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^ the six 1st Suffolk candidates at a recent Forum. L to R ; Joe Ruggiero, Camilo Hernandez, Ed Deveau, Adrian Madaro, Joanne Pomodoro, Lou Scapicchio

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Three weeks ago, when I first delved into the campaign to elect a new East Boston State Representative, the race looked very close between at least two, maybe three, of the five Democrats running. It looks almost as close even now, with voting time only four days away.

Winter’s “snow-mageddon” hasn’t stopped anything. The candidates are door-knocking, phone-banking, doing “stand-outs,” holding fundraisers at local yacht clubs (Really, yacht clubs ? in winter ? Yep), posting house signs all over “Eastie.”

The money hasn’t stopped, either. Since the campign began — the moment that Governor Baker announced he was appointing Representative Carlo Basile his appointments Secretary — the five Democrats have raised (as of the latest OCPF report) a total of $ 202,300 and change. The final figure will surely far surpass even this momentous amount.

Votes elect, but money almost elects. The money race is almost a dead heat between the top two men, Adrian Madaro and Joe Ruggiero, with Ed Deveau not impossibly behind :

Total raised : Madaro 74,853; Ruggiero 69,395; Deveau 39,289.17
Raised Jan 1st through Feb 13 : Madaro 34,885 Ruggiero 31,720 Deveau 25,905.21
Raised before jan 1st : Madaro 39,967 Ruggiero 37,675 Deveau 11,376

The February 13th “end balance” looks better for Joe Ruggiero than any of his rivals —

Ruggiero 46,089.73 Madaro 22,579.27 Deveau 18,497.52

— suggesting that the race is even tighter than the money raised numbers look.

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closer than close in the money race : Adrian Madaro (L) and Joe Ruggiero (R)

Nonetheless, my observations of the race tell me that Ruggiero, an Orient Heights Funeral Home Owner, and the most personable of men, is behind:

1.At the most recent two candidate Forums, at East Boston social Centers on February 18th and East Boston High School on February 24th, Ruggiero attacked Adrian Madaro, who for the past four years had been Basile’s chief of staff. His attack was mild — he expressed skepticism about how valuable Madaro’s state house experience was — but the rule is still true : you do not attack a rival if you think you’re ahead.

2.At his campaign kickoff at Spinelli’s about three weeks ago, Ruggiero drew about 300 people. At a GOTV (get out the vote) rally at East Boston Yacht Club on February 20, the count was more like 120 people. It’s not a good sign when a campaign draws fewer people closer to election day than early on.

3.Mayor Walsh has endorsed Ruggiero, spoken at his events, and gone all-in, with passion. He has marshalled union activists and some City hall people for Ruggiero; they have door-knocked and phone-banked with the same passion the Mayor wears on his sleeve. Yet in a very local campign like this one, it’s far better to risk your all on your own neighbors. They, after all, and not the Mayor, are the ones who will elect you.

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all-in : Mayor Marty Walsh at Joe Ruggiero’s “GOTV” rally at the East Boston Yacht Club

Meanwhile, Governor Baker, who surely wants to see his appointments secretary’s protege win, has hardly touched the race. Not until a “GOTV” rally on February 25th did I see even one recognized “Baker guy” at a Madaro event’ That would be Revere City Councillor Tony Zambuto, whose presence at Madaro’s rally sent a message which hitherto had been reserved for implication.

i suspect that everyone in East Boston knows that Adrian Madaro, having worked for Basile, has that kind of Govenor Baker connection; yet because Baker has made almost no overt move to influence the race, Madaro has had to earn whatever vote he gets on Tuesday pretty much on his own, using local support by choice. (And he has plenty : all ages, all ethnicities, newcomers to the neighborhood, old timers, all points of view. I’ve seen it at his events.) That is how it is done.

Nor can I find even a single obvious Baker name among Madaro’s OCPF-listed donors. Instead, those who gave include a large number of very prominent Boston activists : former City Councillors Diane Modica and Larrry DiCara, Susan Passoni, several Tassinari’s, Fred salvucci, Rich Dimino, former East Boston representative Mike D’Avolio, Mary Ellen Welch, past Lieutenant Governor candidate Mike Lake, and Liam Kerr of Democrats for Education Reform. Some of these probably voted for Baker; but I cannot recall seeing any on his donor list. They’re Madaro people.

That is how it is done. Baker has proven himself a very shrewd player at a game at which, in Boston, shrewdness still matters — a lot.


^ Ed Deveau chatas up a voter at the Jeffries Point candidates’ Forum

What of the other three ? Strongest seems to be Ed Deveau, 13 years a State House staffer for East Boston state Senator Anthony Petrucelli. With somewhat less money, but touting his extensive Beacon Hill work, Deveau has pretty much matched the two leaders’ outreach. Still, my sense is that Deveau lacks strength all across East Boston. In particular, I see little of him in Jeffries Point and not much more than that in Eagle Hill. These two neighborhoods, in both of which Madaro looks strong, comprise about half the District.


^ personable : Camilo Hernandez wearing his trademark “CH” arm band

Camilo Hernandez has campaigned extensively in Spanish — he’s a Colombian immigrant who now serves as City Councillor LaMattina’s outreach to the Hispanic community — and given the high concentration of Hispanic voters in the Central square and day square neighborhoods, it’s likely that on name alone, Hernandez will win votes. Yet he has not spoken to any of the major Beacon Hill issues even when pressed by questions at Forums.

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^ knowledgeable and smart : Lou scapicchio

Then there’s Lou Scapicchio, cousin of former City Councillor Paul Scapicchio. He’s an attorney at the Soldiers Home in Chelsea and speaks to every issue with authority and in complete sentences. Yet as smart as he certainly is, he started very late — fatal to most candidacies — has raised the least money, has the least broadly rooted of the five campaigns and seems an opportunity missed.

So there you have it.

We’ll know the winner at about 10 PM on Tuesday night. I think it’ll be Madaro; but it would not shock me to see Joe Ruggiero edge ahead.

The winner will face independent candidate Joanne T. Pomodoro,a social worker at Massachusetts General hospital, on March 31st. there is no Republican on the ballot.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Baker announcing T panel

^ on Friday, Charlie Baker announced a panel of seven transportation experts, including Paul Barrett and Jane Garvey, to recommend T reforms. Thus it begins.

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Charlie Baker ran a bold campaign; can he be a bold Governor ? We shall find out soon enough. The T’s utter collapse has put T reform on top of Baker’s political mountain. Now that the $ 768 million 2015 budget deficit has been addressed — in record time, and almost unanimously, by the legislature : bold indeed — T reform is what we all expect and insist upon.

Unfortunately, the public T reform conversation so far has turned to blame-gaming. It’s Beverly Scott’s fault (Scott is the T’s general manager), the T’s in debt but she takes expensive junkets. Or it’s the fault of waste, cronyism, and padded payrolls. Or all of the above.

I beg to differ. Whatever the wisdom, or lack of it, in Scott’s expense account, it’s a thimble compared to the huge deficits run up by the T since 2006, the deferred maintenance, the failure to modernize systems and trains, the incompetence of Keolis, the focus on expansion rather than maintenance, the lack of communication between management and the legislature, the inexcusable neglect of snow removal plans or funds, the refusal by several legislatve sessions to fund T reforms.

The carping about the T’s unions, about Scott, and about inefficient budgeting sounds like the usual easy-fix talk. Just as the problem with DCf was not Olga Roche, and just as the State’s EBT program is not beset by vast fraud (an audit found the “fraud’ rate to be about 0.7 % of the EBT fund), so kvetching about the T’s small stuff makes it that much harder to do significant reform.

Kvetching sounds good in the radio talk show world, where highly paid demagogues address serious issues by spewing, and as we have free speech in this country, radio talk show hosts are free to dump. Unfortunately, T reform also finds itself crapped by some politicians. Governor Baker cannot enjoy that a large number of these grousers are Republican legislators and candidates. How is he to bring major reform to the T when his own party’s legislative caucus talks the language of No way ?

Baker has already had to trim his policy sails rather than pick a fight with Republican legislators. It’s why he refuses to push for adding public accomodations protections to the state’s transgender civil rights law. It’s why he declines to approve drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants even though all common sense says they should be granted. Let’s remember that Baker’s support for marriage equality and women’s health rights set him at odds with the GOP platform; his endorsement of the state’s minimum wage hike crossed up Mass Fiscal Alliance, a GOP-aligned advocacy group..

Baker knows that every reform he undertakes, that includes new taxes, or provides tax-paid services to people who need them, will be fought loudly and rigidly by almost every GOP legislator and “grass roots” activist; knows that to accomplish what the state needs done he will need Democratic legislative votes. He knows, too, that his winning 48.5 % of the November 2014 vote numbered almost as many Democratic voters as GOP and far more non-party voters than all partisans combined. To win re-election, Baker has to do what his voters want. He knows it, and all signs say that he is seeking a path to get there without facing a Republican revolt.

That is why the seven-member MBTA reform panel matters. Its recommendations will give Baker an action plan. The panel will not be sidetracked by petty stuff. it will address the big issues : updating the T system, equipping T trains and buses for the technology age, replacing worn out trains and buses, retiring the T’s huge debt burden, fare increases, replacing the current T management structure, creating a realistic operating plan, finding a means to expand the system that doesn’t detract fro current operations; and maybe even renegotiating the benefits and pension portions of the T unions’ contracts.

Receivership might even be in the plan. I can’t say it’s unwarranted given the utter failure of every aspect.

The panel might even call for higher taxes to fund the vast sums needed. Many public policy people have already suggested a gas tax earmarked for T reform.

If Baker’s panel so recommends, it will then be “game on.” The game ? Selling the new tax to Baker’s voters.

But when ?

Speaker DeLeo has already said that his FY 2016 state budget will include no new taxes or fees. Baker stands on the same ground. We should not plunk for new taxes first, he says, about T reform. I agree. Let the management, budgeting, and planning reorms be agreed upon first.

That conversation will surely take up all of “FY 2016.” So what of  FY 2017 ? Neither Baker nor DeLeo has said anything about what the 2017 budget will contain.

Already the anti-tax cranks and talk show mouths are baying for blood. The fight will not be fun. But it must be fought. Baker must “go bold” — partner with the legislature’s Democrats if that’s what it takes. He was elected to be bold; he shouldn’t stop now. His re-election depends on Securing the public a T system that works efficiently and effectively. As we have seen and lived through, the Boston area’s economy cannot prosper otherwise.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 opioid Baker

^ The Governor’s panel on Opioid addiction as shown via his twitter account’s info-graphic

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Yesterday, as anticipated, Governor Baker announced his panel of advisers on the State’s opioid epidemic, a scourge that caused an estimated 978 deaths in the state4 last year. The panel is to gather input from, presumably, the addiction and recovery community, and to report back to him in May on what to do about it.

Here’s a link to Baker’s press release announcing the panel : http://www.mass.gov/governor/press-office/press-releases/steps-to-combat-opioid-addiction-crisis-announced.html

Like many, I had anticipated that the panel would include several members of the recovery community itself — people who are actually in recovery — because Baker has made it a priority to confront opioid addiction and support people in recovery all the way to full health. He said so in the campaign, and he made it a point to bring some prominent recovery people into his personal advice circle.

Because Baker did all that, and was seen by many to be doing it, quite a few people — including myself — seemed pretty sure that he would use the direct experience of those in recovery to frame a patient-oriented action program. We were wrong.

Baker has done the opposite. Rather than a panel heavy with those who need recovery serice, he has appointed a 16-member panel of people who provide services. as Baker tweeted yesterday, “people from prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery support and law enforcement form our 16-member Working Group.”

How, then, will people in recovery participate ? Doubtless he will continue to talk — as he has done fruitfully for months — with those in recovery whose personal experiences have resonated; but most of the recovery input will likely arise from recoverers testifying at the four regional panel Forums that Baker has planned.

In other words, the patients will remain patients and the service providers will remain service providers. The power allocations will not change.

The panel will take testimony and will almost certainly make recommendations as follows : one, what services can we best provide; two, how can we provide tjem in the most cost-effective manner ?

This is how Baker sees almost every major state service : best practice execution without wasting money. At a meet and greet in Charlestown just before the election, Baker was asked a health care question, and these priorities were the crux of his very specific response. Deliver the right services to the right people, and you’ll do right by the people; and you will save money.

It sounds cold, but it isn’t. Not weighing his Opioid panel heavily with people in recovery, he excludes the personal from a matter which to him is best seen as purely functional. Get it done, get it right, do it within budget.

“Get it done, get it right, do it within budget” is why we elected Baker in the first place. He knows it.

I do hope that once the Panel has delivered its report, Baker will ask his friends in the recovery community — a few of them quite prominent people in their own right — to execute the plan, or at least to serve on a board monitoring it. After all, the entire priority is them, right ?

Meanwhile, we await the panel’s public forums and its May report.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Riverside Line

^ no trains today ; the Mattapan “high speed” line looks as bleak as its riders wax furious

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If every day in a year — or two years, or a decade — were as snowy as this month of days, the MBTA would have every reform it needs, every repair, every tax dollar. Every train would be a new train and equipped with wi-fi. Every bus and train would arrive on time. If.

Right now, reform of the MBTA is everybody’s urgent issue. Governor is working on it; heck, even the legislature is crafting reforms. Something may actually get done. But what ?

The most likely reforms — and yes, there will be some — won’t cost much money. Both the Governor and the House Speaker have assured us that the State’s 2016 Budget will not include new taxes or user fees. What we’ll probably get is rearrangement of T management. Instead of a governing board of seven, appointed to staggered terms, we’ll likely get an operations group answerable to the Governor all at once. (And a new General manager, of course.)

In addition, the T’s current operator, Keolis, a European firm, may find itself terminated and replaced by a more local firm. There’ll be changes to the T’s pension fund, currently short by a large number.

Many legislators are talking about “reallocating resources” — meaning that money saved by reforms in this or that State agency will be re-purposed to the T, to repair broken switches, replace DC-powered mototrs with AC, install heaters along outdoor tracks, and such like. Ambitious expansions of T lines will be put on hold, the money used instead to order new buses and trains to replace equipment older — as some have noted — than the 1978 Blizzard.

All of the above need be done as soon as possible. Yet every item seems quick-fix. None will bring the T firmly into the 21st Century or assure weather-proof performance. To do that, the t will need major new money that can only come from increased fares and higher, dedicated taxes.

I’m talking T expansion. I’m talking cars and buses equipped with wi-fi and with air conditioning, or heat, that works. I’m talking stations weather proofed or the comfort of those who wait therein. I’m talking all night service. And I’m talking a T that doesn’t have to use almost half its income to pay interest on $ 9 billion of debt.

It is all too easy to blame the T’s debt burden on the Big Dig’s costs. This is the reddest of red herrings. the Big Dig helped make downtown Boston the beehive of commerce it is now. the Big Dig paid thousands of building trades workers a great living for more than a decade — money that they then spent liberally into the local economy. that building the Big Dig pushed debt burdens onto the T need not have gone unresolved, as it has, by several legislative sessions and two governors.

Democrats of the knee-jerk kind, and the non-union Left, are finding it fun right now to put “Charlie on the MTA” and watch him never come back. This is as useless a conversation as it is silly. Governor Baker knows very well — knew it before the snow — that rebuilding the T will be a feature of his term and a standard for his re-electiom campaign. Baker also knows that T rebuild can NOT get done unless the Speaker of the House is committed to doing it. Baker has made it a central feature of his governance to work in partnership with the Speaker — as two previous governors often did not, to their disadvantage. That’s a plus.

What the public ought to do is to keep the conversation going well into the summer and beyond so that T reform never stops being a “squeaky wheel getting grease.’ (Pun intended.) We cannot afford to lose this opportunity by orgetting, in summer days, what ailed us in this winter.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Montrealo snow removal1 Montreal snow removal 2

^ snow removal in Montreal is a citywide mission. no effort spared —- —- —- —–

Ever since we launched Here and Sphere, my partner Heather Cornell and I , when discussing how a modern city operates, have featured the “Montreal method.” Today the Boston Globe, in its “Snowstorms don’t need to stop Boston cold,” has done the same. You can read the Globe’s op-ed here : http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/02/13/snowstormms-don-need-stop-boston-cold/GED9LplvaQv41lO4UCCneP/story.html

We commend Editor Brian McGrory for focusing on Montreal. Mayor Walsh, in his 2013 campaign, often talked about what Montreal does right, that Boston does not. We agree. Montreal dodesn’t just plow snow, it removes it. Streets and sidewalks both. The City’s contract with its snow removal force specifies that streets and sidewalks must be clean of snow within 24 hours after the snow stops. I have visited Montreal often — yes, in winter too — and have seen it happen. Montreal doesn’t fool around.

They do it for the sake of commerce especially. The city was founded on commerce — as the entrepot for fur trappers and traders — and trade and commerce have been its central purpose ever since. The entire city is one big outdoor market of trade, finance, conversation and deal-making, money changing hands, often to the sound of music from the numerous musical festivals the City hosts all year long. The streets of Montreal are full of people; so are the “Squares” (pronounced “skwarz”), in which the festivals sound off for hundreds, thousands of Montrealais and Montrealaises. 1 les-francofolies-de-montreal ^ thousands gather for Montreal’s “franco-folies”: pop music festival, one of dozens of downtown Montreal arts festivals held all year round Rue Saint-Denis, Latin Quarter, Montreal

^ Rue St-Denis at night : real life social media all night long

Yes, the City speaks French; that is both its charm and its force. It takes willpower to live in French, as Montreal does, surrounded by “les anglais.” Insistence and enjoyment. Montreal is built on joy and runs on joy. The bars and discos, boites and bistros close very late, some not at all. Night long, on “La Main” (Blvd. St-Laurent, the city’s north-south version of New York’s Broadway) and Rue St-Denis and in the adjacent streets, the party goes on; the conversation, the music, the eating, the commerce of thoughts, opinions ,and, yes, money. In French very much accented and worded far, far from the Parisian French you may have learned in high school.

Boston has evolved during the past 15 years or so in the direction of what Montreal is and has been. Today’s Boston, with its cluster of bistros, discos, shops, and people in the streets, could well pass for Montreal by day or night. At lip and wallet level, we’re there. But we are most definitely NOT there at the foundations. As the Globe op-ed points out, Boston’s snow removal budget is $ 18.5 million; Montreal’s is $ 150 million.

Montreal amasses its huge snow-fighting budget by means of a city sales tax. Its six percent, added to Quebec province’s seven percent sales tax makes Montreal goods expensive to buy. For decades, people have wondered how Montrealers manage it or tolerate it; but they have, and still do, and we can see why : weather doesn’t cripple the city, and in any case, the many millions who visit Montreal’s parade of arts festivals spend huge amounts of money — and huge amounts of the city’s sales tax.

Let’s remember, too, that Montrealers have universal, single payer health care; that the city is much, much safer than most US cities, because hardly anyone has — or wants — guns; and that the city enjoys one of the world’s most effective public transit and highway systems.

Diversity ? Boston has become much, much more multicultural these past 15 years or so than it used to be, but even now we’re only beginning to approach Montreal’s melting pot of Italians, Brazilians, North Africans, Orthodox Jews, American Blacks, Hispanics, Viet Namese, Polish, Chinese, and Syrians. This despite Quebec province’s insistence — vigorously enforced — that only French is entitled to legal protection. (Quebec gives immigration preference to French speakers.)

Of course I am not requesting that Boston parrot Montreal. But i am asking that our city adopt  Montreal’s dedication to enabling, promoting, supporting (including with city taxes if needed) commerce in all of its variety. It begins with a complete re-modernization of our MBTA system, yes; but not as a thing in itself, because the City can’t be made whole if only one of its limbs is good to go. A city needs its entire body to be hale and ready.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Charlie Baker explains defucit fix

^ Governor Baker, senate President Rosenberg, Speaker DeLeo : The T’s new managers, serving, hopefully, an Olympics constituency of money and political clout, can get T reform done. Maybe.

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There’s a $ 375,000 job available to all who qualify. We’re not talking small beer. This is a salary the Seaport District’s million-dollar condos understand and also its $ 75-a-meal bistros.
Do I have any takers ?

Now that T manager Beverly Scott has resigned, essentially saying two bleepable words to those who govern our state, some seem tempted to say that it’s all Governor Baker’s fault. That’s how it is in today’s political world. One’s opponents never let up. Whatever moves you try to make, to solve the state’s problems, they decry, obstruct, denigrate. Today my twitter feed is full of this crap. Scott’s in-your-face resignation had that sort of taste to it also. She gave the Governor no warning, no courtesy. So be it.

I am tempted to say to Scott, OK, if that’s how you want it, good riddance. But no. The better response is simply to move ahead with the vast reforms the “T” needs badly if it’s to be a boon, not a barrier, to Boston’s booming economy.

Which reform first ? As I see it, we have to begiun by recogniz ing that the “T: serves, mostly, those on the lower end of the pay scale. CEOs and corporate bigwigs do not use the T. (If they did, Boston’s “T” would be limousine and champagne quality.) The “T” serves what Mayor Ray Flynn used to call the “5 AM people” : the office cleaners, hospital laundry workers, day laborers, cooks, health aides, and other minimum-wage people whom the rest of us never see, because most of them work behind the scenes when they aren’t commuting to a job at hours that for most of us are family time.

Sit at the Haymarket bus station at 4.4 AM on a Saturday morning — as i have done many many times waiting for the 450 bus back home after journo-ing an all-night DJ gig — and you’ll see the 117 bus arrive, from Maverick Square, packed standing room only, almost all of brown-skin people — many of whom the nativists decry and want to deport; people rushing to smelly low-pay jobs in hospital basements or to office janitor work that has to be finished before the Important people — the $ 200,000 people — arrive to do their mega-deals or lawyer-up a corporate stock offering in a gleaming-spiffy mega-office.

That’s a huge part of the “T” ridership and a big reason why nothing gets done.

Bad spending by the “T” has been cited by Governor Baker, who seems to think that the “T”‘s difficulties are managerial. I disagree. The bad decisions he cites — a $ 114 million dollar Berkshire track purchase, $ 25 million for a passenger spur to Gillette Stadium — amount to nothing compared to the many, many billions of dollars needed to repair and upgrade the T’s tracks, signals, trains, stations, and buses.

To me it seems that it was easier for the T to get political OK for capital purchases in the $ 150 million dollar range than to look for tax dollars by the billions to make sure that what they already have actually works.

It is also said that General Manager Scott took expensive junkets. This was bad form, but can anyone contend rationally that her junket costs matter in the face of billions of dollars of upgrade and reform ?

What is wrong with the T is NOT how it’s managed. The T’s problems ae two : ( 1 ) financial, and ( 2 ) a complete lack of constituency power.

Because the 2024 Olympics cannot come to Boston unless we radically reconfigure the T, and because the entire business community — and most of the political community — support bringing the Games to Boston, the T now finds its two big problems solved. It has a power constituency at hand; and that means that it will have the money it needs to rebuild.

A lot of that money will be tax revenue dedicated to the purpose. It is now up to Governor Baker. He has said ‘no new taxes.’ but that was then, in the context of our stare doing business as usual. The T’s Olympic games challenge is not business as usual, any more than the T’s current state can be allowed to continue as usual.

it’s also up to Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. Governor Baker would be foolish to propose new T taxes without the two legislative leaders on board with his proposal from the git-go.

Will it happen ? I think it will. The powers that be will insist. Thank goodness that they’re aboard.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Baker and Scott

^ T General manager Beverly Scott, who should report to Governor Charlie Baker but does not because, inexplicably and illogically, the Governor does not control the T’s Board of Governors. —- —- —- —- —- —-

MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott has it right. “Give them the resources that they need, and that means there has to be significant investment and reinvestment in this system.” Scott’s cry for help sounds extreme, yet if anything it’s not extreme enough. The Boston area’s public transit system — the “MBTA,” Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority” — needs not just investment and re-investment. It needs a complete re-make, and now, with the “T”‘s services rendered entirely hors de combat, is the time to start doing it.

What do I mean by “re-making” ? Read my list :

1. replace current tracks and signals with entirely new, state of the art lines both weather resistant and internet-capable. This goes for the commuter rail as well as the transit lines.

2. replace every train on the Red, Green, Orange, and Blue Lines that doesn’t use AC motors, or is not weather-resistant, or which has reached its sell-by date full of mechanical band-aid fixes.

3. Make every outdoor bus kiosk or “T” station fully winter-heated and weather-protected.

4.extend the Green Line to West Medford, the Blue Line to Lynn, the Orange Line to Needham. Connect East Boston to the Seaport District by way of the Silver Line.

5. put wi fi in every “T” train and make sure that very newly bought bus has wi fi capability — and an inside heater that works properly.

6. buy the T’s $ 9 million dollar debt thereby freeing up T funds for use by the T itself !

7. raise fares by 50 percent.

8. Fund the T’s unfunded pension liability and reform the union contracts so that workers contribute a larger share of the contract’s benefits.

9. Publish the T’s performance record on line as well as each division’s budget on a quarterly basis. Every meeting of the T’s Board of Governors should be live-streamed and its minutes put online as soon as printed.

10. Reform the Board of Governors so that an incoming Governor has immediate control thereof, rather than having to wait our years to acquire it, as is the case at present. Whose interest does it serve to deny the Governor power to govern an operation as vital as the T ? Certainly not the public interest.

11.To the extent feasible, Issue state bonds to fund this re-make. For the remaining funds, apply for Federal transportation assistance; but expect also to enact new state taxes to get this job done. The resulting system will reward the entire Commonwealth many times over.

And what about Scott herself ? That her salary is — reportedly — $ 375,000 certainly holds her to a high standard. Baker and Mayor Walsh are said not to be fans; my own view is that, as with Olga Roche at the DCF last year, the blame for the T’s collapse should not be attributed to Scott. That would deflect the public from the real problem, which is the system itself, not its manger. As with Roche, whose resignation came only after repeated DCF failures, Scott would most effectively be replaced as part of the much larger reforms I have outlined, especially reform of the T’s Board of Governors.

We are fortunate that this all-in mission to completely make over the “T” has a huge catalyst : the Boston2024 Olympics cannot happen without a vastly reconfigured transit system in place. 2023 thus becomes a deadline for finishing the job. This gives us a bit more than eight years to rebuild, a time slot much shorter than required two decades ago by the Big Dig. Add the hurry to the hugely bigger constituency that cares about the Olympics, and you may have a critical mass of political momentum for T reform.

Catalyst or not, the question remains: how, politically, will this mission get enacted ? For this question I have no answer as yet. T riders have shown no political power at all. Many are students, many more are immigrants (and of those, many likely undocumented); the t also serves the lame, the blind, those whose disabilities prevent them from driving. Ride a T bus at 5.30 in the morning and look around you. The people aboard are not of the world of power or pelf. Far from it.

Olympics and the T ; this is the hour. So how to ring it in ? Start with this : the Governor and the Speaker of the House, Charlie Baker and Robert DeLeo, need to have a serious conversation in which they forge a consensus and then hold a joint press conference announcing it. It would help, too, to have Senate President Stanley Rosenberg join the conversation from the outset.

Let the mission begin. Our state deserves it.

—- Mike Freedbeerg / Here and Sphere


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^ Boston School District CFO testifying at Febr 4th Budget hearing (L) (R) John Lerner speaks at yesterday’s BPS Parents’ budget session —- —- —- —- —- Last night a coalition of two Boston Public Schools parents’ groups presented its case that the upcoming year’s Boston Public School budget poses a threat that cannot be allowed to stand. They are right. The FY 2016 budget — so far only a proposal — does pose a threat. It includes school closings, program “consolidations,” transportation changes that the parents will not like, and more.

Unfortunately the Parents’ presentation also made clear that Boston’s Public School budget makes no sense. As demonstrated by parent Heshan Weeramuni, who knows the school budget as well as anyone, Boston’s method for funding public schools works the opposite of how it should. Namely : funds are allocated to one school or another according to how many pupils atttend : the funds follow the student. The fewer students enrolled in a school, the less funds allotted to that school.

This sounds simple. It isn’t. If, for example, Bostons’ 128 schools enroll 5,700 less students than the 57,000 it allocates money for, the school budget does not decline by 10 percent. It doesn’t decline at all. The proposal for FY 2016 calls for a budget of about $ 1.043 billion. That’s the amount irrespective of how many students attend.

But if ten percent less students attend, and thus — because funds follow the student — ten percent fewer dollars allocate to the 128 schools, where does that $ 104.3 million go ? It doesn’t disappear. One might think that it goes to pay the salaries of teachers, custodians, and school aides, because even if a school sees ten percent less students, its staff still needs be paid. But in fact that’s not the case. According to Weeramuni, if a school’s enrollment drops, staff just loses positions.

At the Parents’ meeting Weeramuni posted a graphic showing that a school faces staff cuts if it falls short of projected enrollments. One puzzles about this. If staff is laid off, where does the money go ?

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^ Parents at the session posted questions about the key topic ; why don’t City and state spend more on public education

This process has huge consequences for charter schools. The State’s charter school law establishes a compensation formula whereby school districts receive in-lieu-of money for each student who chooses a charter rather than a public school. It does this by the statute designated as Chapter 70 of the state’s General Laws. The parents at yesterday’s meeting noted that the State’s Chapter 70 money falls $ 57 million short of what the formula says it should be. As Boston applies its funds by the funds follow the student method, they are right. But as I’ve shown, that method begs the question. Where does the money go, that isn’t allocated because the number of anticipated students falls short ?

Parents asked many questions about why don’t City and State spend more on public education ? (see photo above) As I see it, the question isn’t “why don’t they spend more ?” but “why do they spend so wastefully and illogically ?” For example : if a district sends ten percent of its of-age students to charter schools, it should cost significantly less to educate the smaller number. Yet Boston’s proposed FY 2016 budget isn’t going down, it’s going up, by three to four percent.

Last year the Boston school budget also went up. 97 percent of that increase paid teacher salaries. Teacher, principal, administrative and custodian salaries and benefits are expected to take up 78 % of the FY 2016 budget — some $ 782 million dollars. Add to that the $ 5 million in extended time money earned by teachers at the twenty Boston schools at which the school day will be lengthened by 40 minutes.

Boston’s schools need badly to reconfigure; to set up a digital academy; to open vocational technology schools; to innovate under the leadership of principals, who need to have full autonomy to hire staff. Yet the FY 2016 budget accords a mere $ 500,000 to its Digital Acaemy project, and autonomy for school principals is working its way slowly through the union contract process. Meanwhile, central administration IS cutting back — 134 positions were eliminaed last year; the new budget suggests more layoffs — and bus transportation of students is giving way to using the T. Parents do not like this, nor should they. But transportation now claims ten percent of the school budget : $ 104 million, and this despite fuel costs 45 percent lower than last year. (Note : no item in the FY 2016 budget shows this fuel cost decrease. Boston contracts out its busing, on a two-year contract basis. It needs to renegotiate that contract, and do it now.)

To sum up : Boston’s public school budget makes no sense at all. The new year’s proposal suggests there will be “a limited number of” school closures and “program consolidations.” Why ? Because of a $ 57 million chapter 70 shortfall that exists only because the school district uses a budget formula — funds follow the student — guaranteed to work backwards ?Meanwhile, parents of children in schools losing funds — parents of color in particular — cry out for more charters, not fewer.

Backward school movement needs to stop, and it will stop. The next generation cannot afford to be educated by mass production in which one system oversees all kinds of innovations, school sizes, school locations, school types. Students are going to be learning online in ever larger numbers, and pedagogy will become much, much more a situation of small, even tiny, classes. Who will do the teaching ? Why can’t it be students themselves, in advanced programs, or college post-graduates ? If we know anything about the new workplace, it’s that the younger the worker, the more cutting edge his or her knowledge. Teachers of the future — the very near future — need to be young, as newly graduated as feasible, the younger the better. What will the new school diversity cost ? (Probably a lot less than today’s schools, but that’s only a guess.)

How will these methods be paid for, and how administered ? Nobody in a position of public authority is yet talking about any of this.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ an overflow crowd of citizens, many of them concerned (and rightfully so, unfortunately) attended Boston 2024’s first community meeting. Mayor Walsh, who has committed himself va banque to the Games bid, answered many of the questions posed.

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Full congratulations go to Joe Rull on becoming Boston2024’s Olympics administrator. Mayor Walsh had no better aide, none more effective or knowledgeable. News reports say that the Mayor suggested Rull’s move. It shows Walsh’s total commitment to the project — for which we all should applaud him.
That said, it would be most unwise for thr Mayor to make Boston 2024 an adjunct of his political operation, as he seems to be doing. Opponents on the Left are already digging in their heels, hardening their opposition. It can’t help Walsh to equate his 2017 re-election to the Olympics bid, and it can’t help the Olympics bid either.

The Boston 2024 Olympics committee did not arise from Walsh’s circle. Nor did its Games bid. it was born of its own momentum, and that was a strength. Now, however, Mayor Walsh has made the bid so completely his own that he threatens to overwhelm it. Much of its key staff came to it from Walsh’s political circle. Rull is only the most obvious of a group which includes political consultant Doug Rubin and forner Walsh press aide Kate Norton.

Granted that Rubin’s brand did not begin with Walsh — his ftrst Boston Mayor commitment was to Felix G. Arroyo — but with Governor Deval Patrick. But is it a benefit for boston 2024 to be attaching itself so prominently to politiocal people ? The power of Boston’s Olympics bid is its sportsmanship, its community outreach, its universal appeal. These attributes do not arise from political wars, nor should polirical warriors seek them.

It would also be smart of Boston 2024 to not stock its shelves with political partisans, yet right now its top names suggest that the games are an initiative of the Democratic party — and of only one aprt of it. This is a silly face for an initiative of universalist appeal to pose as.

Does this Democratic party posture realize that Massachusetts’s Governor is now a Republican ? A Governor who will have a huge say, if he so chooses, in whether the Games bid succeeds or not ?

Probably the Democratic biggies now running Boston 2024 don’t care. That is remarkably short sighted. To the virulent opposition already organized, Boston 2024, by its insiderist hiring, risks arousing opposition from the right and center. Such opposition would be well justified. After all ; if Boston 2024 is basically a manoeuver by Democrats, why should Republicans get aboard ? or voters who aren’t exactly enamored of political parties, period ?

Governor Baker has expressed mildly favorable but not all-in support for the Games. Given the opposition already afoot — skepticism by the non-union Left that the Games’s big business bent and huge money bombs mean very little good for ordinary people — it hardly benefits the games to wear the portraits of Doug Rubin, Mayor Walsh, Steve Kerrigan, Juliette Kayyem, Rich Davey, Joe Rull, and their staffs. All are superior public citizens; two of the six i call friend; but they need to use their reputations wisely. I don’t think that’s happening.

The Boston 2024 committee needs to elevate its business leaders, sports celebrities, and fan-base staff to the front — make them its public face. They need to do it quickly, before the eight rermaining public discussion meetings take place. If Boston 2024 isn’t about sports, fans, games, a party to which the world is invited — just fun and sweat, OK ? — it will not win over the skeptics ; will, if anything, fully validate their skepticism. In this respect, hiring Joe Rull was a huge mistake. Wrong, too, were hiring Rich Davey, a veteran transportation administrator, and even Doug Rubin.

Until the Games’ fans win over the public, they should steer entirely clear of politicals.

It may already be too late for them to do it…

I doubt that Boston 2024’s deciders grasp my point or even accept that it is one. I think they consider it a coup to have added so many top politicals.I think they miss entirely the negative implications of their Democratic Party round-around.

It’s truly amazing how very bright and supremely accomplished people like Boston 2024’s core leaders can completely misjudge how ordinary people think, or why they think as they do.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Charlie Baker explains defucit fixFullSizeRender (14) ^( L )  Governor Charlie Baker, with Speaker DeLeo & Senate President Rosenberg, explains budget deficit fixes ( R ) central staff testify about schools retrenchment at Boston School Committee hearing —- —- —- —- We of Massachusetts now know that the finances of both State and City will not support the expansion of services that we have come to expect. First to make that clear was Governor Baker. Speaking alonggside the state’s two top legislative leaders, he announced a plan to eliminate the state’s $ 768 million fiscal year deficit. A link to that the Boston Globe’s report on that plan’s details can be accessed here : http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/02/03/governor-charlie-baker-unveils-cuts-tax-tweaks-bridge-budget-deficit/XMzPTkCbhWTuJYZxOjc7EM/story.html Last night, the City of Boston School District dropped its own tight-funds response. Superintendent McDonough’s Memorandum states that even with the Schools budget increasing by three or four percent, there needs to be retrenchment in order to not run a deficit. Why does a deficit threaten a budget being increased by about $ 30 millilon ? And what retrenchments does McDonough envision ? I will explain below. But first, the State. Baker’s plan does his best to not cut back already existing services. About $ 254 million of its deficit payoff comes from applying “Rainy Day” funds on a one-time basis — a move approved by fiscal watchdog groups. Many other cuts in Baker ‘s plan come from programs authorized but not yet started : meaning that actual current services won’t be cut, only that new services won’t be initiated, at least not during the 2015 fiscal year. Another $ 40 million results from not filling job vacancies. as Baker has already announced a state hiring freeze, that $ 40 million was already in the books. Lastly, the largest item of Baker’s plan is to not provide Medicaid services to people not eligible and to not und Medicaid programs not yet begun — two decisions that look harsh, but as Baker explains, are required by federal law. These decisions will close about $ 180 million of the budget deficit. Crucial to the Baker plan is to have Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg — both Democrats — sign onto it, so that the complainers — and complainers there already are — can’t say it’s a Republican plot. So far DeLeo and Rosenberg have expressed approval, but we shall see if that stance holds : the Globe says that $ 282 million of Baker’s deficit fixes require the legislature’s approval. That means a roll call vote, every Democratic legislator Yea-ing or Nay-ing. My guess is that the Speaker and Senate President will get that done. They have to. The deficit must be closed, and they do not want to be the ones refusing to close it. As to the complaints, they’re to be expected. Any cut, even ones that must by law be done, arouse unhappiness. It’s bad that our state cannot now proceed to expand programs to curb gang violence or add more dug-abuse counsellors, but it’s hard to see how Baker or the legislature would justify funding these programs at the expense of schools or transportation funding. And now to the Boston school district budget : it features what it terms “prioritze(d) investments” : ( a ) “an increase in Weighted Student Funding budgets directed to schools, by more than 4 20 million” ( b ) “$ 5 million to add 40 minutes of instruction time at 20 schools (first cohort of 60 over the next three years), the result of an agreement between the BPs and the Boston Teachers Union” ( c ) “…$ 4 million to support extended learning time at current and former level 4 turnaround schools and other extended learning time schools” ( d ) “$ 1 million…increasing access to 100 more pre-K seats throughout the city” ( e ) “$ 4.8 million to continue for a second year the early hiring of educators to ensure BPS can attract and retain top talent” and ( f ) “…$ 2.1 million to increase and maintain the district’s capacity to offer more inclusive classroom opportunties to sepcial eduaction students.” Ater itemizing these six carrots, McDonough’s memo delivers the stick: “As a district,” says he, ” we face approximately $ 58 million in rising costs ad an additional 4 14 million decline in state and federal revenue. As of this presentation, our budget gap stands between $ 42 million and $ 51 million.” What does McDonough propose by way of deficit closure ? Difficult medicine indeed. Though he does not say so in blunt words, he proposes cutting central administration staff, expanding MBTA transportation for students, and — harshest of all — actual school closures, which, says he, “if left unaddressed, will adversely impact every single student we serve.” He continues ; “there are too many seats or the number of students enrolled in the BPS…. our resources are spread too thin…a limited number of school closures and program consolidations must be part of our strategy.” McDonough then says the obvious : “we acknowledge this is a topic that, rightfully, will raise concerns for families, students, and educators.” That’s the understatement of the year. So what becomes of state governance, after this year of deficit closure, and of the Boston Public Schools as the district downsizes ? I’ll chance a guess : next year’s state budget will re-start the drug-counselling and gang-violence prevention programs put on hold for now. It will streamline the processes of delivering the services that it does fund. Baker has only begun to squeeze inefficiencies and duplications out of state services. He knows that transportation, especially, will need a radical overhaul, of administration, and of equipment and infrastructure, and that these cannot be paid for by robbing local aid monies or short-changing other services. he knows that his re-election depends on getting transportation fixes done, and properly, and on improving the social services that matter a lot to him, personally, as a “health guy.” He also can count that the Democratic leaders of the ;legislature do not want to be the ones to say no to delivering these services better. I have no such confidence that the Boston Public schools will emerge as healthy from the period of retrenchment now beginning. I can’t say, even, how long the retrenchment period will take, or if the public — and Mayor Walsh — will allow it. Walsh has committed va banque to the Boston 2024 Olympics bid and to the building boom : prosperity for his core supporters in the building trades unions and the entrepreneurs who employ them. Boston 2024 is already controversial; its opponents are a minority but a well placed and vocal minority. If Boston’s public schools lose ground — which, to be quite fair, they’re not now doing : just the reverse — the minority could become a majority threatening Walsh’s re-election. He knows it. Walsh will need all the ribgor and confiudence he can muster to hold the Boston school district to the reconfiguration and downsizing it is now entering onto because the funds to do otherwise just aren’t there — and won’t be any time soon. —- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere