forced outside ? What happened during the last part of that ride to change the outcome ? Or did nothing happen, except that Lloyd recognized the industrial park as a place of no good and, afraid now, he bolted out of the car on his own — he had a door seat, so why not ? — seeking safety, at which point Heranndez or his accomplices chased him down. Lloyd was shot in the back.

10.Which man actually killed Lloyd ? The murder gun has not been fiound. Whose fingerprints are on it ?

11.Lastly : did Lloyd escape the three men and was shot by somebody else ? It may seem unlikely, but it is not beyond possibility.

These questions leave plenty of room for Hernandez’s defense to cast doubt upon the prosecution’s case. Much depends upon what the two accomplices testify to and whether either man can be believed. Yet even if their testimony proves unhelpful, much doubt arises from the facts themelves. If the murder gun could be found, at least the killer’s identity would likely be established. Lacking the gun, presented with such a makes-no-sense fact line, and facing a team of superb lawyers well prepared for the defense, the Hernandez prosecutors can’t take their job lightly. At this stage, an acquittal is a distinct possibility.

Granted, that Hernandez’s pose have done him no favors in the court of public opinion by clamming up, by seeming to abet his evasions, by acting out street codes of screw-the-cops. Yet none of that will play out in court, where evidence, not the mindsets of Hernandez’s unhelpful friends, will decide the verdict.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

WHAT MASSACHUSETTS ASKS OF ITS GOVERNOR

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^ the late Paul Cellucci : he wasn’t a policy wonk, but he understood Massachusetts, and our legislature, masterfully – better than any other governor of my lifetime — and so was a very effective chief executive

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The long and exhaustive summary, in today’s Boston Globe, of Deval Patrick’s eight years as Governor deserves your reading it, as it required mine. Its observations do Patrick full justice; its conclusions underline his failures. Patrick is a man of wide vision, of optinmism and challenge such as few of our recent governors have equalled. Unfortuntely, he was an uneven administrator at best and, more often than not, a stranger to how the legislature works.

As Patrick himself is quoted, “you can’t get the substance part done unless you do the performance art part of the job.”

Performance art ? By this phrase Patrick encompasses what to those of us who love political engagement mean by conversation, discussion, attention to all the 200 legislaors and even their key staffers.

i suppose that to engage the people who actually make the state’s laws in framing them can be seen, somehow as “performance art.” If so, a Governor had better become really good at performing. Because finding a way to co-operate with the legislature, rather than conflict with it, majes up at least half of a Massachusetts Governor’s duty.

Our state constitution was written in 1780, by men who had had enough of single-handed colonial governors. They wanted the legislature to dominate. A governor was to execute legislative directions; his appointive power was limited by a governor’s council. Originally, the Goveror was elected for a one year term only. Few Massachusetts governors became household names; they came and went. Power was the legislature’s.

Today we elect Governors to four year terms. He directs many, many state agencies, enacted in the past 50 years mostly, and administers a vastly bigger state budget than governors in the 1850s. He appoints the directors of those agencies free of Council approval. He also appoints all of the management-level administrators, and because the Governor has so many such at his command, his personal presence in Beacon Hill’s halls of power weighs far more heavily than it did in 1780, 1880, or even 1980.

Yet when it comes to legislation, it’s still 1780. The legislature commands all.

Our House is the only legsialtive body in the entire nation — that I am aware of — in which the Speaker appoints all members of every committee and all committee chairmen. (ironic : the Speaker is as much a dictator today as our colonial governors were 275 years ago.)

That said, each of the 160 House members is different, because all represent separate communities with very separate histories. Massachusetts has 351 towns and cities, each run by separately elected officials, each with long history apart from one another. For example : incoming Governor Charlie Baker lives in Swampscott; next door lie Marblehead on the east, Salem to the north, Lynn and Nahant on the South. These five adjoined communities have political cultures as different aas if they were 100 miles apart.

The same differences exist throughout Massachusetts. Wilmington and Billerica, for example, border each other as north of Boston suburbs, but they vote very differently, inhabited by people from very different backgrounds. The same is true of Acton and Concord, or of Hudson and Stow, or of Southbridge and Sturbridge, or Seekonk and Attleboro, or Uxbridge and Milford; and the list goes on. Any Governor who wants to work well with our 160 House members needs to know the difference between Norton and Easton, Ware and Hardwick, Chicopee and Holyoke, Granby and Amherst.

The fractured state of Massachusstts polity affects administration. What one community supports, a neighboring community may oppose. With 351 separate communities in the room, that leads to a lot of division and mutual opposition. Some state agencies administer laws that affect every resident more or less equally ; tax collection, drivers’ licensing, the DCF and Health Connector. Several others — especially Business and Community Development, Education, Public Safety, Transportation, and Housing — face tasks that vary to some degree every time a town or city boundary is crossed.

For example : Patrick successfully led the legislature to reejecting a proposal for Marriage equality to go to referendum; that’s because equality is the same no matter where we live. He was less successful with casino legislation, until a new Speaker took office, and continued to face casino conflict, because casinos are location items, and our state has 351 political locations. Transportation funding aroused unending controversy because our 351 communities have about 351 different public transportation priorities.

Our Governor has to know the state in detail, geographically and culturally, if he is to lessen the potential for missteps, the chance of mistke. It really does begin here. Baker and Polito have both served as town selectmen; Baker made a point of it in his campaign speeches; again and again he emphasized that his and Polito’s selectman years matter a lot to the performance potential of his governance. He was very right.

Knowing the towns and cities, a governor knows each legislator’s voters and thus what those voters expect of him or her. The Speaker, too, is such a legislator. Speaker DeLeo’s Winthrop is not next-door East Boston. If the Governor grasps this basic, he has gone a long way to getting every legislator’s attention and thus the Speaker’s. Add to that a willingness to treat every legislator — the forty Senators too — as a partner in governance, and a Governor is well on the way to accomplishing stuff that actually matters and to enacting legislation that he wants : beause his wants are those of the 351 communities and recognized to be such.

Lastly, a Governor needs to be ready to deliver the services that the legislature has enacted, and he needs everybody in state government to accept that he knows how to get it done as well as why and for whom.

It sounds simple. But few governors master all of this simple-sounding stuff, or care to. Paul Cellucci did it. Other than him, I can’t recall a single one — not even Mike Dukakis, as dedicated a policy person as the corner office has ever seen — who mastered these basics of the job description we’ve written for our governor.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON 2015 : OUR CIVIC PREDICTIONS

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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.

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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