Charles Martel

Charles Martel : “the hammer” whose determination and brilliance rescued France 1300 years ago. Will his like be needed again ?

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We don’t editorialize much about world affairs; the news from right here in Massachusetts rightly commands full attention. Yet we are “Here and Sphere,” and last night the Sphere sent us an horrific message that demands response.

There’s no need in this column to retell what happened. The question that moves  me is, “why ?” Even more portentous : “what will the future bring to France, and why ?”

No one wants to see France revert to the days of Charles Martel, in the eighth century, when only the imaginative military genius of a man who forged unity out of anarchy kept “Francia”: from being conquered by Muslim armies. All out war should not be a prospect for a nation so well organized, so culturally powerful, so conscious of its destiny, as is the France of today, almost 1300 years after Martel’s well-prepared forces saved the nation. Yet this is the prospect, if today’s France cannot solve the problem posed lethally by yesterday’s attacks.

Let us work on that by answering the questions.

First : there were eight attackers, well armed and well co-ordinated. Where they did get their weapons ? Their grenades and suicide vests ? I presume none of that is on offer at the local depanneur. And where did they meet and how converse ? by cellphone ? It’s inconceivable that no one knew but the eight. Who supported them ? How many and for how long ?

Who were they ? The French police aren’t saying, but it’s most likely they were of Algerian, Morrocan, or Tunisian origin. France has been at war with Algerian killers for at least 60 years. The Algerian government has never completely shaken off its internal guerrillas. Tunisia has recently become a hotbed of killers inspired by ISIS. Morocco sends many killers to the Syria fight. It is unlikely that the eight were Pakistani or Egyptian. Their language is English, not. French.

Still, who the eight were seems less important than how they were able to amass such a plot and carry it out with no one in French intelligence noticing.

(UPDATE : it appears that the attack was planned and financed in Brussels even though one participant at least was French. This may explain why French intelligence missed the signs.)

Here in America, loners can wreak terror and there’s little one can do; if no one knows but the person who intends, it’s hard for anyone else to get wind of it. Eight killers is different. In America,where Middle East Muslims are few, eight killers couldn’t possibly develop a plot claiming Islam as its purpose and no one notice. Indeed : in America,people of Middle Eastern origin are watched all the time, by everyone; even Christian Arabs — and Hindus and Sikhs — can’t move much without eyes on them.

This level of scrutiny is unfair to almost everyone scrutinized, but it almost certainly prevents the development of attacks like yesterday’s. It’s certainly unfair to America’s Middle Eastern Christians, whose relatives back home face persecution,church burnings, and death. It’s also unfair to American Muslims, because few share the virulent hate for Western ways so evident in France.

America’s Muslims almost all want to belong, not destroy.

Can that be true because Muslims are so rare in America ? One wonders. Consider the difference. Muslims amount to about two percent of Americans; in France they’re ten percent. Numbers matter. In France, it’s far easier for eight killers to go about within their very large North African neighborhoods — or out in the city center — and not attract special notice. After all, if ten percent of the people you see on the street — hundreds, even thousands — are Arab, how can you possibly follow any eight of them ? Certainly French intelligence could not do it.

For intelligence officers it’s vital to have information. In America, that information is ready to hand, most of it provided by Muslims themselves. In France the opposite is true., Though very few North Africans in France would wreak terror, a very large number almost certainly sympathize — we know this from the huge intimidation hurled at France’s Jews for many years now — and a much larger number dislike France’s foreign policy. Thus eight killers can amass an arsenal, plan an attack, and go unreported.

France’s very large Kurdish community is of no help either. Though all Kurds despise Islamic terror and support Israel and the West, the Kurds’ separateness — linguistic, too — assures that no one in North African neighborhoods tells the Kurds anything.

So much for the state of things in France., The question now is, “where does France go from here ? By what means ?”

I would like to think t.hat France will recognize that its non-Kurdish Muslims pose an almost ineradicable threat to the nation’s well being. I would like to think that France will proceed to vet every single person, living in it, and of non-Kurdish Muslim origin; interview each and all; put a stop to Islamist preaching, by deportation or otherwise; ramp up the nation’s military contribution to the war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq; track down contraband weapons smugglers and end them; send individual intelligence operatives under cover into the huge North African neighborhoods; institute a “see something, say something” campaign in the cities especially. Lastly, pay informers for information.

None of the above suggestions is a happy thing  Paying informers is  nasty business. But being killed by gangs of self-aggrieved murderers is nastier still. At least if you develop a staff of paid informers, you foster distrust such that France’s North Africans start killing each other for informing (as already happens in Hamas-controlled Gaza). Plus this : with informants all around, how could eight killers ever trust one another sufficiently to become operative ?

I see no other way for France to extricate itself from a problem that, if not dealt with severely, can only lead to Paris becoming like Baghdad, a city in which bombings and gunfire go on all the time, killing thousands every month. Because, as pundits are already saying that even after ISIS is wiped out, there’ll always be, in France, a ready supply of jihadists who hate you and seek to kill you.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Governor Baker with medical students committing to make addiction medicine their specialty

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At some press conference or other — I forget which — Governor Baker used these words to describe his method for accomplishing. Eleven months into his Governorship, we’ve seen it. “Use every tool in the toolbox,” and you not only do reform, you do it so thoroughly that you change the entire system and probably won’t have to revisit the problem for a long time. Which means you can move on from there.

That is what reform should be about.

Right now we see Baker’s “use every tool” method at work in two very different areas, both vital to making Massachusetts better governed : first, his opioid addiction legislation; second, his move to shake out the state’s Republican party.

First, his move to redo the state GOP :

A week ago I wrote an article in which I hinted at this effort. I said that the secret to Baker’s diffidence about the pending transgender public accommodations civil rights bill was occasioned by his battle with right-wing opponents in the state GOP. I said less then than I knew because I did not want to tip the Governor’s hand to those he seeks to oust. Yesterday, however, the Boston Globe wrote up the main story; I can now say more about it.

Baker decided quite a while ago that he would not accept a situation in which people holding state GOP office openly opposed him. To that end, he picked out state committee members for endorsement and support, His enemies then moved to challenge his own state committee supporters; Baker has now responded by explicitly non-endorsing state committee members (or candidates seeking the office) who oppose him or his agenda. And they are there.

As the Globe pointed out, there is an organization — one that almost no one outside GOP inside baseball has ever heard of — called the “Massachusetts Republican Assembly.” (MARA). It has no official connection whatsoever with the state GOP, but it uses the name and claims to be “the Republican wing of the Republican party.” This organization, organized by Congressional District, each with its own “Assembly Division, is peopled by very right wing activists who would be quite at home in the Alabama or Texas GOP. They oppose marriage equality, minimum wage lift, social justice initiatives, women’s rights to choose. They deny the existence of transgender people.

Not every member of MARA is an intransigent Baker opponent, but most are. MARA backed Mark Fisher in the 2014 Governor race, and many MARA people voted for anti-gay rights Scott Lively in the November election. Many “Republican” Assembly people have gravitated to the Trump campaign; others — more politically connected — have embraced Ted Cruz. Almost all, however, would agree with the woman quoted in the Globe article : that “the Governor is not acting in the best interests of the Republican party.”

Ordinarily, a Governor would ignore the noise made by such a fringe; but MARA counts a near majority of the 80 state committee members. An actual majority wrote last year’s notorious party platform, whose call for :”traditional marriage:” even the party chairperson, Kirsten Hughes of Quincy, felt obligated to repudiate; as did Baker. (the party platform put Baker on the defensive in last year’s campaign at a time when he was beginning to rise in the polls. Defending his support for marriage equality and women’s pro choice took months of time and campaign dollars.) Moreover, MARA claims the party’s national committeewoman, one Chanel Prunier, of Shrewsbury. As the national committeewoman is one of Massachusetts GOP’s two voices on the national GOP executive committee, her voice is heard there, and Governor Baker’s isn’t.

Baker seeks to end this once and for all. He has a candidate in mind and is supporting her openly.

What does any of this matter to the 89 percent of Massachusetts voters who are not registered as Republican ? It matters plenty. Being GOP gives Baker an independent support base when negotiating with the very Democratic legislature. Independence of Democratic party faction is an enormous political bonus for a Massachusetts Governor, as Democratic governors;’ difficulties have proven time and time again. This independence lacks spark when part of it opposes rather than supports Baker.

The pending transgender public accommodations bill offers a prime example of why Baker’s move to whip the state GOP into shape matters to every voter. Baker has had to avoid leadership on a bill he clearly supports — and has said so, in a round about way very unlike him — but does not dare for fear of handing his party opponents a hot button issue in the contest for party control.

It is too bad that our state’s transgender residents, people always at risk of being abused by those who do not understand, will likely have to wait until the new GOP state committee takes full control sometime next March; but it is surely better for every part of reform in Massachusetts that Baker accomplish this mission.

Baker is also using “every tool in the toolbox” to get his opioid addiction legislation enacted. There is opposition to the bill’s granting medical authorities power to force addicts into treatment and also some medical opposition to the bill’s 72-hour limitation on prescriptions of pain killer drugs. But Baker earned his way in the health care field, and he knows this issue up and down and also knows the people involved in health care delivery as well as those who have till now met drug addicts in the criminal justice system; and Baker has moved police chiefs, Sheriffs, medical school administrators, District attorneys, medical school students, and addiction treatment administrators, one by one, to his side. Baker has also addressed just about every opioid addiction Forum or conference or working group meeting he can get to; and if nothing else, he has made opioid addiction and how to remedy it the most talked about subjects in the state.

As he says : “use every tool in the toolbox.” That is how a determined, detail conscious, step by step Governor gets reforms accomplished in an enormously complex society.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Carol Sanchez

^ what happened to Carol Sanchez ?

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Yesterday Carol Sanchez, a Framingham resident and CPA, resigned her position as Commissioner of the state’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DCR). She is the first significant Baker appointee to leave. What happened ?

No one whom I have access to is saying, but an incident during the summer may well have triggered alarms. There had been an awards ceremony at the Melnea Cass Rink on Martin Luther King Boulevard, with two former Olympics medalists feted. Governor Baker attended and spoke. So did Sanchez.

Unfortunately, not long after this event  there was an affair mishandled by hosts leading to guns drawn that put everyone at the Cass Arena in danger. The shooting appears to have been gang related, an ongoing public safety problem in the streets not too far South and West of the Cass complex.

The Cass is vitally important to one of Governor Baker’s best supporters in the Roxbury neighborhood; I am informed that several gang-affiliated kids participate in his highly regarded local sports initiative, with its headquarters only a few blocks south of the Cass facility. I am sure that this leader was not happy to see his reputation tainted, or that kids possibly known to him might have put the Cass at risk.

Might the mishandled rvdnt been his fault ? One very knowledgeable local activist asserts so.

Said activist asserts that the Governir’s state police detail were most upset by what transpired.

They cannot have been pleased to read Dianne Wilkerson’s long, fully detailed story, written at the time in an issue of the Blackstonian, about the shooting incident.

I have no knowledge what part if any this incident played in the resignation of Carol sanchez. Nor do i have any reason to disparage Sanchez’s resume. Friends who know her tell me that she is well regarded in Framingham for her CPA work. Nonetheless, looking at her resume, one sees much administrative experience but none of it in parks and recreation — wherein highly idiosyncratic issues rule unlike anything in the private sector corporate world in which Sanchez worked.

it was also noted, in media reports, that on her resignation day Sanchez’s CPA firm was advertised on line. Can she have been working as a CPA during state duty time ? I am reliably informed that this was not the case, that Sanchez dissolved her CPA partnership upon becoming DCR commissioner.

Baker’s administration doubtless wanted to place Hispanic people in authority positions, aware of the need to up its outreach to the state’s Latino communities. Toward that end the Sanchez resignation is a heavy blow. It must be made good. Nonetheless, the next DCR commissioner should be first of all a person highly regarded by the very dedicated circle of parks and recreation activists.

Anybody who knows Boston’s Franklin Park knows how large and committed is the number of abutting residents — and others — who care for the park and its uses. The new DCR commissioner should certainly be chosen from among persons recommened to Baker by activists of this sort — Franklin Park activists in particular. That means talking to Christine Poff and Corey Allen as well as activists living on the Jamaica Plain side of Franklin Park, where Baker in the 2014 election received barely 18 percent of the vote : hardly even a foothold. That needs to change, and the opportunity to change it is now.

The state’s other major parks have similar communities of activists who care deeply about conservation and park use, park safety, and park ceremonies. One thinks of Quabbin as well as Franklin Park. The Governor has hit home runs all over the place in his personnel elections. Time for him to hit another.

NOTE : I have updated thus article to correct Cass Arena errors.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ ambushed by teacher union enemies : Mayor Walsh responded to a rather absurd — but believed — charge that he is planning to close 36 schools in Boston and hand them over to charter schools

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A recent non-event in Boston City budgeting has created a two hour hurricane of controversy. How this came to be is itself a story, and I will get to that; but first, the non-story :

Mayor Walsh announced, about six weeks ago, that he was committing $ 1 billion to constructing new school facilities in the City. The funds would come from the City’s Capital Budget and be allocated over a ten-year period. The plan calls for the closing of a substantial number of very old school buildings as well as the construction of new ones, and the reasoning in the plan is simple : the cost of construction, and of maintaining the new schools, is far, far less than that of renovating the City’s very old, energy inefficient, poorly equipped school antiquities. Getting the $ 1 billion capital plan built would free up many, many millions of school expense for more important school-budget items : bus transportation, better school lunches, classroom equipment and supplies — the lack of all of which has rightly aroused much outcry from school parents.

I say that this $ 1 billion plan is a non event because that’s what it is. Every feature of the Mayor’s plan did he cite, over and over again, at many Forums during his 2013 Mayor campaign.

Another feature of Mayor Walsh’s school plan aroused controversy : the involvement of the Gates Foundation in purposing the new schools. This too, is not news. Walsh advocated in Forum after Forum during 2013 his intention to involve corporate partners in the operation and oversight of Boston’s schools. In that campaign he did not name the business entities he would seek to involve. Perhaps that is why his talk went unheard by  those who now find it controversial; because in the world of school politics the Gates Foundation has become the demon of some, the hero of others.

You may be asking why this is so. Answering that puzzle begins with your reading the Gates Foundation’s education initiative. The link is here :

In the Gates Plan is a host of policies that certain interests bitterly oppose. These object to (1) having a corporation or private foundation setting policy for tax[payer-funded schools (2) evaluation of teachers according to performance (3) advocacy of the Common Core curriculum standard established 20-odd years ago by the nation’s then 50 state Governors (4) innovation, including digital and online instruction (5) partnering with colleges and universities.

In Boston, the teacher’s union and its allied parents not only object to having a private foundation setting school policy — that has been its stance ever since the Gates plan was first published — but also see the parallel move to increase the number of charter schools, presented by Governor Baker as new legislation, as the ultimate objective of Gates plan supporters — including Mayor Walsh. So what did the teacher and parent ally groups do ? They conflated the two initiatives. The cry grew that the Mayor’s new school construction plan was a ploy to turn Boston public schools into charter schools. An article published in Esquire explicitly claimed so, begetting the outcry that fevered social media.

The burn took heat from another Boston schools move recently begun : “unified school enrollment.” Hitherto, parents seeking to get their children into a Boston charter school entered a lottery, separate from the school choice process for standard public schools. Now the City’s school department seeks to have the charter lottery incorporated into the school choice selection process. This move was dubbed a means for implanting new charter schools.

Social media went ballistic as teacher union activists called Walsh “one term mayor” and worse.

Yet the claim itself was easy to blow up.

First: Governor Baker’s legislation calls for allowing up to 12 new charter schools every year allotted exclusively to school districts designated as :”under performing.” If a school district is not so classified (by the State Commissioner of Education), it gets no additional; charter schools.

Second : Not all of the 12 new charter schools permitted would be given to Boston even if Boston were designated under performing. The school districts most likely to be awarded new charter schools are Lawrence, Holyoke, and Springfield.

Third : allowing up to 12 new charter schools does not mean they would all receive state certification.

Fourth : Baker’s bill does not mean 12 new charter schools every year forever. How could it, when it allows new charters only in districts designated as under performing Keep in mind that Massachusetts school districts as a whole rate very high compared to those in other states.

Fifth : Mayor Walsh actually opposes Baker’s charter expansion bill. At a recent hearing, Walsh testified that though he favors charter cap lift, he does not do so at this time; he also demanded that the State provide the City an additional $ 55 million in school budget aid. The Mayor’s opposition puts a serious obstacle in the way of passage of Baker’s legislation.

All of the above make clear that the caper, by teacher union activists and allies to create a narrative demonstrably false was justly and property blown away by the following statement of categorical denial by Mayor Walsh within two hours of the claim going viral on social media :

“The Mayor has never said, nor does he have a plan to close 36 schools. Mayor Walsh has proven his dedication to Boston Public Schools by, in the past year alone, providing unprecedented budgetary support, extending learning time for students, adding 200 pre-kindergarten seats to the district, and hiring a first-class Superintendent. The Mayor also launched a multi-year Educational and Facilities Master Plan this fall to guide smart investments in Boston’s schools with the goal of providing all students with a high-quality, 21st-century education.  

Here now is the Mayor’s 10 year capital plan in full as presented on City of Boston website :

BOSTON – Tuesday, September 29, 2015 – Mayor Martin J. Walsh today launched Build BPS, a 10-Year Educational and Facilities Master Plan for Boston Public Schools (BPS) that will provide a strategic framework for facilities investments, as well as reform that is aligned with the Mayor’s vision of fostering exemplary teaching in a world-class system of innovative, welcoming schools.

“The most important investment we can make is in our young people, and we do that by supporting their education and making sure they have the best opportunities and learning facilities available to them,” said Mayor Walsh. “This master plan will ensure that Boston’s schools are equipping students with the education, skills and facilities needed to meet the standards of 21st century learning.”  

Over the next 18 months, the Mayor’s Education Cabinet and BPS will work with consultantSymmes, Maini & McKee Associates (SMMA) to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations that will be submitted to Mayor Walsh, Superintendent Tommy Chang and the Boston School Committee by the end of 2016. 

“The world around us is changing at a staggering pace; and over the next 10 years, there will be many more innovations that will change the way we live and learn,” said Superintendent Tommy Chang. “Learning and instruction are changing, too, as we prepare our students to thrive in this advancing world. That also means that our school buildings and classrooms need updating to respond to the accelerating rate of innovation and meet the demands of 21st century learning.”

The work of SMMA will be in partnership with BPS, the Mayor’s Education Cabinet, and several City agencies, including Property and Construction Management, Environment, Energy and Open Space, Neighborhood Services, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, in consultation with designer and project manager Margaret Wood of Pinck & Co.

“To be successful, we are all going to need to collaborate – district central office, school leaders, teachers, students, parents, business, higher education, community leaders, and government officials,” said Chief of Education Rahn Dorsey. “We are confident that with the help of all city stakeholders, we will create a vision for 21st century learning in Boston – and build the infrastructure that supports our collective ambitions.”  

The planning process for Build BPS will include the following components:

  • Demographics, Capacity and Utilization Analysis to better understand student populations today, and evaluate the trajectory of student success rates in the future (beginning October 2015);
  • Community Engagement to ensure that there is community input from Boston families, students and educators in creating a long-term vision for public education and the function and use of buildings (beginning November 2015);
  • Educational Programming to develop a vision and principles for 21st century instruction and learning for all of Boston’s public schools (beginning November 2015);
  • Financial Planning and Funding to develop a set of investment recommendations for long-term building maintenance, modernization and the development of new schools, as needed (beginning October 2015);
  • Facility Conditions Assessment to assess BPS’ 128 school buildings and maximize the potential uses in infrastructure (beginning Summer 2016).

For the latest schedule and more information, please visit: To join the conversation and provide feedback, residents are encouraged to use #BuildBPS via social media platforms.   ###

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The writer of the Esquire article that convulsed social media in Boston yesterday (disclosure : he’s a former Boston Phoenix colleague of mine) then issued an affirmation which included the following : “Among those records was an agenda for a meeting between the Boston Compact and Mayor Walsh and a Boston Compact talking points memo prepared for the Mayor in which the Mayor is scripted to announce and define Enroll Boston.

“Enroll Boston.” Yes.  As I said above, the association that the writer claims is trying to sneak new charter schools into Boston (by magic ? certainly not according to any law existing or filed) is in fact charged with establishing “unified enrollment.” Nor was any Freedom of Information Act order needed to learn this. Its the topic of several meetings being held around the City to explain “unified enrollment” to parents and to get their feedback.

So much for the world of political dispute in today’s America. Evidently it is now the rule to do what the doctorers of planned Parenthood videos did to that organization. Misstate, conflate, say a-HA ! and then let loose a word fart on social media where the disputers are ready to believe the worst of each other and thus lend credence to ambushes and concoctions.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Governor Baker : spearheading charter school cap lift no matter what

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The big push underway to lift Massachusetts’s limitation on the number of allowed charter schools may be seen as a vast laptop motherboard upon which interest groups, like chips, work to process the demand and convert it to a positive vote on ballot day next year.

As with a motherboard, if the charter school initiative is to work, all of its code must adhere. If there’s a error in the code, or –worse yet — a virus in the software, the code will lead not to a successful vote but to site crash.

I see such a virus in the charter school code right now, diverting its sequence to an end very different from charter cap lift.

It shoulo be an axiom that all interests working for charter cap lift ballot success should commit to …charter cap lift. But the disconnect hetween Governor Baker’s charter cap legislation and Mayor Walsh’s has given a hacker entry to the system, and it has taken advantage thereof.

The hacker in question has made plain that it supports Mayor Walsh’s much more cautious charter cap lift and does not support Governor Baker’s. On the hacker’s facebook pages and in its tweets Governor Baker is never mentioned; he might as well not exist, much less be the major player in charter cap lift.

What could the hacker’s motive possibly then be ? They make no secret of it : advance the innterests of a political party. Charter cap lift is secondary to their goal, if even that.

The hacker’s record in this regard is clear. It claims to support charter school expansion, yet in last year’s Governor election, it supported not Baker, who called openly for charter expansion, but his opponent, whose view of charter school numbers was never stated.

Today, the hacker lauds Mayor Walsh as an education leader; yet it opposed Walsh in the 2013 Mayor election, and the hacker’s leaders moved heaven and earth to squash the Boston 2024 Olympic games that Walsh dearly wanted. Thus we see that the hacker is no stranger to e-mailing its own agenda into whatever election or initiative suits its CGI.

The hacker I have in mind has pooped all over the map, inscutably, when the issue involves Democrats versus Democrats; but clearer than a java-error dialog box when the issue it professes is led by a Republican, as is Governor Baker.

For the hacker, Baker must be stopped, not mentioned, his legislation never talked of, the ballot initiative put into the hands of hacker operatives so that Baker takes all the heat and none of the credit, which for the hacker, goes (with utomost dissimulation) to Mayor Walsh, whose game is to have charter cap lift, but with Baker taking all the political pushback.

Mayor Walsh ca be excused for deflecting the opposition; he faces re-election in less than two years. For an interest group that claims education transformation, playing a game of deception on a field of virus should alert policy makers to the warning signals being sent by a big motherboard under wormed attack.

Look : charter cap lift is crucial to the aspirations of thousands of Massachusetts parents, most of them people of color and/or of low income. Making school option available to these parents and children is a serious mission. it is not to be the plaything of interests with other agendas, especially partisan ones. there is nothing partisan about giving children in need better options. Let us have the discussion on its own terms undiverted by partisan manipulation.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here ad Sphere


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^ inclusion : Governor Baker announces first in nation LGBT equality in State supplier contracts

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It’s been not quite a year since Charlie Baker was sworn in as Governor, and already he has completely changed the culture of Massachusetts governance. The expectations have risen; the morale of state employees; the pace and the responsiveness. “We now know what  we’re doing,” one State employee told me. “You can’t imagine bye relieved we are.”

Baker may be a cautious CEO, seen up close, but over time one grasps is determination and the boldness. I speak not chiefly of fixing the MBTA — that was a mission that he was made for — but of the more challenging initiatives : the opioid addiction legislation, with its controversial provisions; support for increasing the number of charter schools; focusing DCF; and a readiness to think outside the box on the matter of affordable housing in the City of Boston.

People who expected Baker to be a “Republican Governor” have found that he is a Governor first — and second. That he is a Republican, and thus has a power base independent of Democratic faction, is so and is important to his manoeuvering room; but once that factor — essential, yes — is accounted for, everything else takes center stage. I have yet to find a major Massachusetts voter group or neighborhood that he has not developed policy for and put it to work:

  • substantial Mass Works awards to fund the building of affordable housing in our big cities
  • a first in the nation inclusion of LGBT people in awarding of state supplier service contracts
  • putting medical people into policy positions at DCF, and for implementation of major structural changes
  • appointing people of color — many more than just a few — to top positions in state administration, including policy positions

So far, pretty great.

Yet tasks and missions remain unfinished. Baker’s Opioid Addiction bill faces opposition from much of the state’s medical community, and insurance coverage remains problematic. Criminal justice reform legislation seems stalled in the House. The State Senate balks at baker’s charter cap lift bill. And the bill to grant public accommodations protection to transgender people has fallen victim, so far, to a “you first” game between Baker and House Speaker DeLeo. The Speaker clearly wants Baker to lead — to take the heat on this matter.

Fortunately,  the state’s finances look stronger than anyone would have expected a year ago, and state employees feel the difference between bu/dget leakage and budgets air tight.

But let’s go back to that last unfinished matter I mentioned above : the transgender public accommodations bill. Baker has been unwilling to invest even a nickel’s worth of political capital to see this common sense reform through to law. Many observers, myself included, have noted the political play involved. It’s all about the Republican party, that independent pillar upon which Baker’s freedom of action stands.

Here is how I see this bramble, based on sources and observations :

First, the 37 or so GOP members of the House are divided whether to vote yea or nay; and their division has a lot to do with sentiment within the GOP voters in their districts. Those who will likely vote “yea” — I count maybe seven — will surely face opposition; those who vote “nay” can count on support from outside PACs.

Second, an important Massachusetts GOP operative has in the past generated primary opposition to GOP Representatives inclined to support gay and transgender civil rights and is likely to do so again and has a network of like-minded activists to assist the effort. Many of these activists opposed Baker at the State Convention, and some opposed him all the way to election day and still do.

Third, the party operative I am referring to is challenging the re-election of Baker-allied state committee members, mounting candidacies for like-minded anti-gay and anti-transgender activists. Election day for these party positions takes place March 1st at the Presidential Primary.

Normally, a Governor would take no notice of mere party elections; but Baker certainly does not wish to hand his party enemies an issue, and his advocacy of the present transgender public accommodations bill would activate even more anti-Baker sentiment than he already faces. Thus his reluctance to take the lead on an issue that to most people seems a no-brainer.

My own feeling is that a Governor as popular and bold as Baker should take the lead even on the transgender issue and let his enemies do their damnedest. But that’s me. Baker may be bold in the long run, but step by step his M/O is caution and more caution. Long game reform built on short step caution has served Baker superbly well so far. It’s now the name of the game on Beacon Hill and in state administration.

So, which should come first ? Baker defeating his intra-party enemies and acquire even more policy leg room, or transgender people securing full civil rights protection ? One hates to make such a choice; but the anti’s have, unfortunately, lain a very effective speed bump on Baker’s road to fully inclusive reform of the state.

Meanwhile, there Is that first in the nation LGBT equality order in State supply, done without any opposition. “Slowly but surely…”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ the young will be heard : Andrea Campbell, winner of Boston’s District 4 Council seat (photo by Chris Lovett)

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When elections bring change, they often do it brutally. Voting out an incumbent in favor of a challenger leaves no room for tears, no place to hide. Harsh especially when the victory goes to the younger candidate — suddenly the loser, older than his opponent, exits to the past. So it was yesterday, in  Boston and in Revere as well.

There, young city Councillor Brian Arrigo defeated incumbent Mayor Dan Rizzo. So in Boston as well, where 33 year old Andrea Campbell defeated District Four Councillor Charles Yancey, age 66; and in the at-Large Council race, where 41 year old Annissa Essaibi George overcame longtime Councillor Stephen J. Murphy, who may well be 60.

No rule requires that the challenger be younger than the incumbent office holder, but there is good reason why it is often so. Younger people still retain much contact with their school age contemporaries and can more readily recruit a circle of volunteers. They’ve more physical power to door knock, to climb third-floor walk ups, to campaign 17 hours a day, at bus stops, Forums, and meet and greets, every day. Technological change, ever more rapid, also favors the young; they have grown up with cutting edge communications, where older politicians have to learn it in real time.

Here’s the actual numbers (aggregate only; ward and precinct results are not available on line as yet) :

Boston City Councillor at-Large (4 elected):

Ayanna Pressley, 31,768; Michelle Wu, 28,891; Michael Flaherty, 26,463; Annissa Essaibi George, 23,439; Stephen J. Murphy, 19,538.

Boston District 4 Councillor : Andrea Joy Campbell, 4309; Charles Yancey, 2699

Boston District 5 Councillor : Tim McCarthy, 4835; Jean Claude Sanon, 2634

Revere Mayor : Brian Arrigo, 5208; Dan Rizzo 5091.

The District Four race in Boston aroused the fiercest passions. By the time election weekend approached, the two camps were at sixes and sevens, the candidates themselves barely speaking. Yancey’s key supporters, at his concession party, spoke without grace,saying that the election of Campbell was “a mistake” and denigrating her achievements.

They ought to have looked to their own candidate. Yancey did not campaign much before the primary; thereafter, he played catch up, and almost every move he made represented the past. His support came from the old guard of black Community politicians and from the Boston Teachers Union — not exactly a force highly regarded in his minority-majority district, considering that Boston Public School.s teachers have yet to comply with a  Federal Court Order to increase its staffing diversity. Nor did Yancey do himself any favors with District Four voters by opposing a charter school cap lift : Boston’s communities of color overwhelmingly support cap lift, and for good reason, given the thousands of students of color on charter school waiting lists.

Meanwhile, Campbell embraced the policy of school option.

But that’s not the whole story of Yancey’s defeat by almost two to one. Seen from now, his amateurish 2013 campaign for Mayor, for which he raised scant money and finished a dismal eighth, revealed an unexpected political weakness in a man smart, and knowledgeable, and on occasion diligent. If there’s one thing voters of District 4 cannot tolerate, it is to see their Councillor act unseriously. District 4 gets very little attention; its voter turnout is usually low, its residents mostly earn below average incomes. The one thing they do expect to have is some political clout. Yancey in 2013 blew away whatever clout his voters may have thought he had.

Meanwhile, Campbell, with a dramatic life story of up from poverty to Princeton and an attorney career — a rise hardly less impressive than that of Dr. Ben Carson — campaigned doggedly, door to door every day, and draw into her orbit major political names of today, not yesterday (Sheriff Steven Tompkins and Attorney General Maura Healey above all) as well as big money and an enormous cohort of young and younger volunteers of all races and lifestyles. To visit Campbell’s headquarters and see dreadlocked guys, gals with henna hair, grunge folks, nerdy types, stocky unionists, older activists, and even a few suits, was to see the Boston of today, so different from the well coiffed, 1970s dignity that surrounded Yancey. The cultural gap was as wide as Campbell’s victory margin

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^ Campbell’s election day leader Sean Gauthier with lieutenants : cultural newness won the day

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^ at Large winner Annissa Esssaibi George greets a visitor to her victory gathering : District 9 Councillor Mark Ciommo

.Much the same was true of Essaibi George’s support group — and her own, personal appeal. Essaibi George has a tomboyish way (and dresses the part) about her, a park league sports fan demeanor, and speaks the accent of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods. Yet, like her generation from the old neighborhoods, and unlike Murphy’s generation, she is at home with all manner of people : Blacks, gays, suits, union guys, Beacon Hill, developers and tenants, the Governor’s circle and city Democrats. She has that rare political gift, the ability to represent one side of an issue but be liked, even supported, by people on the other side. At ease being casual, sports minded and sports bar in manner, she’s a lot like Governor Baker; and the appeal that works so well for him works equally for her, because it is the language and demeanor of Boston — Tom Brady’s Boston — now.

Like Baker, Essaibi George could wear a “Free Tom  Brady” T shirt and not look out of hat.

And so another Boston (and Revere) election has passed, a message been sent, and a new phase in Boston discourse and governance begins. I am excited to see it unfold.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang : will he — can he ? address the budget mess ?

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As Boston voters prepare to choose the next City Council, there’s been minimal discussion of the City Budget; and practically none at all of its largest component, Boston’s School Department. We should not be surprised. Schools issues divide, dice, and slice any candidate bold enough to talk of them.

Case in point : the issue of whether or not to lift the state’s numbers  limitation of  charter schools. Only one at-large Council candidate, Michael Flaherty, has put himself publicly in favor, despite the immense popularity, among the city’s communities of color, of increasing charter school numbers. As for the District races, Andrea Campbell of District 4 has been bombed by the merest suggestion that she might not be rigidly opposed to increasing the number of charter seats.

I have often editorialized about charter schools, and innovation schools generally; right now I’ll leave the issue aside with the above paragraph offered only as an example of how school issues do not get discussed by those who seek to represent Boston voters. I predict the same will be true of the FY 2017 BPS Budget, a first draft of which will be presented fairly soon.

What can we say about the likely FY 2017 appropriation ? One, it will surely fall short of what public school advocates want. Mayor Walsh, testifying in favor of his charter schools cap lift bill — different from the Governor;s — stated that the shortfall amounts to $ 55,000,000. I doubt that his FY 2017 appropriation will supply it. That much would lift the schools budget by almost five percent — the FY 2016 increased only three percent over the prior year. Moreover, such increase as the mayor proposes will almost certainly go chiefly to staff salaries, which will increase by more than formerly on account of the agreement made with the Boston Teachers’ Union relative to a 40 minute longer school day.

Schools advocates decry the Budget’s inability to fund many basics : proper school lunches, bathroom stall doors, pencils and textbooks, heating system efficiency, transportation for students now relegated to the T as a cost saving measure. These advocates have a very sound point.

Less sound, however, is their blaming charter schools for the shortfall. If charter schools take 7,500 students who would otherwise populate the City’s standard schools, is that not a significant saving of personnel, staffing, building maintenance, and supplies ? You would think so. You would also ask why the State, pursuant to chapter 70 statutes, “compensates” school, districts for students who choose charters instead. In what way is chapter 760 money compensation ? If a district accommodates 15 percent less students, why doesn’t it require 15 percent less money, not compensation ?

The answer to this question uncovers the illogicality — the mess — of Boston’s Schools Budget. Compensation is required because school districts receive Federal funding dependent on numbers of students : the less students, the less funds. But why with less students should a school district NOT receive less funds ? Answer : even if 15 perce4nt of Boston’s students choose charter seats, there is no decrease in the number of school buildings kept open — even if for very few students — and maintained; no decrease in teacher staffing; and no decrease in the heating and maintenance that under-used schools require.

As it is now, about 300 Boston district teachers are kept on salary even though they have no classroom assignment. If we increase the number of charter seats, and close schools which become almost not used at all, yet more teachers will be paid for doing no work. They are maintained because the Teachers Union contract requires it. As for schools under utilized, when Superintendent McDonough attempted last year to close five such schools, all hell broke loose, and he was able to close only two. Imagine the outcry if charter school seats increase and maybe seven additional schools ought be closed !

Meanwhile, the City continues to tolerate one of the state’s most under-performing technical high schools, Madison  Park — now on its fourth principal in four years.Madison park badly needs facility upgrades, new equipment, an entirely new curriculum and, probably, new teaching staff capable of working the new, more technological curriculum. At the very least, the new principal should be able to hire his own staff and to let staff go if they cannot perform. I will not hold my breath to see it happen.

Given the Madison park situation, and the number of unsatisfactory schools within Boston’s communities of color, is it any wonder that parents living in these zip codes demand more charter school seats ? (There are now 37,000 students ob charter schools waiting lists, the majority of them in Boston.) These parents are fed up with school budgets that do not address equipment and curriculum, staffing and transportation. They are justly offended by elected officials who will not  speak up for fear of angering the Teachers’ Union and its parent council allies. They are unwilling to see their children forced to accept schools that cannot get them where they want to go despite a schools budget allotment approaching a record $ 1,200,000,000, including “compensation” that makes no sense at all but which is paid for by taxpayers who would be flummoxed to know the real deal of it.

Finally, note how many organizations the City needs whose mission is to get school graduates to actual jobs — bridge educators like College Bound, Bottom Line, Year Up, The Base, Paraclete, and more. These organizations all do heroic work; I know them up[ close and applaud what they do. Yet for all their prodigy, the year or more that young people spend attending their courses should not have to be. It’s a year or more that graduates could be earning a living, employed — not trying to get themselves the employment skills that taxpayers pay the schools to give them.

I doubt that the FY 2017 Budget will occasion anything different. The elected officials will run as far away from it as they can — or will echo the Teachers’ Union’s cry for more, more, more funds that could  easily be allotted were they not already earmarked to items unnecessary or actual hindrance. Some day the parents of Boston school children, abandoned by their elected people, are going to insist upon an actual accounting. Is the new Superintendent, Tommy Chang, prepared for such upheaval ? He’d better be.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Mayor Walsh : has sought to ease the City employee Residency Reuiremet

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As Boston prepares to elect a new City Council, we see that aall five at Large candidates support requiring all City employees to reside in Boston, union protections and longevity notwithstanding. This is the wrong choice.

It should definitely be a goal of City policy to make Boston life attractive enough that City workers will want to live in the City they serve. But that is the workers’ choice to make. An employee gives her employer her work; she does not give it her personal and family life.

City officials will respond, “but we can make it a requirement if we like.” To which I say, “yes, that you can do. but should you ?” No, you should not.

The “residency requirement” was first established about 30 years ago at a time when Boston was in many ways a quite unattractive place to live, with underperforming schools, blight in all sorts of neighborhoods, and a rush to the suburbs to avoid city-wide busing of students all over the place. It sent a very negative message to Boston residents to see our City employees leaving for points elsewhere.

At the time, I said, in many public meetings, that the answer was not to impose a kind of serfdom on City employees — Medieval serfs were contractually bound to live on the manor whose fields they worked — but to make the City appealing enough that workers would want to live here. I was ignored, when I wasn’t brusquely dismissed.

A woman whose name you would know was appointed as the Boston Serfdom Enforcer. She of course was quite happy, eventually, to be hired by the City of Salem, which does not have such a requirement, while continuing to live in Boston.

They’ll do it every time, won’t they ?

Today we not only retain the serfdom approach, we are toughening it. (Even though Mayor Walsh — correctly — has wanted to ease the rule for some.) This at a time when Boston has become the living destination of choice for all who can afford it. I call that stupid.

And what of those who cannot afford it ? Rents in Boston aren’t easy. a typical two-bedroom apartemnt in most neighborhoods runs $ 2,000 to $ 2,400; in some neighborhoods higher and much higher. Buying a condo, even, big enough for a family, will cost you $ 200,000 at least — more likely $ 300,000 and up. How many entry level or low-line City employees can afford either ? Auto insurance is higher in the City. School assignments may still send your kids far from the street you choose to move to, and perhaps they’ll have to take the T. Meanwhile, housing on the South Shore costs much less — rents run $ 1,400 to $ 1,700; buying a condo cost maybe $ 175,.000 — and your kids go to a neighborhood school.

You’ll even, on the South Shore, be able to park your car at night without getting into parking space rage with your neighbor.

There are today many attractions to living in the City. Boston social connections have burgeoned. People gather instead of separate. Restaurants, bistros, parks, community meetings, sports and education connections all make Boston today a beehive of people to people prosperity. Still : it’s one’s own choice whether to join the discussion.

The cry of “City jobs for City residents” is a demagogic one, a cry of fear that the powers that be don’t care about us, that they are, perhaps, happy to be rid of us. Some City politicians exploit this fear; all seem afraid of it. Still, public policy should never arise from fear but from confidence. No Boston public policy I know of contains less of confidence than the residency requirement.

It should go.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere