1st Suffolk & Middlesex : Disappointing Situation

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^ cool competence and no obvious weaknesses : StRep jay Livingstone at Ward 3 Democrats’ caucus

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An apo0logy is perhaps in order for my writing again, so soon, about our District’s State Senate election. I’m writing now because the contest is rapidly taking on final shape, one in which all the misgivings I have had about this race have come to pass.

Last night the ward 3 Democratic Committee held its endorsement caucus. None of the five candidates who spoke won the required two-thirds. Joe Boncore received 8 votes, Dan Rizzo 5, Jay Livingstone and Diana Hwang four each and Lydia Edwards 1 vote. All five spoke at length and answered questions.  To the extent that answers to those questions told me what the candidates are thinking, I was disappointed by all except Jay Livingstone. He, at least, spoke a cool competence about legislation actually in process on Beacon Hill and about what he and the House have been able already to do. That said, I am not sure that Livingstone has convinced anywhere near enough voters in the key portions of our District — East Boston, Winthrop, Revere — to gain the prize on April 12th.

The candidates who do look as if they have victory in their grasp — Joe Boncore and Dan Rizzo — both missed the mark last night and have frustrated me before that when it comes to major issues : schools funding, charter cap lift, taxes. Rizzo supports charter capo lift; b ut at the ward 3 meeting, he gave a weak and sometimes incorrect defense thereof. He used the figure 37,000 children waiting for a charter school,when the actual, corrected figure is 34,000; and while he spoke the charter cap lift side’s talking point — that it’s unfair to kids to have to wait for an excellent education — he avoided talk about the egregiously inefficient, often misdirected Boston Public Schools Budget. as Rizzo has proven to me that he knows his issues cold, it was disappointing to hear him speak so vaguely and with such little authority about the major issue on which he stands apart from the candidate herd. Rizzo has also had a hard time figuring out where to stand on “just cause” eviction — an indefensible housing policy that will require a senate vote on any Boston home rule petition that might actually get that far. I am not impressed.

Boncore does not want to be described as advocating higher taxes to pay for the Boston Schools Budget’s supposed shortfall; but if, at ward 3, he did not actually advocate, he sure did express support for applying to schools any revenue that will be arise via the “millionaire’s tax” initiative on this November’s ballot, assuming it passes. It distresses me to hear Boncore speak, time an d again, of the Boston Public Schools Budget, as if it actually is in shortfall. It is not. The $ 50 million that Superintendent Chang says is short is short because of several inefficiencies and anomalies in the budget that he, or the Mayor, or both of them together, could correct, if they had the guts to do so. In particular, $ 863.7 million of the Budget’s $ 1.03 billion goes to salaries alone, and the “cuts’ in Chang’s FY 2017 budget go almost entirely to school programs, only a pittance to salaries. Those salaries include about $ 13 million for teachers who aren’t teaching, at all, because no school principal will have them. In addition, many school facilities are badly under-utilized; but Chang is unwilling to consolidate them because vested interests might storm up an outcry that he seems unready to respond to.

Boncore either does not know of these difficulties, or avoids them because he is the endorsed candidate of the very body most unwilling to reform the Schools Budget : the Boston Teachers Union.

Boncore’s candidacy does have much to recommend it. He has an army of support, has worked doggedly to win more, and on issues other than the schools budget, he adopts the sensible position (he opposes “just cause” eviction, for example). But his willingness to accept higher taxes to support a budget that needs to spend less, not more, is irresponsible and one that, well, disappoints.

As for Diana Hwang, who has charisma to spare and a great life story, her candidacy has plenty of support — but from outside the District. Many power people support her (including a City Councillor and a State Senator)  but no big names from within our actual District. And her campaign’s relevance to actual people, in East Boston anyway, seems well summed up by my friend who today posted these words on his facebook page :

“I saw lots of beautiful Diana Hwang signs on the streets. (The women didn’t know anything about her, regardless.) Her campaign *looked* great. But I checked my phone and saw that, despite her great life story, her head is full of purely liberal and uninteresting ideas: support unions in *all* situations, higher taxes on the rich, more money for public schools, no support for charters, lots more government programs, expand MBTA service regardless of cost, blah, blah, blah.

What a shame! She seems like one hell of a great young woman. Too bad she can’t think outside the progressive box to help the awesome people I met at the park.”

This is where the seven-candidate, party primary platform assures such frustration. Hardly anyone beyond the District’s political community knows much about the seven candidates, or cares, and why should we ? Our interests aren’t being attended to, only the interests of the vested groups that can dictate to an election in which maybe 15 percent of the voters will vote and which will be won by whichever candidate can gain just four (4) percent of all voters. The seven-candidate, party format almost assures that our next State senator won’t represent many of us and will barely figure out the huge appeal, in our District too, of Governor Baker AND of the reforms he is fighting for, few of which any of the seven candidates seems ready to talk about, much less support.

Perhaps it will be Dan  Rizzo, who does at least support one major Baker initiative. I only wish he could argue for charter cap lift with more oomph and mastery of the reasons why, and of the out of whack Boston Schools Budget, which could use — badly needs — its own version of the MBTA’s disciplined Fiscal Control Board.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

1st Suffolk & Middlesex : Almost Time to Select

Boston Area
Boston Area

^ in Kelly green at the top of the map is the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex State Senate District. two weeks from today its voters will select a new State Senator. Who will we endorse ?

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The seven candidates must be tired. Exhilirated, excited, weary. But you know what ? So are we, the voters, all of the foregoing. Judging seven applicants for one job cannot be simple. In a District as multiplex a ours, it can’t be perfect either. Not for the voters and not for us at Here and Sphere. There IS no “perfect” candidate in this group. All have flaws. Most have made us glad, angry, disappointed, enthusiastic.

We’ve changed our minds about each and changed minds again. As I have written 600 times, I don’t like the platform : seven candidates means seven special interest groups — maybe more — rather than the one interest group that actually matters : all the voters. Only two weeks remain until voting day, and it’s still not evident that many voters except the permanent political class care much about any of the seven.

That said, as I am a political journalist (as well as a headstrong consultant), I belong, I guess to the political class; thus I care about the race, and for Here and Sphere, I will be assessing the seven for our endorsement article on April 5th. Here’s how I will do the judging :

1.Can the candidate actually win ? Not all the seven look as if they can. Ours is a diverse District, and very hard to travel, straddling as does both Harbor and Charles River. Some candidates have planted evident seeds in all the District’s varied parts; most have not.

2.Has the candidate a clear position on issues that will actually come before the State Senate as legislation ? Many candidates do not pass this test, on one issue or even more than one.

3.Has the candidate an understanding of what the State Senator job actually entails ? Hint : he or she is not going to be a City Councillor and so should not emphasize City and neighborhood issues.

For me, frustration abounds. One candidate whom I like a lot, and who grasps the issues well, seems stymied by the “just cause” eviction resolution now before the Boston City Council (and which is in fact a State Senate matter, as it cannot be adopted without the legislature approving a Boston Home Rule petition). Another candidate, who takes a firm stand on this issue, lands on the opposite side from me on charter school cap lift. A third candidate, who takes firm positions and does not aver, opts for positions very opposite from mine; yet can I not applaud said candidate for having the courage of significant convictions ?

In addition to frustration are a few imponderables : ( 1 ) the seven include one actual, sitting State Representative. Well funded as he is, you’d think he would be an easy winner in a divided field; but he represents a small-turnout slice of the District with a constituency almost completely unlike the rest of the District’s voters. At this point, it’s impossible to see him an easy winner. ( 2 ) in the March 1st Presidential primary, 5,008 voters took a GOP ballot and voted for Trump. How many of these remembered, or cared, to switch their enrollment back to “unenrolled” so as to be eligible to vote in THIS race ? And which candidates will be most hurt by the unavailability of Trump voters ?

Given the complexity of our District and the many candidacies, we are going to NOT endorse only one of the seven. As I see it, we will endorse three who pass at least a couple of the three tests I listed above. I also happen to personally like all seven. There isn’t a twerp among them; none is entirely unready. And so : I’ll have three for you.

I suppose this decision is a bit of a punt; but I see no fairness in paring down to one. Our readership is as diverse as the District, and I think we can cut the endorsement pie in three without need of an apology.

Stay tuned.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

WORK, PAY, AND A NEW CAPITALISM

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^ Andy Grove, who made Intel the world’s greatest manufacturer of high-content microprocessor chips

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Two recent articles, one by Robert Kuttner in the Huffington Post, and the other an interview with the late Andy Grove of Intel published in the New York Times, sum up most of what ails the American economy today as well as what to do about it. We all know the obvious : ( 1 ) secure jobs that pay well are hard to find; ( 2 ) a huge amount of enterprise capitals its on the sidelines, uninvested; ( 3 ) firms that can outsource mass work do outsource it ( 4 ) firms resort to all manner of evasions so as not to pay workers well or, in some cases, to accord them employee status. Not so obvious are the paradoxes of our market economy that frustrate so many of us.

Before I tackle these paradoxes — after which I will offer some pathways to a better world of work — I must post links to the two stories mentioned. First, you can find the Kuttner story here : http://prospect.org/article/sanders-socialism-and-shafted-generation ; and second, the Andy Grove “warning to Silicon valley” : http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/26/opinion/andy-groves-warning-to-silicon-valley.html

Grove’s warning begins my exploration of how we as a nation might recover our economic power and the prosperity that derives from it. Key to Grove’s warning is this rather lengthy quote :

“Without scaling,” he wrote, “we don’t just lose jobs — we lose our hold on new technologies” and “ultimately damage our capacity to innovate.”

“And yet, an all-out commitment to American-based manufacturing has not been on the business agenda of Silicon Valley or the political agenda of the United States. That omission, according to Mr. Grove, is a result of another “unquestioned truism”: “that the free market is the best of all economic systems — the freer the better.” To Mr. Grove, that belief was flawed.

“The triumph of free-market principles over planned economies in the 20th century, he said, did not make those principles infallible or immutable. There was room for improvement, he argued, for what he called “job-centric” economics and politics. In a job-centric system, job creation would be the nation’s No. 1 objective, with the government setting priorities and arraying the forces necessary to achieve the goal, and with businesses operating not only in their immediate profit interest but also in the interests of “employees, and employees yet to be hired.”

Grove’s main point is one that I wrote about several months ago. In that article, I pointed out that our finance economy is speculative, not capitalist. Just as Grove says, in too many cases, firms hoard cash any way they can, and maximize profits so as to keep speculator investors happy on the quick; whereas, in a capitalist economy, profits would come second to value-added assets and a proprietary platform of know-how. As Grove insists, jobs are assets, as are the employees who have them. Unless our nation wants its economy to play merely a brokering role — negotiati8ng foreign-made goods to ultimate customers, a role that requires few employees, we have to start thinking of work and workers in the perspective Grove talks of.

Jobs created by consumer demand. Only demanded products sell. This, we know. it isn’t so obvious that jobs are an asset. Speculator stock markets have come to think of jobs as a cost item merely, to be pared down wherever possible. But as Grove tells us, jobs are know how, and know how is a crucial asset. Without it, a firm, has no competitive advantage. And who possesses this know-how ? The workers who have it and use it.(this is why it is so important to avoid employee turnover. Workers who leave take their know how with them, for other firms to make use of. (The costs of hiring and training replacement workers aren’t small either.)

Some firms seem to understand Grove’s point. Major retailer Costco famously pays its lie employees $ 45,000 a year plus benefits; few of its employees leave or want to.

Of course basic retail service work such as Costco employment cannot be outsourced. Still, not all retailers follow Costco’s lead., Think WalMart. Here again, it’s the stock market’s short term speculation model that dictates how firms regard work and workers.

In a rapidly innovating economy such as ours, many jobs will pursue innovation, and last as briefly as an innovation remains innovative. Yet even here, know how has lasting value. Few workers possess such complex skills as innovation workers. If their current job ends, there should immediately be a next one awaiting them, in perhaps a less vanguard industry. The difficulty is that innovation skill decline in value over time, like a stock option with an expiration date. Innovation workers should be schooled, and t.hen job trained, to update their innovation skills on their own: yet the demands of their current job require them to suppress their own innovation in favor of the firm’s.

If we are to bolster the market value of innovation work and workers — and to secure the asset value of line work and workers — we need to ( 1 ) use tax policy to discourage short term stock market speculation ( 2 ) use margin rules to tamp it down ( 3 ) restructure corporate law so as to make it difficult, if not impossible, for speculators to take control of a firm’s board of directors ( 4 ) penalize firms that outsource skill set jobs ( 5 ) make it an unfair labor practice for firms to take on workers as :”temporary:” and not pay them benefits or give them security ( 6 ) seek a change in GAAP rules so that a firm’s employees are accounted assets and so valued on a firm’s balance sheet, thus offsetting their pay on the debit side.

This last may just be the most momentous of the reforms I suggest. If accepted, it almost guarantees that workers will be paid more, maybe much more. And this, to my thinking, is a far more worthy outcome than the high income taxes that Bernie Sanders suggests, as a way of paying for the greatly increased government services he advocates, including free college tuition, single payer health care, and a huge, Federally funded infrastructure program (twice as expensive as Hillary Clinton’s). Yet neither the GAAP change nor any of the other reforms will be done until and unless our political conversation recognizes work itself an enterprise asset. Only when work is accounted an asset can workers be treated as assets too. Some forms do this. Can our politicians grasp the need to make this the rule ? If so, we have a chance to reconstitute our economic strength. I hope we do it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

GENERAL ELECTRIC: TO THE SEAPORT DISTRICT

 

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^ site of GE’s new 800-employee world headquarters

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On April 4th — so Governor Baker’s staff has announced — he and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will join CEO Jeffrey Immelt at a huge press conference at which the three leaders will “unveil more details” of General Electric’s headquarters move to Boston. The entire leadership team of GE will be there, some 20 executives, to star in what is sure to be the biggest Boston news event of the year.

We already know some of the move’s facts. Headquarters for GE will occupy Necco’s two former factory buildings, one of them directly fronting Fort Point Channel, on the Seaport side. There will be plenty of parking adjacent; and, as about 800 people will work there, parking will be needed.

Pending the upcoming press conference — which I hope to attend — we already do know much about the move. First, it will increase traffic in that already busy commercial quadrant of the City. Second, it will put a whole lot of hungry, well-paid GE’rs at the doorsteps of some of the City’s priciest and trendiest bistros, which means plenty of lucrative bartender jobs for those who can tend. Third, it promises a whole host of newly formed business, from eateries to boutiques and more, to serve the leaders of those 800 richly compensated GE folk.

If there were any doubt about the primacy of the Seaport Disrtr8ict, going forward to that 2030 date that Mayor Walsh imagines, cast them aside now. GE in the Seaport assures the area’s success as the pinnacle of Boston prosperity, of innovation, of commerce and, likely, of hot-hot-hot real estate prices. One almost salivates at the real estate tax numbers that will flow into the City’s treasury every year now, after the many tax breaks given by the Mayor expire.

There are plenty of kvetchers out there, on social media of course, who complain that GE’s move establishes that in Boston the prosperous get more prosperity and the rest of us get the rest. To these voices it’s some sort of scheme in which the little people count for…little. Dark plots are talked of; nefarious conspiracies; “displacement’ and fat cats to the fore. One shrugs a shoulder at such talk. How can it be in any way bad for Boston to become GE’s headquarters home ?

One question can be asked ; will the newly arriving prosperity, innovation, and dynamism raise the incomes of the rest of us ? I do not see why not. There’s a good chance that Massachusetts will adopt a $15/hour minimum wage, and that the GE 800, and the businesses that’s serve them, will feel enough greenbacked paper to bank many enterprises and hard working bank accounts. And if, in turn, the burst of big money shock waves local home prices — and rents — the only question that can possibly give trouble is, will we earn enough dollars to pay for them ?

But that would be a challenge to today’s Boston even had GE not decided to settle here. Boston has become an enterprise beehive already. That isn’t going to reverse, nor would it have been likely to slack off had GE moved elsewhere. And is our City worse off for hosting one of the hugest prosperity booms any US city has seen in 30 years ? I recall only too well the Boston of 40 years ago, in which renters paid $ 50 to $ 150 a month, homes sold for $ 3,000 to $ 25,000 if they sold at all, and Downtown after 5.30 pm was an empty wasteland of unused buildings worth practically nothing.

No doubt that an unused city is cheap to live in, and very stable, because if nothing is going on there is no reason for anyone to come. Boston in 1970 was like that. Insular ethnic communities did business inside themselves and socially and politically distrusted all the other insular communities. Each had its folklore, and many, at social events, had an edge of anger about them that occasionally burst out in bucket of blood fights at men-only taverns. Some folks today are wont to romanticize those days. I do not. The consequences of that state of a city’s soul became all too clear during the “busing crisis” of 1974-76.

Today’s Boston is far from socially perfect, but it’s eight thousand times more diverse, more outgoing, more intermixed, safer, far less on edge, and yes, much more expensive — but hugely more exciting — than the city I knew as a young gun. GE fits right in. I for one welcome it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SCHOOL FUNDING AT AN IMPASSE

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^ a tax increase to pay the Boston Schools Budget ? 1st Suffolk & Middlesex candidate Joe Boncore at last night’s meet and greet

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Last night at a meet and greet, a candidate looking to become my District’s next State Senator stated that, if need be to fund Boston’s Public Schools, there should be a tax increase.

The speaker who spoke it is Joe Boncore, and he is the endorsed candidate of the Boston Teachers’ Union.

Boncore did not out and out call for a tax increase. But he did say that school funding might need one.

It’s no surprise to any of us that the Teachers’ Union and its candidate should put on the table a possible tax increase to close what even Mayor Walsh describes as a “shortfall” in the City’s $ 1.02 billion public school allocation. The Union dares not address the actual imbalances in that budget, so well reported yesterday by The Boston Globe’s Michael Levenson : : https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/03/24/budget-gap-filled-for-now-but-hard-decisions-remain/zwRHYRjYBl0zSyMmQtIrUN/story.html

In that story we read what I have known since the FY 2017 Schools Budget was first presented, at a January 2016 School Committee hearing : that ( 1 ) even though mayor Walsh awarded the School Department an  additional $ 13.5 million over last year, the allotment fell some $ 50 million short of covering all the year’s anticipated schools costs and ( 2 ) that about 85 percent of those costs go to salaries ($ 863.9 million), including some $ 13 million for 100 teachers who have no work to perform, for that pay, because, in many cases, no principal would hire them.

The vote to approve FY 2017’s Schools Budget was 5 yes, 2 no: http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=14&ViewID=047E6BE3-6D87-4130-8424-D8E4E9ED6C2A&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=9921&PageID=1

The Budget itself can be read here : https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzzLbJ_lC7U2MGdsRE0tZTdPVDVjOVBGSm1zWmRtTkpGdzJB/view?pref=2&pli=1

The new Budget actually decreases its allotment to salaries, from $ 870.7 million to the $ 863.9 figure. Every category of staff took a small cut. It wasn’t enough. In his Letter accompanying the Final; Budget, Superintendent Chang set forth many program reductions necessitated by not having the additional $ 50 million he says he needs : https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzzLbJ_lC7U2OWxGdnlkNVR0c0lGQ0loSzlOV0ZwNkpQc3I4/view?pref=2&pli=1

As the Globe’s Levenson notes, though several categories of budget item have been cut, teacher salaries have not been cut at all — salaries continue to0 rfi9se, and the $ 7 million saving in this year’s budget arises from retirements, not cutbacks.Nor has the Boston Public School day been extended, or school vacations consolidated, nor have under-utilized schools been consolidated — as the Mayor has on plan already.

A new Teacher Union contract is in negotiation right now, and it is likely that without a multi-year pay raise schedule agreed to, no contract will be signed. Given the huge pay awards given to the Police Detectives and Patrolmen, and the generous, if not excessive, award to the Firefighters, I cannot see how the Mayor will win agreement from the Teachers without including a similarly sized (25 to 27 percent) award to them.

Thus the tax increase that candidate Boncore advocated at last night’s meet and greet.

Of course said tax increase cannot stand. How can it ? Look at the facts :

( 1 ) Boston’s schools department maintains school accommodation for 91,000 students, but only about 57,000 students attend. Consolidation of facilities might save the Schools Budget about $ 75 million in energy cost reduction as well as maintenance staffing.

( 2 ) Boston employs teachers based on that 91,000 number. Boston’s teacher to student classroom ration is about 12 to 1, the lowest in the state. Most classrooms seek 15 to 18 students per teacher. In Boston, that figure would mean laying off as much as one-third of all teachers (and classroom aides), a saving of about $ 285 million.

A savings of maybe $ 335 million — even of half that — eliminates the $ 50 million “shortfall” and then some. And more can be done. Boston remains under a Federal Court order, unsatisfied for a decade, to diversify its teaching staff. The order seeks to have about 22 percent of teachers be people of color; currently, only about 12 percent of teachers fit that description. Buying out the contracts of older, white teachers who, via tenure, earn generous six figure salaries, and replacing them with younger, new hires — who would start at about $ 65,000 — would, after the buy-out year, might save the Schools another $ 75 million.

These are hard decisions to make, painful ones. Nor is Superintendent Chang in any kind of strong position to recommend them. His predecessor, John McDonough, as a lifelong Boston resident and long time School Department administrator,m was working toward such changes. Even he would have faced big push-back. Chang. has no such constituency to back him up. In any case, it appears that the real Schools superintendent is City Education Chief Rahn Dorsey, who is doggedly executing Mayor Walsh’s ten year Schools reconfiguration plan. That plan includes much of what I have recommended, and I note that the Mayor is decrying, in particular, the 100 teachers being paid though not employed.

Clearly the Mayor wants big Schools change. What he does NOT support is a tax increase. How could he, given the budget facts I have listed ? If you speak to Boston voters who do not have kids in the School system, or who pay up to $ 22,000 a year for school tuition elsewhere because they do not trust nor like the Schools Department’s assignment choices, and who know that about half the median $ 5,000 a year real estate tax  goes to Schools, you do not hear a whole lot of support for giving more tax money to a system that does  not work for them. It’s a situation quite like that facing the MBTA : if the voters do not trust you to use their tax money wisely and efficiently, they aren’t going to accord you more of it.

It would be nice if candidate Boncore would speak for the voters as a whole, and not for the interest group that has endorsed him. Boncore’s campaign has otherwise much to like; on many issues, he gets it. He has significant activist support in the core of my Senate District. He is likeable and amenable, mostly, to differing views. And yet…

I applaud the passion of the school parents who, out of desperation or urgency, support the Teacher Union position because it’s easier to do that than to fight it out. They deserve better than the “take it or leave it” the Boston Schools budget impasse presents them with. Still, if our legislators do not take a stand now, the “take it or leave it” budgeting will continue, and taxpayers will have yet more reason to feel that government does not represent them.

Has not the Trump storm made it clear to us that this sort of distrust of government — of feeling that you are being screwed by those who should stick up for you — cannot go on ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BLUEPRINT FOR THE FUTURE OF #MAGOP

1 BAKER fights conservatives

^ all in for a new mission, of state reform and full social inclusion, for the #MAGOP : Governor Baker takes no prisoners

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It looks as though on the evening of April 5th, at the Massachusetts Republican state committee’s (legally required) organizing meeting, a new National CommitteeWoman (“NCW”)  will be elected : State Representative Keiko Orrall of Lakeville. Orrall has long impressed me as the kind of optimistic, embracing politician any political party needs more of — especially a small party, as the #MaGop is. Already, in the three weeks since she announced her candidacy, she has made a  big., big difference : in where the NCW goes and with who she discusses issues that actually matter to most voters.

The Boston Globe today opined that the Governor’s move to take control of the GOP state committee is about c0ontrol merely. Do not believe that. Baker has more in mind than simply calling the shots. He wants the state’s GOP to be a benefit, not an obstacle, to him and to the voters

If in fact Orrall is elected, it will end what, to me, is only Act One of a many-phased reconstitution, in Massachusetts, of a Republican party whose first priorities are ( 1 ) advance useful, practical reforms that a clear majority of our voters can support and ( 2 ) attract candidates who want to make those reforms their campaign agenda.

Notice that I said “attract” candidates, not “recruit.” I prefer candidates who make the decision to seek public office on their own, as do most people who run. Recruiting implies a candidate with some lack of ambition.

Still, it’s not enough that a new #MaGop attract candidates. The candidates who step up have to be able to win an election — against all comers. Right now, in most Massachusetts partisan elections,. almost all the activity is in the Democratic primary : to the extent that “Democrat” really means “I want to win.” Almost all candidates in Massachusetts who want to actually win go into the Democratic primary. And they are right to do so, because in maybe 80 percent of Massachusetts elections, the Democratic primary is where the winner is determined.

If this custom is ever to be altered — if candidates well liked enough in their chosen district to actually have a serious likelihood of winning are to choose running as a Republican — ambitious well liked locals have to calculate that being a  Republican is not the mark of Cain. For almost all ambitious Massachusetts office seekers, the national GOP is Cain plus outrage. Yet Governor Baker, by his reform agenda and with his determination to build a local GOP in his reform image, has given the #MaGop a voice of its own. If Tip O’Neill was right when he famously said “all politics is local,” then Baker’s party-building has opportunity to succeed.

If this success is to be grasped, I recommend the following tasks :

( 1 ) move as many of the Baker team’s young, new to government staff onto town and city committees, where their practical approach can reshape the discussion so that actual public policy matters are debated, maybe even in public Forums.

( 2 ) schedule issues Forums at which Baker’s team members and legislators discuss public policy matters and engage the audience in question and answer. Hold most of these in the cities, where the bulk of activist voters live.

( 3 ) do not pressure candidates to adhere to the state party platform, even as (hopefully) drastically re-written by the state committee after April 5th. Every district has its own voice, its own priorities. A winning candidate has to advance these, not somewhere else’s.

( 4 ) build an actual precinct by precinct, canvassing ground game organization for the Baker – Polito re-election in 2018, starting as soon as possible. Do not limit precinct organizations to registered Republicans. Any voter who is committed to the Baker agenda is, and must be, a potential Baker – Polito precinct leader.

( 5 ) spend ,much of 2019 assembling GOP town committee and city committee slates to challenge, if need be, sitting GOP town and ward committees that did not perform the campaign work needed by a winning organization. No one has a vested right to be a ward or town committee member. You’re supposed to earn it by doing effective campaign w0rk and/or being a locally influential leader.

( 6 ) ignore the national GOP as much as possible. It is dominated by super PACs and billionaire donors with often  idiosyncratic agendas. Fortunately, these rarely engage in a Massachusetts election because they know their agenda or candidates can’t win, so why spend the money ? Which means that team Baker is free to impose ITS voice, its agenda, its political style, upon the very small #MaGop that it is trying to enlarge.

Will any of this be tried ? If attempted, can any of it succeed ? I have no idea. Political missions depend upon the voters. But I do know this : what Baker is trying  — and what I am suggesting he follow up with — has an opportunity to change the conversation really, really significantly. Even many Democrats want it to happen. They tell me this constantly. Why not ? Most activists want government to be effective and imaginative. Most activists want to advance the best policies, no matter which party or office holder advocates them. And given that 53 percent of Massachusetts voters belong to neither political party, activists are right to entertain good policy wherever in our state it arises.

Let us see what those with the opportunity in their hands can make of it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

IN THE CITIES, WE GET IT DONE

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^ stuff getting done, in the city : Governor Baker has a smile on his face as he presides at the re-opening of Government Center TY station

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Yesterday at noon Governor baker5, mayor Marty Walsh, Lieutenant Governor Polito, a host of City Councillors, and two hundred MBTA workers and managers gathered inside the glassy and glossy new Government Center T station — which they then proceeded to formally re-open. Not long after, the first Green Line train to roll into said newly open station stopped, and onto it stepped both Governor and Mayor.

It was a celebratory time, a party, a time for laughter and high fives. As Baker told the assembled multitude : “this job was completed on time and within budget !”

There was also duty. “This is the last of 80 T stations to come into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” baker reminded. So it was. Until the re-opening, Government Center’s T station had been almost entirely inaccessible to people in wheelchairs — completely so when the escalators weren’t working, which was often.

Work remains. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack enumerated all of the infrastructure upgrades that remain unfinished, all the T station detailing that awaits, all the rolling stock that has yet to deliver. Here list wasn’t easy to hear, but perhaps one should feel encouraged that she listed them all as can-do, not as how can we do.

One gets the impression that Baker’s mission to bring the entire MBTA into full dependability isn’t merely here and gone, that his resolve will see the entire job done, and on budget and on time. Certainly Mayor Walsh seems to think Baker the guy who gets things done. He accorded the Governor as much congratulation as he had in him. (Whatever kudos he had left went to “the building trades who got this done,” after which he thanked Congressman Mike Capuano for assuring the needed Federal funds.)

Capuano, in his own speech, almost screamed a plea to complete Green Line expansion, which ,m as he extolled, will connect the people of Somerville and Medford — the core of his District — to the new Government Center destination. Mike knows that he has to insist, that if his wheel doesn’t squeak — a lot —  it won’t get the Green Line grease.

But all of that is normal. Not quite so normal, in today’s politics of opposition, is that until now I have not once used the words “Democrat” and “Republican.” Had you noticed ? I think that’s because the reopened T stop lies in the center of our state’s biggest city. It’s in cities that America now gets things done; and if that city happens to dominate its state, as Boston does Massachusetts, then Boston things done are also Massachusetts things done. And when things are done in cities, p[artisan politics has no place : because partisan politics are a way of preventing things from getting done, and cities have no time or tolerance for things not getting done. Which is why cities succeed.

If only the same could be said, these days, of our Federal government ! Unfortunately, cities do not dominate it. They don’t have much clout at all in Congress, which i8s almost completely dominated by regions rural or small town; and the very essence of rural is that things not change at all, that what works stays as is because in crops and the weather there is no margin for error, and change to it means letting error in the door. Rural life is a kind of NIMBYism in itself, an economic and residential situation fragile to the breaking point.

NIMBY exists in cities, tool, but the momentum, of city economy gives all power to innovation — to creative destruction, as Joseph Schumpeter famously called it — and thus in cities one gets stuff done : the bolder the stuff done, the stronger the city.

My friend Ann posted the following comment on one of my facebook posts. I reprint it here because it shows great insight on what cities in America are doing, and on what tyhey cannot, unfortunately, do :

“WE may feel that way in the urban centers of the Northeast .. .and WE understand that WE need sweeping changes in Congress .. but the Democratic Party, in general, has lost touch with the citizens of the US – outside of those big urban centers where a diverse population has allowed the Dems to win – but the middle class in the rest of the country is feeling disenfranchised and the GOP listened and worked its magic in the locals all the way up to D.C. – until the Democrats eliminate their rhetoric and start acting more like Bernie Sanders and actually listen to “WE, the People”, and act in our collective best interest and not in earning millions for themselves, then WE can expect these reactionaries to continue to reign – WE all ONLY have 3 votes, our Congressman and 2 Senators – its past time for soul searching and self reflection. why does the other side feel the way they do ? how did we get here? what needs to be done ( seriously needs to be done – its not empty promises, nor is it a continuous genuflecting to Wall Street and corporate lobbyists…) its understanding the needs, and acting upon them for WE the people and not corporations .. then we will continue on the road for sometime ( I fear)”

I don’t accept her arguments in favor of Bernie Sanders — far from it — but Ann’s other points merit serious reflection. Opposing is not a strategy for progress; but it is also difficult at this time to name a “common interest” that citizens of cities and of rural and small town areas can agree on. Change is like that. It cannot leave alone that which wants to be left alone. Not in today’s borderless social economy. We will simply have to accept that cities are the places where stuff gets done, and thus where people want to live so that they can help do it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

1st Suffolk & Middlesex : Hard to Tell Who’ll Win

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^ the winner ? Maybe. Dan Rizzo greets voters at the Saratoga Street – Bennington Street intersection in Orient Heights

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More times than I can count, I’ve been asked in the past week, “who will win our Senate District contest ?” I would love to offer an informed answer — THE answer — the “inside hot poop that shows just how well connected I am, or brilliant — but I cannot do it. Connection means nothing in an election; there, the voters decide, not connections. as for brilliance, it is always defeated in elections by numbers : and it is well that that is so. Brilliance gets but one vote each, just like every other personal attribute. One vote each.

That said, I can attempt some educated guesses of our outcome: but these, too, are not enough for those who want certainty. “Who will win ?” matters a lot to the advocacy groups whose voice at the legislative table depends upon having some sort of election day debt owed by the winner. Some people decry that any group; should be owed any gratitude; but most of the advocacy groups seeking a winner represent real people with real legislation in mind that will help them. Not all such groups seek a winner. Some endorse because the candidate voices their voice, and that’s enough. But in a seven-candidate contest, almost any of them has a shot at taking it all; so why not endorse the candidate who commits to be, basically, your interest group’s lobbyist ?

From what I can tell, there are only two candidates who have not yet become an interest group’s lobbyist : Revere City Councillor Steve Morabito and Beacon Hill – Bay Village State Representative Jay Livingstone. Even they, however, have been endorsed by big names both in and outside the District. Thus there’s no candidate in this contest who enters its last 21 days with no prizes in the bag.

Perhaps the most interesting prizes are those awarded Dan Rizzo, Revere’s Mayor until last November, He has, it seems, support from both Boston City hall and friends of Governor Baker. He also has the endorsement of DFER — Democrats for Education Reform — and thus, probably, a significant cash infusion. The DFER endorsement reflects Rizzo’s commitment to charter school “cap lift” legislation : of all the seven, he’s the only one who has committed to this. Very likely Rizzo’s support for charter school expansion has also accorded him good will in Baker circles : charter cap lift is one of Baker’s top po0licy priorities.

Rizzo’s support for charter schools — which he expressed to me early on, when I first interviewed him at least five weeks ago — is countered by teacher union, anti-charter school endorsements for Lydia Edwards (Massachusetts Teachers Association) and Winthrop’s Joe Boncore (Boston Teachers Union). Rizzo got lucky here. There may be support in our District for one teacher union candidate, but probably not for two of them. Which is not to say that Edwards has no other arrows in her candidate quiver — she has plenty — or that Joe Boncore’s candidacy is cut by Edwards’s. Boncore’s base is entirely different from Edwards’s. He is the Winthrop candidate and is fast becoming a serious contender in East Boston as well. But so is Rizzo. A month ago, Rizzo had no visible support group in East Boston; now he has plenty, and it is well led by a guy who knows how to put together and direct a winning door-knock team.

Rizzo’s new East Boston team leaders will have to play catch up — Boncore and home town guy Paul Rogers have been at the door for weeks now –and then there’s Jay Livingstone, who has been door knocking with his canvass teams since mid December.

I am not privy to the “ID’d vote” numbers in Jay Livingstone’s arsenal, nor that of the other candidates; but my guess is that he saw early on that his Beacon Hill neighborhood, with its $ 200 k to $ 400 k earners would turn out few votes in a purely local race that most do not care at all about; and that he would rise or fall on the votes of our part of this chiefly East-of-the-harbor District. One thing that Livingstone HAS done on the “other side of the Harbor” is to block Diana Hwang and Lydia Edwards, both of whom go nowhere without strong vote support “over there.” Both women are campaigning to the District’s “left” leaners — Edwards the far Left, Hwang the less ultra port-siders — and left leaners are many “over there”; but Livingstone, as an “over there” State Representative, already has the support of most politically active lefties.

Hwang looks to me more cornered by Livingstone than Edwards, whose very Left agenda accords well with East Boston’s lower income voters, whereas Hwang’s genteel progressivism, so popular “over there,” seems captured by Livingstone. (Hwang, however, has won some mainstream support in East Boston and Winthrop, voters that Edwards has very little of.)

I realize that the previous paragraphs read hella complicated. But that is this contest : intricate like seven spiders’ webs woven across one another.

At the end of the weaving, which web wins it all ? I’d be amazed if it were not either Rizzo, Livingstone, or Boncore. Maybe t.he upcoming candidate Forums will tell us more.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

BOSTON MAYOR 2017 : THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS

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(Boston, MA 04/12/14) Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (L) greeted gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker as the pair attended The Parkway Little League opening day ceremony at Praught Field on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Staff photo by Patrick Whittemore.

^ partnership : the Mayor begins his re-election strong

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Mayor Walsh’s campaign for re-election has already begun. You may not see it yet, unless you’re an everyday activist, but it is there. He is taking himself to political events which ordinarily he wouldn’t visit, and he has assembled a parcel of initiatives which align his message for 2017 with crystal clarity:

1.He is a business boom / building boom Mayor. He understands that — as he said at Forums during the 2013 campaign — his followers can’t have jobs if businesses that hire people don’t come to Boston. In 2013, that meant jobs for his Building trades base; today, it also means jobs or the highly skilled young school graduates who he wants to see stay in Boston, be employed, and contribute to the City’s prosperity.

2.He has aligned himself with Governor Baker on almost all reform matters and thereby given the City priority on Beacon Hill, where big-ticket legislation is passed, or not. Walsh and baker have partnered on housing construction, MBTA reform, opioid addiction legislation, regional infrastructure planning, criminal justice reform, and on the basic principles of public education restucture,. Though Walsh has his own plan for charter school cap lift, one with a longer time line than Baker’s, the two leaders agree on the need to restructure how education is delivered to all students.

3.Walsh has completely reconfigured City hall’s interface with voters. One can now converse directly with the Mayor on twitter or at his website, and the Imagine2030 initiative is rapidly replacing the BRA’s obsolete “community” review process for development approval so that a small coterie of NIMBY opposition does not derail necessary housing builds and neighborhood business creation — both of which the overwhelming majority of residents and customers very much want.

Walsh has also put into place an alternative Boston Public schools department, based in City hall and headed by its own education chief, Rahn Dorsey, whose mission appears to be restructuring everything about Boston public schools : buildings, curriculum, school assignment, partnering with businesses, work rules, management. All of which is needed. The City cannot continue to ask resident parents to pay $ 22,000 a year to send kids to non-public schools, or else leave the city, because a neighborhood school — much less an effective one — is not availble under the city-wide assignment methods in place sinbce the mid 1970s.

4.Walsh is beginning to refashion Boston arts and entertainments toward how his favorite other city, Montreal, does it. At a 2013 Forum, Walsh cited Montreal as the city he most seeks to emulate. Montreal hosts one arts festival after another, drawing vast tourist dollars into its treasury and creating a local community of artists and arts supporters. Though Walsh probably aimed too high too fast in seeking the 2024 Olympics — as the planners’ improvisations showed — he has now established an Indy Car Race,and doubtless more o the same will be coming, so that by 2030, perhaps, Boston will be able to master an Olympics event. Given the City’s passion for sports and spectacle, Walsh’s initiative in this matter is smart politics.

5.He has embraced the smartest of urban progressivism. Walsh supports the $ 15/hour minimum wage. He is a passionate welcomer of immigrants. He has been a leader in the LGBT equality and transgender civil rights movement.

6.He has made clear that his first fiscal responsibility is to the taxpayers of Boston and not to public employee unions that have used their substantial extorting power to gain unsupportable pay raises. Walsh successfully negotiated a Boston Firefighter contract that did not overtop previous awards. He will be negotiating a new contract soon with the Boston Teachers’ Union, a negotiation in which he has placed himself in a strong position to achieve reform, both in terms of pay and work rules.

Walsh has also imposed a shape upon his opposition, one that probably assures its defeat. Can there be, in this day and age, anything close to a majority for an inefficient public school department that eats its big budget for breakfast and that never has enough money to pay for its enormous inefficiencies? For imposing hiring conditions upon developers that make development impossible ? For using conservation as a wedge to prevent the building of housing — all the housing that is needed to keep the supply in line with demand ? Can there be a majority for “just cause” rent controls and oher bad ideas that cannot work ?

Doubtless the 2017 Mayor election will be a passionate, noisy one. Doubtless Walsh’s opponents will throw insult after epithet at him and hashtag him on twitter. Because he is dead-aiming some deeply entrenched habits and interest groups, epithets and insults will fly like sparks from metal being molded by a welder’s torch.

Perhaps the shape of Walsh’s battle will shift, as often campaigns evolve to. And maybe not.

The game is now on.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

FORGING A PATH ALL HIS OWN

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^ co-operation, not confrontation : Gvernor Baker (R) with State Senator Eileen Donoghue (D)  of Lowell

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During this season of the GOP’s discontent, here in Massachusetts our GOP Governor is crafting a trail all his own. The record he is establishing, and the example he is setting, fits no current model; and that, in my mind, is as it should be. A leader need not seek the approbation of others, only of his voters.

How separate is Baker’s example from the GOP elsewhere ? Consider the following :

1.Almost all of his so far enacted reforms have been adopted unanimously in the legislature. That includes his opioid addiction bill; municipal law reform; the drastic reforms meted out to the MBTA; and two successive, no new taxes-no new fees balanced budgets.

2.He has made it clear that he will not vote vfor Trump in November.

3.He demands that the Senate accord President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing and a vote.

4.He strongly supports women’s reproductive rights and, for gay people, full civil rights and marriage equality. (So far, he has not accorded the same to transgender people, but we will see…)

5.He has set up an interfacing Governor’s website that enables, and invites, conversation with voters. His well-known “selfie photo” activity is nothing less than in invitation to voters — all voters, and not only voters — to communicate directly with him on a personal as well as official level.

6.He has demonized or degraded no voters, no residents, no one, not people needing public assistance, not even undocumented immigrants. There isn’t one ounce of “us against them” rhetoric in his voice. Just the opposite.

7.He has moved to oust extremist conservatives from the GOP State Committee, and instead, is building a Republican organization that supports what he supports.

All of the above, I applaud. Massachusetts (the nation, too) needs two useful political parties. The “conservative movement” model is to have the two parties oppose one another fundamentally. I reject that model. American government works, given a chance and its leaders’ good faith. The proper role of the two parties is to agree on the objectives and advocate as best each party can, how to achieve those objectives. This, Governor Baker is doing. He campaigns to all the voters,  not to preach to them, as the “conservative movement” does, but to listen — to take notes, even, as he often does — and to talk about what the voters who he is listening to want from his governance.

Baker understands that reform government is not an imposition but a conversation.

Baker understands, as the “conservative movement” seems not to, that it’s not the efficiency of government, not its size, that tells. The “conservative movement” talks of limiting the size of government — unaware of, or indifferent to the politics that elect Republican Governors in our state : to be a watchdog on a very large budget and the legislature that enacts it. Were Massachusetts’s government small, and the state budget far less than it is, our three to one Democratic voters would see no need for a Republican watchdog. The election of Republican Governors in Massachusetts is predicated upon its government being large.

Baker’s model is centrist, but also forward and thus a bit to the left of center on many issues, especially energy, criminal justice reform, and economic development.

Progressives seem just as frustrated by baker’s cautious centrism as do his right-wing opponents. He is said to ‘lack vision” — as if entire reform of the mission and mindset of state administration is not enormous. But progressives are forced to acknowledge that the “lack of vision” is how the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature proceeds as well as the Republican Governor. Co-operation reigns here, not confrontation. And so their criticism criticizes itself.

Lastly, baker has, I think, found the right and proper answer to Trump-ism. If there is a good will component to Trump support, it’s that government and politicians have failed ordinary people and so “throw them all out.” Baker on the very day of his inauguration said, “at the end of the day, people want government to serve them effectively.” He is right. that IS what people want of government. Not how big it is but how good it is.

None of the above is to suggest that baker’s administration always gets it right. The MBTA recently issued two orders that do not compute at all : cutting back late night  service at the same time as it offered a 9.3 percent fare increase. Is the T that tone deaf, that it expects the public to accept less service for more money ? How does that carry out Baker’s dictum about “people want government to serve them effectively” ? I read that MBTA management is now looking to offer alternative late-night service. I am glad they evidently see their mistake.

Baker also has yet to take the lead on the current bill to grant public accommodations civil rights protection to transgender people.

Yet failures of his reform mission remain few and remediable. It’s still the case that baker is building a fresh and effective brand of Republican politics here in Massachusetts. We should be grateful. Someday maybe the entire nation will be grateful for it, too.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere