Dan Cullinane

^ facing two challengers in September 8th’s primary : Dan Cullinane of the 13th Suffolk

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September’s Democratic Primary hasn’t a whole lot on offer for Suffolk County voters. The County includes Winthrop, Revere, Chelsea, and Boston. Since Boston is a bee swarm of politicals, you’d expect a whole lot of hiving afoot; but you would be wrong. The State is electing no Senator, and the statewide offices, from Governor to Auditor, aren’t before the voters until 2018. We ARE choosing Congress-people, but Mike Capuano and Katherine Clark, who represent about half the County, have no challenger. The same is true for Suffolk County’s six State Senators. Joe Boncore, Bill Brownsberger, Sal DiDomenico, Linda Dorcena Forry, Sonia Chang Diaz, and Mike Rush move to November unscathed.

Add to that almost all of Suffolk County’s State Representatives. Roselee Vincent, Adrian Madaro, Dan Ryan, Speaker Robert DeLeo, Aaron Michlewitz, Nick Collins, Byron Rushing, Jay Livingstone, Mike Moran, Kevin Honan, Dan Hunt, Russell Holmes, Jeffrey Sanchez, and Ed Coppinger have no challenger that we are aware of.

Which does not mean that Suffolk County voters can take the day off. There ARE two major County-office races : For Sheriff, between incumbent Steve Tompkins and challenger Alex Rhalimi (disclosure : I am Rhalimi’s consultant); for Register of Deeds, a multi-candidate contest featuring former City Councillor Steve Murphy; Dorchester activist Paul Nutting (disclosure : I am Nutting’s consultant); Jamaica Plain lawyer Katherine Forde; Dorchester attorney Stephanie Everett; Jeffrey Ross, who ran for City Council in 2013; and at least one independent, John Keith, who lives in the Seaport District. All of these “Deeds” hopefuls have one or another measure of credibility.

There’s also a Congress race, but not in September. On November’s ballot, the 8th District’s Stephen Lynch faces Republican Bill Burke, an oilman from Quincy.

In addition to the many September candidacies I have already listed, there’s a three-way race for Governor’s Councillor, for those who care about an office that few voters can identify. (The eight Governor’s Councillors vote on confirmation of nominations for judge and other judicial posts as well as approval of state contracts.) This contest pits incumbent Terry Kennedy against two North End activists, Stephen Borelli, a retired Brighton District Court clerk, and Anthony DiMeo, whose name I had not heard before this race. The District includes five State Senate Districts: beginning with my own, the First Suffolk and Middlesex, and extending east past Lynn and North to Haverhill.

Of the four contested State Representative contests, one concerns an open seat: the 7th Suffolk’s Gloria Fox is retiring after 34 years of service. Three women are running : Mary-dith Tuitt, an aide to Fox (Tuitt also sought a State Representative seat, in 2013, in another District); Chyna Tyler, who was an aide to Senator Chang Diaz; and Monica Cannon, an activist backed by Roxbury’s Councillor, Tito Jackson. In the 2014 election, Fox faced two worthy challengers; 2260 voters cast ballots. I would guess that number will increase, but by how much ? Certainly not by the amount one hopes for. The 7th is perhaps Massachusetts’s most unrepresentative House District. At least a third — maybe more — of its adult residents are students who hardly ever vote in local elections: but they count in the population base for one man, one vote District inclusion. As a result, given a 15 percent turn out even in the District’s heartland, the House member for the 7th will almost certainly be elected by a tiny minority of those she is charged with representing.

Below : the 7th Suffolk’s Mary-dith Tuitt, endorsed by Senator Linda Dorcena Forry


The other multi-candidate Suffolk County House seats don’t really have a contest. Incumbent Liz Malia of the 11th Suffolk faces Charles Clemons, who ran for Mayor in 2013 and City Council in 2015; Clemons is personable (disclosure : we are friends), but it’s difficult to see him mounting any sort of challenge to the diligent Malia, one of Boston’s best-connected elected officials. The 5th District, Dorchester-based, features three candidates: incumbent Evandro Carvalho faces a newcomer, Melinda Stewart, whom I have never met; the winner faces perennial candidate Althea Garrison, who many years ago did represent the District. Angelo Scaccia, of Hyde Park, faces an equally new challenger, Anthony Solimine of West Roxbury. Lastly, incumbent Dan Cullinane of the 13th Suffolk District, faces two challengers, Carlotta Williams and Jovan Lacet. Cullinane is one of the State’s most authoritative, hard working House members; but his District s overwhelmingly majority people of color, and his Haitian constituents — some of them — seem anxious to elect a Haitian.

Which brings me to the two County contests, Sheriff and Register of Deeds.

As I am consulting to a candidate in each race, I am in no way an objective reporter of these races. I will say that the Steve Tompkins and Alex Rhalimi Sheriff race involves two very different men, one African American, the other a Moroccan immigrant. Tompkins made his mark in sales and public relations, before being appointed Sheriff, and is a master communicator with a bold vision of what a Sheriff can be; Rhalimi, who holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, started and operated — for 17 years — his own business and has an executive’s attention to detail and tireless drive. This is a race the voters are probably enjoying, as they should.

As for the Deeds battle, it must confuse voters who scarcely think of this position as an elected one. Why should a voter choose Nutting, or Everett, or Ross, or Forde, or even Murphy, for that matter ? As a nine-term former Boston Councillor, Murphy has all the name recognition a candidate could want; but it is unclear why he, a policy maker, should occupy a position purely ministerial office like Deeds. I find the other candidates (including, of course, my client Paul Nutting) much more fitted to this office, and I think it likely that the voters will  come to that same conclusion as the September 8th, Thursday primary day approaches.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ leading the charge for charter school expansion : the Governor and his rally troops of kids

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As many of you already know, there will be an initiative on this November’s ballot, seeking to expand the number of charter schools allowed by Massachusetts law. The expansion will affect only school districts which are determined, by the State’s Department of Education, to be in the bottom 25 percent according to the State’s performance tests. Doubtless these tests are themselves liable to much criticism of standards applied, but that’s an issue for another day. In this article I want to focus singly on the rationale for charter school expansion, and to critique the political partisanship that some are adducing in its support.

For me, charter school expansion serves two cardinal policy goals : first, it offers children in under-performing districts an effective, disciplined alternative path to an education assuring their readiness for highly skilled employment upon graduation; second, it promotes that education can no longer be ruled by one common standard — that in the innovation economy, many styles of pedagogy, and many sorts of curricula, will enable students, themselves of diverse4 cultures and states of preparedness. Yes, we do educate students for citizenship, as well as employment, and for citizenship, a common curriculum creates community. But diverse employment curricula do not per se exclude citizenship learning and should not be advanced as an argument against innovation schools.

Funding is the big argument being debated in charter school expansion . The mantra of charter school opponents is that they divert public funds — taxpayer dollars — away from public schools and into the hands of private entities. This argument is false.

First, charter schools are public. Any child who wins the selection lottery can attend.

Second, those charter schools that allow private, for profit companies to manage them are no different from the MBTA allowing private firm Keolis to operate its Commuter Rail. The MBTA is a state agency answerable to taxpayers. Why are its operating decisions any different from those of taxpayer-answerable charter schools ? 

Third, charter schools do not divert taxpayer dollars from standard schools. Every child who attends a charter school is one student less that the standard school has to pay for educating. The diversion argument results from standard schools maintaining capacity that, because of charter schools (and others), is no longer used but, needs be heated, air conditioned, cleaned, and monitored. School districts should never maintain such excess capacity, doable only because the taxpayers have no choice but to pay for. As standard school enrollment goes down, so should the district budget.

To sum up : we accept that education is a taxpayer responsibility because schooling our children properly is vital to the progress of the enti8re community and cannot be left to the chance of economic markets. In return, taxpayers this charged have every right to demand that their tax dollars be applied as effectively as feasible, and applied fairly, too: schools that fail, students of color, or from non-English language homes, must either be reformed or replaced; nor can there be any tolerance for the sorts of inefficiencies that tie down a district budget such as Boston’s $ 1.03 billion 2017 proposal.

The huge Boston budget is especially outrageous considering how many students of color — some 87 percent of all Boston Public School students — now clamor for admission to a charter school, where academic performance can rise to the State’s top quintile rather than  hunker in the bottom quintile, as does the Mattahunt Community School (thanks to friend Ed Lyons for this comparative statistic.) Too easily, students in low-income zip codes get shafted by school budgeters trying to fund redundancy instead of classroom needs — not to mention home visits by teachers, a longer school day, and nutritious lunches, rather than duplicative teaching payments, overcapacity, and more.

I understand that vested interests feel their situations insecured by these imperatives. In particular, teachers who now enjoy rigid work rules face enormous redeployment and re-configuration of their job duties. That, however, is a challenge for teachers’; unions, not for the public. Teachers unions badly need new, flexible, imaginative leadership, and it is there, too: but it has been difficult to get such new leadership elected by the rank and file. That will have to change, if teachers’ unions want to be part of education’s transformation rather than run over by it.

Lastly : all of my above argument pleases Republican supporters of charter school expansion, who would love to make charter schools their party’s issue, at the expense, so they say it, of Democrats. This is an unwise objective. Were charter school expansion to become a partisan, Republican issue, it would be harder, not easier, to accomplish: few Massachusetts voters are Republicans, a majority belong to no party, and many of those who are registered in a party don’t see politics in partisan terms. Plus : charter school expansion is supported by a great many Democrats, including many leaders : this effort is a bipartisan one.

If Republican supporters of charter school expansion want to benefit politically from their work on the issue, they should work it for the issue’s own sake. The voters will not be electing you because you are a Republican but because you support policies that they support. You may care that you are a Republican, but almost nobody else does. Policy progress is what our voters care about. Everything else is coincidence.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ official roll call vote on yesterdays’ “TransBillMA,” which adds gender identity to the list of public accommodations protected classes

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Of all the 50 states, Massachusetts, so most of us feel, ought to be the first in civil rights matters. Yesterday, when the House voted 116 to 36 to pass the Transgender Public Accommodations bill before it, we became the 19th state — not the first — to do so.

We have done better in the past. In 2003 we were the first state to declare same sex marriage constitutional. In 1780 we were the first state to abolish slavery. We were the first state in which municipalities outlawed segregation of schools by race. We led the Abolitionist cause the eventually fought slavery to its end. But we were not the first state to grant women voting rights : Wyoming beat us by many years. Our civil rights record is uneven.

Because we have so often led the nation in civil rights — because we early embraced the Republican party, which was created for the very purpose involved — we have acquired a reputation which our actual politics belie. Yesterday’s vote came only after months of delay and maneuver, indeed after its public accommodations provisions had been cut out of our state’s 2011 law adding gender identity to the class of civil rights protections. Why was this ? The answer is  at hand, .though it embarrasses to face it.

If we are the iconic civil rights state, we are equally the iconic state of social hysterias. Anyone who grew up in Salem., as I did, knows only too well the hysteria of 1692 — the date alone tells all — in which hundreds of ordinary people were accused of witchcraft, condemned on proof-less evidence, and imprisoned. Twenty were hanged, one man pressed to death. Another died in Salem jail. The thing ended only when Governor Phelps, supported by big-city merchants, ordered it ended. (Big city merchants ? Yes, even then, business progressivism fought battles with street scapegoaters.) Not long after, those who did the accusing began apologizing; so did one of the judges, Samuel Sewall.

260 years later, as I grew up in Salem, people with relatives on the witch side still were not at ease with people whose ancestors had done the accusing. Of course, by then, Nathaniel Hawthorne had written The Scarlet Letter, and other stories in which rush to judgement and delusional hysterias were the antagonist. And we had all read Hawthorne many times. Despite that, we — many of us — were swept up AGAIN, in the 1980s, by the day care child abuse hysteria, which in Massachusetts led to the trial, conviction, and imprisonment — on testimony by children (as in the witchcraft trials !) induced and suggested, of three Amiraults, one of whom died in prison before her son and daughter were set free, barely.

Those of us who thought Massachusetts people had learned — twice — not to succumb to hysterical fears erected upon nothing watched stupefied as hundreds of screaming protestors stormed the State House yesterday to protest — to stop — the “TransBillMA.” as it has been hash-tagged. What was the hysteria this time ? That if transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, pedophiles will have license to prey upon children “in a private vulnerable moment,” as some wrote in facebook posts. It was impossible to respond that pedophiles preying upon children has always been illegal; that police chiefs from all across the state say there is no substance to fear of transgender people; that if there is any fear involved, it is for assaults upon transgender people, not by them.

It was so impossible that if you did talk back, the screams grew louder, the accusations more unhinged. Exactly as happened in 1692.

I won’t go into the gist of the facebook comments, many of which brazenly, bluntly deny transgender people their existence or which presume to tell transgender people who they are, as if anyone has such a right. They don’t.

Thus the House voted as it did. 8 of 32 voting Republicans supported the bill, 108 of 120 voting Democrats. (The roll call vote is pictured above for those who want to know how their representative voted.)

The House bill now goes to a Joint Conference with the Senate, which voted 33 to 4 to pass a different version of the same bill. At the Conference, the differences will be settled, after which the final bill goes to Governor Baker, who supports and will sign the House version or something like it.

The vote is so overwhelming that you wonder why it took so long to get it done. But anyone who saw the mobs of feral screamers, or who read the vulgar comments on facebook, had to shudder at what our Representatives’ phone messages must have been like these past several months. Even though every poll shows Massachusetts voters supporting the “TransBillMA” by two to one, it took courage, and resolve, to bring it forward and vote it Yes. We are Massachusetts : not at all the state first in civil rights but something more accursed, a state with an unsure streak deep within us, a readiness to credit fears, rumors, untruths; a society in which many people can say, with0ut blushing, that “a small minority should never dictate to the whole” even though we know damn well that — as one facebook respondent pointed out,  the Pledge of Allegiance’s words “with liberty and justice for ALL” means FOR ALL

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere