BOSTON CITY COUNCIL ELECTION, 2019 : ALTHEA GARRISON

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^ soon a Boston City Councillor : Althea Garrison, flag pin and all (WGBH photo)

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Because Ayanna Pressley is moving on to represent our state’s 7th Congress District, Boston’s City Council, in next year’s election, will be choosing a successor to the person who had, for three terms, been its top or second-place vote-getter. Not having Pressley on the Council ballot allows her three at-large colleagues each to aspire to “top the ticket.” At the same time it offers an open at-large seat to all and sundry aspirants. There appear to be plenty.

To call Pressley’s Council seat “open” perhaps disrespects the woman who will move to occupy it per the City Charter, which dictates that the fifth lace finisher in an at-large council election –we choose four — fills any vacancy. In the 2017 election the fifth finisher was Althea Garrison. She won 18,253 votes, way behind four place finisher Annissa Essaibi George — but a winner after all, thanks to Pressley and her voters. Can Garrison win election to a full term ?

This is a question that many observers mishandle, in my opinion. It is widely assumed that Garrison is only a gadfly, a perennial candidate — which she is– who is not to be taken seriously as a Councillor. I’m not so sure. I also dislike the background of much of the dismissing. No one will say it, but it’s hard not to sense that much of the dismissing arises from  Garrison’s status as a transgender person who does not talk about it or wear it as an identity slogan, and whose positions on many issues does not conform to what the conventional wisdom expects a transgender person to hold. Garrison is a conservative, as the term is now commonly used, and Black. That alone casts her outside the bounds of Boston’s political community.

Is she a Republican ? A Democrat ? An independent ? Over her at least 25 years of political visibility, she’s run as all three. To say the least, this is unusual; in Boston, it’s out of bounds. In Boston, one is expected to identity as a “Democrat,” which, once you do that, frees you to hold any sort of political views you feel best serves your interests. But Garrison has run as a Republican, more than once, and in 1992 she won, as a Republican, the contest for 5th Suffolk District’s State Representative seat. In 1994 she was easily defeated by the Democratic nominee — which does not surprise, as there is just about zero Republican presence in the “5th” — even this year, while winning 49.5 percent of Boston’s vote, on the way to a two to one state-wide win, Governor Baker secured barely 35 percent of the “5th”‘s votes.

Defeat in 1994 did not stop Garrison. Just the opposite. She has run for city office many times since then — I have lost track of the count. Curiously, she is not the only candidate in her part of Boston who does this : Roy Owens has, I believe, run for office even more often than Garrison, always with underwhelming results. Owens is also a “conservative.” He and Garrison are politically close. It makes sense that Owen has been mentioned as a possible staffer in Garrison’s forthcoming Council office.

Yet Garrison isn’t as predictable a conservative as Owens, partly because as a transgender person she supports the state’s 2016 transgender civil rights law. It isn’t easy to predict what position she takes on issues. As much as any Boston politician, if not more so, she thinks for herself. Unfortunately, that independence of mind also means she has few if any political friends.

Still, in one month she will take the oath as an t-large City Councillor. She’ll represent not only Ward 15, in which she won 492 votes, or Ward 12, where she finished third (!!) with 868 votes, or Ward 14, where she won 938, but also West Roxbury and Roslindale (1886 votes), East Boston (608 votes), and Brighton-Allston (1795 votes) and Beacon Hill, Back Bay and the South End (1645 votes), among others. In  2017 she had to compete with four incumbent Councillorts seeking re-election yet still found 18,253 voters supporting her. She may well  need to double that total in 2019 — maybe more, if turnout increases over the usual Council off-year. Can she ?

She’ll certainly finish in the top five in the upcoming primary. No matter who, of the many  names being mentioned, seeks the office, Garrison starts way ahead of any of them. Even if the City’s numerous collections of activists — not to mention City employees and their families — all pass Garrison by, there’s plenty of non-insider voters who might find a :thinks for herself” Councillor worth supporting, if only because there ought be at least one voice on the Council that doesn’t vote like all the others. (to cite just one example : the 2015 Council voted unanimously to make Boston a Sanctuary City. I’m pretty sure there’s a substantial number of voters who do support that move and would gladly vote for a Councillor who would vote No.)

Garrison can also count on some favor as a woman of color. With Pressley leaving, the 2019 Council will not have a city-wide member who is African-American (or Caribbean).

Frankly, Garrison’s fate is entirely in her hands. I’m not here to advise her, but if i were, I’d say “run against the Council majority.” The Council has taken many issues positions that lots of voters dislike — think the controversy about Air Bnb, or the moves to impose a higher “contribution” assessment on the City’s tax-exempt institutions. Even Garrison’s conservatism might be a fruitful avenue for attracting votes : shouldn’t the Council, — most of whose members are all seeking to appease, or lead, the “progressive’ vote that defeated Congressman Mike Capuano and State budget chief Jeffrey Sanchez and saw reformer Rachael Rollins defeat the presumed favorite in last year’s Suffolk District Attorney contest — have at least one at-large voice that speaks for those on the other side ? Mike Capuano won 22,914 votes in the primary even while losing, and about 49,400 Boston voters did not vote for Rollins. Might not Garrison find strength in said numbers ?

She’ll have to convince potential supporters that she means business, that she can do all of the job, that she will reach out, constantly, and make her Council staff do all the usual tasks. It won’t be as easy as simply getting a few signatures and having her name on the ballot. She’ll have to raise significant money — and know where to seek it — and work every neighborhood. It will be exhausting. Is she up to it ? Does she want to even do it ? Her “OCPF” file shows her having raised almost no money except from herself, for all of the past six years. It also shows over $ 98,000 in liabilities. This is not a good look for a serious candidate who will likely need to raise $ 200,000, not to mention enough money to pay off that huge $ 98,000 liability.

The money mountain in front of garrison is steep and high. The outreach and issues task is exhausting and requires enormous discipline. can Garrison do any of this ? She has the opportunity; but opportunity does not give away gifts to those who can’t struggle to success.

—-  Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

GENDER vs. THE CONTROL FREAKS

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My friend Samantha Rogers, pictured above, a transgender woman from Detroit, Michigan, calls those who would deny the existence of transgender people “control freaks.” I think she’s nailed it. What sort of person but a control freak thinks he or she has a right to tell other people who they are ?

Look : neither you nor you nor you, you, and you has any right to tell anyone else who they are. Each of us is the master, or mistress, of our own lives. Only we live our lives. You, and you, and you you and you live YOUR life, not anyone else’s.

This should be the end of the discussion. Yet it isn’t, because for some people, the urge to control the lives of others is an obsession. Why so ? I’l tell you why :” the people who want to erase transgender people do so because they are afraid that their kids will come out as transgender if thy find out transgender exists.

They are afraid of that because they are sure they know who their children are. After all, our children are us, are they not? Our sperm and egg partner to bring our kids into existence. Somehow we feel that we own our sperm, own our eggs; and if we own them, we must, perforce, own what they create jointly.

Yet this assumption is false. We do NOT “own” our kids. Our kids are NOT just the junction of sperm and egg. Kids are far, far more than their biology, just as we are. Life has numerous platforms other than the physical. It has values, ideals, missions, tasks, obligations, joys, and yes, it has the question “who am I ?” To which no society ever has given a purely physical answer.

Thus gender, which is NOT the same thing as sex — sex being the tools by which through process a child is formed. Sex is endocrine. Gender is much less mechanized. It’s actually very difficult, maybe impossible, to know what gender is. It certainly isn’t the same as sexual attraction. To whom you are sexually attracted has almost nothing to do with the mechanical. Women are attracted to women as easily as to men, and vice versa. It is no different with transgender people. So what, then, IS gender ? A perception, perhaps. Being male, being female. Being both, or partly each but not equally, and not the same every day. The young call this “gender-fluid.”

Dive deeply into gender and you quickly realize that you’re in a sea with no shore. There is no safe harbor. We are, most of us, however, profoundly influenced by examples of gender norm. The feminine in its unmistakable form and look is all around us; so is the masculine. many of us crave to be one or the other, or to wake up and find out that we ARE one or the other, and can dress as  such, and present this US to the world, regardless of what anatomy we possess or which chromosomes. Some of us discover that we are, in fact, entirely female, or entirely male, despite how we were brought up. This discovery is not optional. When it comes, it commands. Because it is us who we are discovering; the discovery arises from within. It is not taught, or drunk like a potion, or injected like a vaccine.

When the discovery comes, it comes from the real self, and when you sense it, you know that that is true. All at once the tangible you that you feel at your fingertips and kneecaps seems a covering only, a kind of packaging, the real stuff being inside, unwrapping that packaging because it now owns you and IS you.

This is not a becoming. You realize now that you had always been who you now see that you are. Gender is not a becoming. Gender is an IS.

More than that, I cannot say. Gender is the heart of a mystery, just as life is a mystery, immune to explanation even though its package can always be explained.

The control freaks who deny the existence of transgender because they are afraid their kids will come out as transgender cannot accept mystery. Their kids are THEIR kids. Mystery is an enemy of that possession. Thus it cannot be allowed. Transgender — gender fluidity in general — can NOT be allowed to ANYONE because to allow that it is real is to permit it to their kids in the event.

And so we get to the heart of the matter with respect to the control freaks of family matters. It’s all about ownership. possession. The power to control their kids. And from control of their kids, control of YOU — and you, and you you and you — as well.

This will not stand.

A kid has a right to live her own life; to be his own true self; to embrace the sliding scales of gender; to “live an authentic life,” as many gender fluids call it. Damn. If one is not free to be who one is, what freedom can anyone ever have ?

—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere

A TO-DO LIST FOR GOVERNOR BAKER’s SECOND TERM

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^ Governor Baker in January 2018 created a Commission to study the state’s transportation needs going forward. As I see it, this must be his second term’s top priority.

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Having been re-elected by two to one — receiving over 1,700,000 votes — Governor Baker has all the four winds at his political back as he looks forward to a second term of four years in charge of our state. What should his priorities be ?

In his election night speech he signalled “more of the same, of what has already worked.” He repeated this theme in succeeding interviews. I’m not one to contradict him — disclosure : I worked in his campaign, every day — yet I’d like to offer an amended version of what he has said. Here is what I think his priorities should be :

( 1 ) bring the MBTA infrastructure — tracks, signals, rails — fully up to “state good repair.” Let this mission include completion of the Green Line Extension and the successful introduction of electric buses, smaller buses for less traveled routes, and all-night service.

( 2 ) continue to expand facilities for treating opioid addicts,m including hiring sufficient recovery coaches and graduating medical school students who’ve taken courses in addiction medicine. This mission is in good shape. The Governor has insisted on it since Day One and looks on track, with the legislature’s assistance, to master this crisis.

( 3 ) determine a master plan for channeling the burdens imposed on greater Boston by vast increases in vehicle traffic, and  begin to implement it : Baker has already set up such a commission (link here : https://www.mass.gov/news/governor-baker-creates-commission-on-the-future-of-transportation-in-the-commonwealth)

The Commission he has ordered has no simple matter in its hands, but the traffic situation in and around Boston is getting worse every day. It cannot go on. Somehow his transportation group must find a path — working with Mayors of Boston and surrounding cities — to channel much vehicle traffic away from major arterial roads. This may mean putting some service routes underground, or doubling train runs on the Commuter Rail Lines, or building up ferry and seaplane service, or all three. Or it may mean favoring bike paths, walk routes, or helicopter service, or all three of these as well. Much public comment will be needed and much regional planning, and then legislative appropriations. Whatever it takes, new facts must be put on the ground. The Suffolk Downs development alone will add 20,000 new residents, resulting in that much vehicular increase; and Suffolk probably numbers less than one-sixth of the additional residents expected in Boston by 2030, much less an additional 150,000 in adjacent cities. Our transportation infrastructure — including roads and paths — was built for 1960-1970 traffic according to plans devised in the late 1950s. We have to do better and do it now.

( 4 ) make fuel delivery safer on all counts. Baker is already filing legislation to ensure safer gas pipeline management. The condition of gas pipelines remains a problem. State oversight of all gas pipelines must improve. I read that we have less gas inspectors than the present law requires. We must the required number and probably increase it as well. Those who want to see all fossil fuel usage phased out sooner rather than later will be hard to respond to if we can’t administer the gas delivery systems we now have. (That said, fossil fuel usage will be phased out, and the state should devise a feasible plan for doing so that does not ( a ) imperil the thousands of fuel delivery and maintenance jobs that people now hold and ( b ) does not impose tax burdens on limited income households, as present “carbon tax” proposals seem to do.

( 5 ) establish a Coastal Zone commission to devise a feasible response to sea level rise. The State has numerous agencies tasked at present to monitor or respond to sea rise and storm flooding events. Baker should consolidate some of these into one overall commission and charge it with creating a plan that will allow coastal communities — including seaside neighborhoods of Boston — to live with ocean levels several feet higher than normal today. Flooding of residential neighborhoods is already happening in storms. Soon even normal high tides will cause flooding. At least 250,000 people live in areas directly affected. Governor and legislature must enable and encourage all manner of community-created, innovative responses and then enable those which can best work. The time is now.

( 6 ) continue to build up school to job, economic and workforce housing centers in the State’s “gateway” cities outside the metro Boston zone. Boston has sucked up just about all the capital there is for commerce and industry in Massachusetts. I don’t see this changing any time soon. It’s simply much safer to invest in an existing trend than to try to begin one. (The people with skills and schooling to execute these investments are where they are. Moving them out to Springfield or Fall River isn’t likely.) Only the State can jump-start a new economic boom zone. Transit — high-speed rail — will help, but not by itself. There won’t be many riders on a bullet train if there’s no prosperity engine driving it. Baker has made a good start creating school-work-housing link-ups in Springfield-Holyoke-Chicopee: it must be built upon. Fifty years ago the State created a university system in and around Amherst, where none had existed. Today that system dominates the Connecticut valley from the Vermont Border to north of Holyoke — two thirds of the river valley. Baker’s second term must see an economic boom zone extend that education powerhouse into all of greater Springfield. The Governor is on this one. I think it will happen.

That said, Berkshire County and the gap towns between Worcester and the Connecticut valley continue to be weak economically and in other ways. Populations in these sections are aging; new people do not move in. It won’t be easy to  create an economic presence as strong as the industries that made the Berkshire valley cities prosperous from the 1860s to the 1970s — GE is NOT coming back to Pittsfield any time soon, nor the Sprague Company to North Adams. Can tourism and the arts suffice ? So far they haven’t. Berkshire has become, economically and culturally, an extension of Vermont, in which he same economic problems rule. During the 1970s-1990s, the region benefited from City people changing careers and moving to the mountains to live quiet lives and do crafts, or run tourist inns or ski vacation lodges: now that movement has stopped, and there’s not much going on in its place. Perhaps logging and farming are the only feasible answers, in addition to the tourism and arts festivals that already dominate many Berkshire towns and cities.

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There’s more for Governor Baker to do than the six priorities I have listed. Chiefest among the rest of his second term mission must be to continue his successful partnership with House Speaker DeLeo — because any legislation that the Speaker doesn’t support isn’t going very far — and to allow his priorities to be amended, where wise, by the suggestions that will surely come from the State Senate, whose 40 relate much more closely to the state’s “progressives” than do the 160 House members. That said, one thing the Governor can NOT do, and he knows it : he cannot take up proposals that would split the Democratic party. Chief among these, in 2018, was the so-called “Safe Communites Act” (SCA), which would mandate that the State’s police forces refuse co operation with ICE, the Federal agency that hunts won undocumented immigrants and sometimes legal immigrants as well. As much as I would like to see all immigrants living i n Massachusetts supported at every turn, no matter is more divisive, or more emotional, than immigration, and to take the “progressive’ side on the SCA would be to imperil every other Baker priority, not to mention invite primary competition to “regular” Democrats. 2018 saw Jeffrey Sanchzez, the legislature’s budget chief and the most influential Latino elected in Massachusetts, defeated in a primary by an opponent who made Sanchez’s realism about not pressing the SCA her defining issue. Though few Democratic legislators would face serious primary challenges despite, pressing such a divisive issue as the SCA would invite many such, and a few might well succeed. this would ensure that instead of consensus reform, Massachusetts politics would subject itself to the recriminations and partisan vengeances that have made national politics all but impossible.

To say it more succinctly : Baker and the legislature should continue to work on reforms that enjoy solid majority support. There is plenty of that, in my six priorities, that can be done and must be done.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NANCY PELOSI MUST BE THE NEXT HOUSE SPEAKER

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The next Congress must elect Nancy Pelosi its Speaker. There is no other rational choice, no other Congress-person who can lead the House through the challenges that confront it.

Some say that who will be the next Speaker is a matter only of the Democratic party : what direction should it take. I reject that view. The nation has only one Congress; every voter has an interest in who leads it. Right now, far more voters than just Democratic ones are looking to the 116th Congress to save the nation, basically. To accomplish this mission only the best leader will suffice. Nancy Pelosi is that leader.

She showed just how potent a legislator she is when, during her 2008 to 2010 term as Speaker, she oversaw passage of the ACA Health Care law. She has raised insane amounts of money in support of her party’s candidates. If Democrats now control the House, and thus have power to stop; the onslaught of radical Trump policies, they control in large part because Democratic House candidates had tons of money to spend on voter outreach.

Fighting Mr. Trump will never be easy. He knows no bounds, feels no restraints, from doing whatever he can handle at whoever stands in his way. But for the Federal Courts, he would already have wreaked sustained damage upon our democratic (small “D”) norms. In the field, he is as ruthless as Tamerlane, as reckless as Sardanapalus, as loud as  Mussolini, as ignorant as a Cave Troll. Other than with judgeship nominations, his entire presence is a negative — a smelly, vulgar, prurient interest negative. He is corrupt without shame, a toady to dictators, vengeful and petty, lazy, a liar and a saboteur. And for all of these, he is loved beyond measure by about 25 percent of us and tolerated by about another 15 percent. 40 percent is a damn good base whence to start a national election campaign.

Defeating Trump in 2020 will require more than only a Speaker Pelosi. Candidates matter. Who eventually becomes the Democratic nominee for president needs be as disciplined as a Marine, as discreet as a body man, as tough as cement and as visionary as Teddy Roosevelt. Pelosi measures up to all these criteria. She grew up in street politics when street was THE political arena; she has tied herself to every major political force. She commands her caucus no matter which of them objects. She knows what the American people want most. She can prioritize. She knows how to NOT take a bait; how NOT to lead down a wrong path.

The temptation is great to bring bills of impeachment of Mr. Trump; great to investigate him and his administration 24-7 and all the year long. The winds blow almost as strong, within the Democratic caucus, for bringing back actual socialism: the government owning businesses and running them too. The temptation roils nearly as hot for espousing radical plans for environmental reform that would include an almost total neutralization of fossil fuel industries. I’ve read these plans. They are enormously complex, wildly upending to millions of lives. They require new taxes and new bureaucracies enforcing novel rules of environmental practice. They require much debate and emendation. The next Congress — of which the Democrats will control only one part — is NOT the arena for forwarding them.

In my view, the next House must focus on defending basic rights and accepted judicial norms. Mr. Trump must e stopped from persecuting political enemies; from interfering with the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies — FBI, CIA, Department of Justice. The next Congress must protect the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. the next Congress must investigate Mr,. Trump’s cabinet for abuses of powers and perks; must life as difficult as feasible for White House staffers who would abuse, circumvent, or seek to get rid of, laws and regulations that ensure impartial administration. At the same time, the next House must prepare for its own re-election, defending against Mr. Trump’s candidates.

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We don’t often write about national politics — there’;s plenty of big media who do that all day long — but with this matter we feel compelled to speak and to argue, hopefully to persuade.

Nancy Pelosi has solid union backing, new support from her “progressive” members, and the support of her party’s donor base.

She is 78 years old ? She looks 20 years younger, p;roof that constant engagement is the healthiest revenge.

Some say that the Democrats need “new blood.” maybe they do; but this is not about just Democrats. The nation, actually, needs its old blood to step up , to rethink its distrust of the future. Roanld Reagan was in his 70s when he sounded all those notes of optimism about America that made him beloved. Who better to grab the ring of positivity — and to show us how — than those whose time is shorter than forever ?

The next Speaker must be able to meet the press without notes and speak with all the experience and authority she can muster from a full lifetime of political battles-royal. Is there any doubt that only Nancy Pelosi, of all the likely candidates for Speaker, is the obvious and necessary choice. Today, her only significant rival, veteran Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Cleveland, endorsed Pelosi.

We do the same.

—- Mike Freedberg / Hou78se Speqaker

 

 

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT ENERGY REFORM AND CLIMATE MATTERS

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^ Congress-woman Ayanna Pressley : signing onto a climate and energy proposal that way overshoots the mark, in my opinion. A little caution here seems warranted.

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You may be hearing, during the coming months, about a Federal climate and energy proposal, signed onto by our City’s new Congress-woman Ayanna Pressley, which some call “Green New Deal.” Included in this proposal are some features that I cannot sign onto. I’ll analyze the proposal now and make some suggestions of my own:

First : the proposal would create a Congressional Committee tasked specifically with enacting its precepts and then, presumably, overseeing them. This is a bad precedent. If we create a congressional Committee for every proposal, we’ll import into law the single-issue narrowness that already damages our electoral process.No thank you.

( second ) the proposal asks Congresspeople to pledge not to accept donations greater than $ 200 from fossil fuel people. To me this seems needlessly restrictive. Why should a Congressperson not accept donations from any constituency that has a legitimate interest in policy going forward ? The obvious import of this directive is that Congresspeople should cut fossil fuel interests entirely. I don’t see that as a need immediate or long-term.

( third ) some who sign onto this “deal” want to connect rising sea levels challenges with natural gas pipeline problems. The two have no connection, however. Gas leaks do not result from rising seas. If we are to reform our reliance upon natural gas, and maybe we should, it isn’t because there is climate change but because the natural gas infrastructure needs a ton of repair.

( fourth ) One “Green New Deal” activist whom I know wants a “carbon tax” imposed on all cars other than those belonging to “residents.” Such a proposal contravenes the equal protections clauses of our state Constitution and the Federal; and do we really want every municipality to create a parking permit bureau and hire the people to enforce it ? Am I really going to be taxed if I choose to visit my friend in Southie or Roslindale — or in Shrewsbury or Dracut — by driving rather than taking the bus or commuter rail ?

( fifth ) Some “Green New Deal” supporters want the state and Feds to prioritize high speed railways. I defer from this. Railways can help transport commuters, yes, but they also limit a person’s freedom. I spent five months without a car, and it was horribly frustrating having to wait for a bus to come, or to be limited to only the routes on offer; and if you have several destinations to go to, how do you bus from one to the other without wasting huge numbers of hours waiting for the train or omnibus ? Moreover, how to build a high-speed rail system without confronting these problems : acquiring a right of way; satisfying environmental regulations; funding the construction of weatherized stations ? Decades after first proposal, we still do not have a South Coast rail line, largely because of competing environmental jurisdictions whose regulations must be satisfied. This rail line probably should be built, but by no means should it be seen as a substitute for automobile roads. The freedom to move, individually — in this case, by a car — is as bedrock a liberty as any; it should not be compromised for any but emergency reasons.

One also sees, behind the front of this proposal, an unstated call for higher taxes. It’s not said, for obvious reasons, but it is there. How could it not be ?

( sixth ) The challenge of rising seas certainly impacts every coastal City right now. There is important innovative work being crafted, on a community basis, toward funneling excess seas, very much in line with what has been done for centuries in the Netherlands. Much of this local innovation looks to structural defense that depends upon community agreement. I see much more promise in these innovations than in radical infrastructure rules requiring enormous public expenditure, higher taxes, and serious limitations on individual liberty.

( seventh ) fossil fuels : certainly I can agree that oil and gasoline use should take a back seat to electric (cars and buses too) and that solar and hydro power should supplement our growing natural gas demand. We have seen, tragically, that our gas delivery infrastructure needs significant repair; the explosions in greater Lawrence and the numerous reports of gas leaks throughout metro Boston require immediate attention. But this work is the responsibility of the private companies that deliver and service natural gas; they are not funded by tax dollars or manged by a state agency (although they must proceed according to state and Federal regulations and oversight). Until the private firms are in place and fully funded to deliver reliable energy on a state-wide basis, natural gas will have to be our primary energy source.

There’s also the matter of jobs. The gas and oil industries, and their delivery and service adjuncts, employ millions of Americans and give rise to thousands of enterprises. Phasing them back — not to mention replacing them — means job loss for many. Until we can transition oil and gas workers into clean energy employment — which will be extraordinarily difficult — we cannot proceed to comprehensive energy reform.

( eighth ) I also question why energy policy should be primarily Federal. Every state has different energy mixes and needs. Let energy reform arise locally first.

Finally, as I see it, the proposal reads enormously hurried. Hurry breathes in every sentence of it. But haste does make waste. Energy reform and climate challenge are not the work of a moment or a year or a decade. Transition is involved, not abolition. Let’s hear what cooler heads have to say as we tackle the climate and energy colossus.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE POLITICAL PARTY PROBLEM IN MASSACHUSETTS

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(Cambridge, MA – 6/19/17) Gov. Charlie Baker and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren chat during the grand opening of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America headquarters, Monday, June 19, 2017. Staff photo by Angela Rowlings.

Massachusetts enjoys a political culture unique in America, one that poses idiosyncratic challenges to our state’s political parties : 56 percent of all our voters belong to no party, which makes the two major parties a hard role to play.

It is getting harder every year, as a greater percentage of voters opt out of party enrollment.

On November 6th probably one-third — maybe more — of all the 2,700,000 who voted chose both Senator Warren, a Democrat, and Governor Baker, a Republican. Baker won 67 percent of voters, Warren 60.3 percent. Other than Maryland, where Governor Hogan also won re-election with more than 60 percent of voters who at the same election re-elected Senator Cardin, I can’t think of a similar case.

Yet Maryland’s situation is actually not comparable. Maryland has more Republicans and fewer “NPA” voters than we do. Maryland voters made a choice. In Massachusetts this sort of outcome is almost a given.

So, what has been the reaction of Massachusetts partisan loyalists to the November 6th result ? Let’s take a look :

The followers of Scott Lively, who won 36 percent of the Republican Primary vote against Governor Baker, and who represent 28 percent of party activists, judging by Convention delegates, decry Baker’s election. They scourge him as a fake Republican, as a Democrat in “RINO” clothing, a “Tall Deval” Governor who “subverts” the party with patronage appointments, and who has betrayed “conservatism” and “Trump.” That Trump won only 32 percent of our voters in 2016 and is viewed favorably here by barely 29 percent, seems not to impress the Lively bunch. And if you believe that elections are about amassing a majority, and that it is incumbent upon a Governor to govern to the majority, so much for you.

If the Lively bunch numbers at most 36 percent of Massachusetts Republicans, do not think for a minute that their partisan view stops there. A significant portion of Governor Baker’s supporters view the “magop” the same way. They have made their peace with Governor Baker, because he wins, but their basic view is that the party should be more Trump, not less; more “down with the ship.”

But so much for the partisans of a party which in Massachusetts numbers barely ten percent of our voters and twenty percent of electeds. What about our partisan Democrats? After all, about one-third of all our voters and eighty percent of our electeds have a “D” beside their name on the voter list. Here’s one report that I just saw :

A facebook friend posted happenings at the post-election Democratic State Committee meeting. The big discussion was, what to do about elected Democrats who publicly endorsed Governor Baker ? Many want them disciplined : if a state committee member, ousted from the State Committee; if an elected official, censured. The idea being that if you accept a party office you are bound to always support the party. It’s fifty-fifty whether the accused will be ousted or not.

For me, this is an absurdity. The last thing you want to do, if your candidate wins only 33 percent of the vote while his opponent takes 67, is to drive members of the party away — elections are won by addition, not subtraction. Those who would discipline Baker’s Democratic endorsers say that a Democrat’s first loyalty should be to the principles of the party. But is that right ? Isn’t an electeds first loyalty to the voters ? All the voters ?

The Democratic state committee trial is hardly unique to that party. After Governor Bill Weld in 2014 endorsed Michael S. Day, then a first-time candidate for State Representative (he won), resolutions were presented to the Republican State Committee to censure Weld. He shrugged it off, as was proper: but the attempt had been made, and it signals how partisan Republican activists feel. Party first, party always, or else.

This isn’t only a Massachusetts problem, as we all know too well. Still, in Massachusetts it flies against all common sense, given the rejection of party by an increasing majority of our voters.

Party-first does not have to be. One cans till be a party activist and stand apart from the closed shop. When I was a ward committee chairman in one of our parties, my view was that our task was to bring the best candidates we could to the voters by getting them nominated and their names printed on the ballot. And if our candidate was clearly inferior ? In my view it was incumbent on me to support the better candidate and use that as a lesson to the party activists to do better next time, or, in case where the opposing party had advanced a clearly superior candidate, to support the better : because ultimately it’s the public interest that should prevail, not a party’s.

Those who in Massachusetts take the “party principles first” position ensure that more and more voters will opt out of party enrollment. We’re already at the point at which unenrolled candidates are likely in many districts to defeat both party candidates. In the towns, “NPA” voters number upwards of 70 percent, even 80 percent. These numbers increase every year.

It was depressing to listen to newly-nominated Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, on the day after her victory in the primary, talking about Democrats this, Democrats that.  Is she elected to represent just Democrats ? Or all her voters ? one hopes the latter: but there she was, sounding like a candidate for Democratic National Committee-Woman, not for Congress. In Washington, talk about party may matter, for Congress has become almost completely Parliamented (our Constitution notwithstanding). Here in Boston, however,k such talk sounds weirdly unreal.

Governor Baker won his 67 percent — moire than 1,700,000 votes — not only because of a job well done. The most frequent comment I hear about him is that “he works across the aisle.” That — working across partisan aisles — is what almost all of our voters want, and it is why they gave him a bigger vote even than Senator Warren received.

The message could not have been clearer.

Our partisans need to rethink the locked-door approach. Either our parties expand, and welcome those of it who critique, or they risk becoming circled wagons, cameos of a curious Leninism in which loyalty to the party shines an ever dimmer light on ever more faded mirrors.

So far, that prospect doesn’t trouble our partisans. The smaller the party, and the less connected to the outside, the easier it is for controllers to control it. No political battles feel fiercer than battles for state committee and ward committee control. The party eventually cannibalizes itself — and enjoys the meal.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

EAST BOSTON : THE ZONING RIDDLE

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^ my working group at the BPDA zoning revision meeting

We attended Wednesday night’s Zoning Plan meeting, at East Boston Social Centers, hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). Since early in the summer, the BPDA has moved to engage as many East Boston residents as it can in forming a comprehensive revision of the City’s Zoning Code. Wednesday’s meeting was the third such.

Before I report on the Wednesday meeting, it ,might be helpful to offer links to the actual Zoning Code and to the State’s Zoning Law under which a City is empowered to establish zoning regulations:

The current zoning code, and zoning maps illustrative, can be read and viewed here : http://www.bostonplans.org/zoning/zoning-code-maps-old

The State’s Zoning Law, MGL c. 40A, can be read here : https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter40A

I want to call your attention in particular to MGL c. 40A section 10, “Variances,” in which the criteria for granting are made explicit as well as the public policy underlining them: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter40A/Section10

OK then. having provided you the law, let’s look at Wednesday’s meeting as well as the enormous challenges confronting a Zoning revision:

Jay Ruggiero, of Eastie’s well-regarded funeral home family, is now the BPDA’s Director of Community Outreach. Jay emcee’d the meeting. Information pamphlets were handed out as well as papers for nominating people to a 25-person “Advisory Group” that, if all goes well, will meet twice a month to work out a new zoning plan for East Boston. (I nominated three : Mike Russo, Mike Othmer, and Jules Burrell — wanting to name people who, although activist, aren’t already loaded with Eastie meetings and group commitments.) Who the City will actually pick, is anybody’s guess.

These preliminaries handled, the meeting attendees — about 60 people — were split up into six working groups each at a separate conference table. I sat with Frank DelMuto’s group. Frank is a respected Eastie builder who lives in the Salesians-St. Mary’s section and actively participates in harbor View Neighborhood Association meetings. Mike and Christy Dennis joined us as did Jared from the BPDA and several well-informed residents whom I had not met — a good thing; one always wants to see the rolls of local activism attracting new recruits.

The discussion at our table and at the others — including groups led by Dayna Antenucci (Orient Heights), Debra Cave (Eagle Hill). Joanne Pomodoro (Orient Heights), Meg Grady (Eagle Hill), Maureen White (Jeffries Point) — were tasked with identifying zoning priorities. These we all know well enough: density issues, height of buildings, traffic concerns, design hurdles, impact on infrastructure. People also cited the remarkable eased with which zoning variances are granted. Much was said about stiffening the obstacles to variance, including granting more authority to neighborhood groups overseeing the BPDA’s required “public comment hearing.” All of us are familiar with these public comment hearings. Neighborhood association activists command them, which means that development proposals requiring many variances are almost always overwhelmingly voted down.

Not everyone likes how these hearings turn out. This we all know :

Development advocates dislike how public comment hearings are run. They cite the need for greater residential density if limited-income families are to remain in a neighborhood where rents are sky high-ing. Developers  cite the right of property owners to use their properties. Owners who have, in many cases, owned for decades properties bought for very little back in the day, when no one wanted most East Boston homes, feel entitled now to cash in a sale price as big as a lottery winner.  Cashing out has presented Eastie with some of its currently most troubling proposals, including the Narrtow Gauge project, the huge 144 Addison Street envision, the hotel-sized proposals at 205 Maverick Street, 650 Saratoga Street, and Mt. Carmel Church on Gove Street. Nor are these the only disruptions that East Boston faces. According to the BPDA there are 58 variance requests on the Zoning Board of Appeals calendar. Most of these, if not all, seek to build five stories high, increase units from two or three to nine or more, and fill out lots almost to the lot line. Many involve insufficient off street parking.

Wednesday’s meeting achieved no solution to these challenges. Naming zoning priorities is fine, but the details of an actual ordinance revision remain out of reach. And then these riddles, for which no one, at least at  my table, was ready to offer a solution:

( 1 ) Why are zoning variances so easy to win at the Appeals Board ? The stated purpose of variance, as set forth in MGL c. 40A, section 10, is that a variance should confirm and support the zoning condition within which a variance is sought. Yet many, many variance grants — at least within my familiarity — grossly violate the zoning condition thus varied. How come this happens ?

( 2 ) How can neighborhood-changing development be curbed when investors can and do now pay far higher buy prices than any residential home buyer would be willing to pay, or able ? All the happy talk about devising a zoning revision based on neighborhood priorities flies out the window of a real estate and economic boom that is pricing the neighborhood into a completely different future in which ordinary income earners will have no place.

The vast majority of Eastie residents wants its neighborhood character to remain, to be enhanced, not devolved. The zoning law itself establishes neighborhood characteristics. All the good intentions in the world, however, not to mention the law’s precepts themselves, can stand against the plans of deeply pocketed investors and their huge constituencies of architects, contractors, builders, lawyers, consultants, and real estate agents, all of whom draw very comfortable incomes from work done in a development’s course. My own feeling is that all the BPDA meetings that mayor Walsh can ask for, and all the well intentioned “Advisory Group” participation, will amount only to a shrug and a good bye smile as the Boston economic boom transforms every close-in neighborhood of the City from its traditional working class character to the absolute opposite. Nor has the BPDA even addressed the Air BnB controversy : the tourist-ing of close-in Boston neighborhoods continues, and it’s not easy to see how it can be stopped without violating basic individual property rights that cannot in any circumstance be compromised.

It was, of course,. oh so different when Boston was a city that people wanted only to leave; when suburban life was the ideal and vast shopping malls on the Interstates were the trade destinations. Then — 40 years ago — one could readily live in the City on very little money, amid neighbors one had known since childhood surrounded by structures that never got rebuilt or even renovated. Do we want those days back ? Do we want to live on very little in an unchanging corner of a neighborhood that time ignores ? Maybe we do want it; but we aren’t going to get it. In a sense Ayanna Pressley was right to say “change can’t wait.” I make only one revision to her election slogan : in Boston change WILL NOT wait.

I think the BPDA knows this. I think the BPDA is trying to alleviate the anger we will all feel when — I hope I am wrong, but I doubt I am — we see, a few years from now, or by 2030, that all of our pride of neighborhood character was maintained in vain.

The zoning meetings continue. I will attend them.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

 

CHARLIE BAKER’s BOSTON ACHIEVEMENT

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^ Governor Baker at Santarpio’s in East Boston visiting Senator Joe Boncore’s Election Day lunch. (Boncore standing next to Baker. StRep Jay Livingstone next, then District One Councillor Lydia Edwards, then local business leader Tony Portillo. In front : Gladys Oliveros and Bob Boncore)

NOTE : this column will be a long read, with many statistics shown. If statistics aren’t your thing, skip over them.

On election day, on his way to a 67 to 33 percent win statewide, Governor Baker won 49.5 percent of the Boston vote, losing to Jay Gonzalez by only one percentage point. The actual numbers : Baker 107,108; Gonzalez 110,187. (5150 voters blanked the race). The total turnout — 222,445 — rose by 68,000 from the 2014 mid-term.

In 2014, Baker won 48.5 statewide, 30 percent in Boston. This time he won 67 percent statewide, 49.5 in Boston. Relative to the state, Boston barely moved : from 18.5 points more Democratic than the state to 17.5 percent.  But Baker’s lift was not uniform. In some neighborhoods his vote rose more than in in others; in some, much more. Let’s look at some sample neighborhoods, precinct by precinct :

Ward One — East Boston

Baker 5006 Gonzalez 4704 (2018) (Baker53%) Baker 2620 Coakley 3982 (2014)(Baker38%)

By precinct :

One       Baker 50.5 / 49.4 (2018)    Baker 33 – 61.4 (2014)  Baker gain : + 17.5 %

Two      Baker 43.7 / 56.4 (2018)     Baker 33.6 / 60 (2014)  Baker gain : + 10.1 +

Three   Baker 45.6 / 54.1 (2018)     Baker 26.3 / 68.3 ( 2014) Baker gain : + 19.3

Four     Baker 45.5 / 53.7 (2018)     Baker 31.5 / 59.6 (2014)   Baker gain : + 14

Five      Baker 50.2 / 49.5 (2018)    Baker 35.7 / 59.5 (2014)   Baker gain : + 14.5

Six       Baker 46.4 / 53.3 (2018)     Baker 31.4 / 61.1 (2014)   Baker gain : + 15

Seven  Baker 44.1 / 55.2 (2018)     Baker 30.2 / 61.1 (2014)   Baker gain : + 13.9

Eight   Baker 46.6 / 52.8 (2018)     Baker 34.9 / 61.3 (2014)   Baker gain : + 11.7

Nine : Baker 47 / 52 (2018)           Baker 30.3 / 62.2 (2014)    Baker gain : + 16.7

Ten     Baker 48.9 / 51.2 (2018)    Baker 30.5 / 63 (2014)       Baker gain : + 18.4

Eleven – Baker 61.8 / 38.1 (18)    Baker 47.2 / 46.9 (2014)    Baker gain : + 14.6

Twelve  Baker 65.6 / 34 (2018)   Baker 54.2 / 40.8 (2014)    Baker gain : + 11.2

13th      Baker 58 / 41.6 (2018)    Baker 43.7 / 52.2  (2014)   Baker gain : + 14.3

14th      Baker 60.2 / 36 (2018)    Baker 48.4 / 48.4 (2014)    Baker gain : + 11.8

In East Boston, Baker gained most in the Jeffries Point region (1 and 3), Salesians (11), and the part of Eagle Hill running from the High School to above Day Square (9 and 10). In 2014 he fared poorly with young professionals (Jeffries Point) and Latino voters (precincts 6 through 10). Not so this time. Even with an opponent named Gonzalez, Baker came close to winning East Boston’s Hispanic precincts. Yet his outreach to non-traditional voters did not cost him “traditional” support. Indeed, his vote share among long-time Eastie voters (precincts 11 through 14) improved measurably.

Now Charlestown (Ward Two) :

Baker 5774  Gonzalez  2624 (yes, you read that right. Baker won Charlestown 69.8 to 30.2 — almost three points better than the statewide. I cannot recall when a Republican managed such a result or anything even close. In 2014 Baker narrowly lost Charlestown to Martha Coakley, 47.8 percent to 49.3. This in itself was a remarkable result — his Charlestown number was only 1.2 points less than his statewide. This time his number improved in Charlestown by a full 22 points. It was his best Boston neighborhood.

South End, Seaport, Chinatown, bay Village, Downtown

If Baker’s vote gain in was remarkable in Charlestown, in these five neighborhoods it rose beyond all prediction. There were precincts in which Baker’s vote percent increased by 23, 24, even 30 points from his 2014 results:

Ward 3 Precinct 7 ( Chinatown) :  this time, 56.3 / 43.6; in 2014, 32.8 / 59.6

Ward 4 Precinct 1 (South End) : this time, Baker 56.1 / 43.9; in 2014, 33.7 / 63.2

Ward 4 Precinct 3 (South End) : this time, Baker 56.9 / 43.2  in 2014, 32.4 / 63

Ward 5 Precinct 1 (bay Village) : this time, Baker 56.9 / 43; in 2014, 33.8 / 63.8

Ward 6 Precinct 1 (seaport) : this time, baker 60.3 / 39.3; in 2014, 38.3 / 58

Ward 8 Precinct 1 (Cathedral) this time, Baker 43 / 56.6; in 2014, 16.6 / 81.5 (yes, a 27 point gain !)

Ward 9 Precinct 1 (Villa Victoria): this time, baker 48.9 / 51; in 2014, 18.3 / 78.5 (you read this right. Baker gained 30 points in this part of the South End, home to Villa Victoria, the City’s foundational Puerto Rican community.)

Blue Hill Avenue and Mattapan: 

If Baker’s numbers in the above neighborhoods stun the reader, what will be her reaction upon eye-balling how he took hold of this part of Boston, the center of its African-American community. In the 21 precincts that include all of Ward 14 plus the Matttapan seven of Ward 18, Baker tallied these numbers this time :

Baker 5573 Gonzalez 8074

That doesn’t look so good: but consider how Baker did in these same precincts in 2014 :

Baker 781 Coakley 10,620

From winning barely seven percent of this region’s vote he gained about 41 percent. How did he do it ? By hiring a full staff of community activists for outreach  — both in Room 280 and on the campaign — and by attending doggedly to community events and never letting go. And by being just as likable a guy as there is. More on this aspect of Baker later.

As I have noted, Baker achieved his successes with voters not part of his 2014 win without losing any of his stalwarts. Indeed, he gained strength in those stalwart neighborhoods :

Ward 16 Dorchester :

Baker 5539  Gonzalez  3668  (Baker won eight of 12 precincts,. including precinct 12 with 80.7 percent of the vote) (63 percent for Baker)

in 2014 :  Baker 3065 Coakley 4431  (Baker won only two of the ward’s 12 precincts; 39.5 percent for Baker)

West Roxbury (15 precincts of Ward 20):

Baker 9,115  Gonzalez 5,008   65 percent. (Baker won every precinct.)

in 2014 :  Baker 6080  Coakley  6003 Baker 50.5 percent.  (Baker won only eight of 15 precincts, most narrowly)

And of course, South Boston, where in his four best precincts he won 74 to 76 percent of the vote.

—- —- —- —-

Baker did not triumph everywhere in Boston. One of his weakest showings was the Hyde Square (Jamaica Plain) vote, which included his worst precinct in the entire city, Ward 19 Precinct One :

Baker 1431 Gonzalez 3476 (Baker 29%)

Yet even this pale result improved a ton from his 2014 vote in the same five precincts :

Baker 452 Coakley 2664

…and in Ward 10, Precinct 7 — Bromley-Heath Project, where he and State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez officiated at a major youth gathering back in March, Baker’s 29.8% represented a 21.8 percent lift from his 8.6 percent there in 2014.  It was one of his largest Boston precinct vote gains.

Sanchez, the State’s legislative budget chief, was eventually defeated, narrowly, by Nika Elugardo — to most observers a surprise result. She assaulted Sanchez for not insisting that the FY 2019 Budget include the Safe Communities Act — even though that act had no chance of passage. (More about the implications of this argument later.) Elugardo lives in Ward 19 Precinct One. It was Baker’s bleakest precinct in the entire city — 23.2 percent — yet in 2014 he won only 10 percent in it. His 13.2 percent improvement was quite weaker than his city-wide improvement — 19.5 percent, yet it more than doubled his 2014 percent there. In 2014, only 69 people in “19/1” voted for Baker. This time, 233 of “19/1” voters chose him.

The rest of Jamaica Plain’s precincts proved nearly as resistant to Baker’s persuasion. With the exception of the “Moss Hill” precinct (19/2), which Baker won — albeit by not a lot : 621 to 532, 53.8 percent to 46 — the Governor cracked 40 percent in only one precinct; in seven, he was under 30 percent. And if that’s much better than the eight to 21 percent that he won in 2014 in these precincts, it still represents a sizable vote of no confidence.

Baker’s Jamaica Plain vote fell short of the little that he won in Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, and the Amherst region : the state’s “progressive” vote base. In Somerville, 35.2; Cambridge, 34.2; Northampton, 35; greater Amherst, 32.2. There weren’t many precincts anywhere in Massachusetts where Baker won less than his Jamaica Plain percent and probably none where he polled lower than his 23.2 in Ward 19, Precinct One.

That said, Baker’s Boston vote highlights the gap between Citywide voter sentiment and that of the “progressives.” Many media got giddy about “progressive” wins in the Democratic primary, but these were few, even if Ayanna Pressley’s 59 to 41 trouncing of Congressman Mike Capuano — attributed to progressive energy — deserved every headline it got. Pressley’s win arose from much more voter discontent than among progressives — long incumbency has often been an obstacle in this “change” year.

Baker ‘s Boston vote clarifies the city’s prevailing vote opinion : reformist, but cautious; civil rights stalwart, but economically scrupulous. Call it “business reformism” if you like, or “social liberal – economic conservative, as many observers do: whichever your rubric, Boston voters once again confirmed Massachusetts’s long-standing, basic policy preferences: we’re inclusive, but we’re not tax-aholic. We’re a city of immigrants, but we’re not hell bent for confrontation with the Feds. We’re not ready to burn our political bridges or storm barricades. We trust the political process to get it right.

That’s Baker to a T. Reform without drama. Inclusion, as a principle, not a defiance. Do your job, not show out.

Baker is the epitome of an institutional man ? Well, so is Boston, as the state’s capital city, and home to one of the nation’s most powerful Mayors, an institutional city. We’re accustomed to institutional governance, institutional participation, institutional economics, institutional education, institutional finance, institutional charity, and institutional medicine. Heck, in Boston a very substantial percentage of all of us work for one of our institutions. The city’s “progressives” — and the state’s — may dislike the bulk presence and sluggish ways of institutional life, but their desire to hurry the processes strike the rest of us as a kind of Humpty Dumpty falling, and their readiness to divide the community, if need be, to get their way — witness the votes that Nika Elugardo won by attacking Sanchez on his decision to drop the un-enact-able Safe Communities Act from his proposed budget — strikes most of us as grossly irresponsible. Innovation needs to find a smarter path (and for many activist innovators, it has found one).

If the Baker Boston vote was a message for anything, it was that a Governor, and government, should do the responsible thing. Even when innovating.

It also helps that Baker is as a easy going a guy as you’ll see in high places. It doesn’t hurt to be the “selfie king” — as he is — in the era of instagram. People flat-out LIKE Charlie Baker, and he likes them. Politicians always hug babies, but for Baker, convening with kids seems a passion. He enjoys their presence. Partly that’s because he’s something of a kid himself. He’s a fan of 1970s-80s rock bands — who hasn’t seen his contributions to David Bernstein’s “song challenge” facebook posts ? — and knows his stuff. Clearly it’s not just a pose.

Combine the likable Charlie Baker with Governor Baker the master of institutional governance, and you’ve got a landslide’s worth of political good.

Nor was that all Baker had working for him in Boston. He also had political clout. In the 15 precincts that make up the Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Readville parts of Ward 18, Baker tallied 7366 to Gonzalez’s 7530. That he came close to winning Boston’s biggest and most sprawling Ward had no Republican precedent since the early 1990s, and only one like it since at least the 1970s. How did he do it ? Consider that in 2014, Baker lost these precincts to Martha Coakley 3158 to 8380, a 29 percent vote share. This time he won 49.2 percent. In some precincts he improved by 25 points and more. So I ask again, how did he do it ? He did it by having the active, vocal, door-knocking support of the entire local political establishment : State Representative Angelo Scaccia; City Councillor Tim McCarthy; Register of Deeds Stephen Murphy; and, to cap it off, the son and daughter in law of the late Mayor Tom Menino. And their entire followings.

In Boston, political support has institutional heft. You can’t get from wanting to a win without it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE MASSACHUSETTS ELECTION

Dean Tran

^ big winners in our election : State Senator Dean A. Tran (R) and State Representative-elect Tran Nguyen (D)

—- —- —-

We in Massachusetts performed an election like no other in the entire nation. An actual majority of the 2,700,000 who voted chose a Republican Governor and a Democratic Senator. I cannot think of another state in which such a decision would even be possible today.

Clearly the words “Democrat” and “Republican” mean something different to us than what they mean beyond our state. We do have our partisans, for whom these two words mean what they mean elsewhere, but for most of us, “Democrat” and “Republican” are simply two lines on a ballot, each of which is worthy of voting.

As I’ve written often, because 56 percent of Massachusetts voters belong to neither party — a percentage that increases every year — the two actual parties have to open their portals to vastly more voters than the few who work within. Openness to all being our first voting principle, a candidate can chose either of the two major parties and win an election. At least that is the logical consequence.

One obstacle stands in the way of complete electoral openness in our state : the party primary. Chiefly party members vote in them. Those who enroll in no party can vote in either one, but few do. Why should they ? In November they get their shot. The result is that party primaries in which mostly only party members participate pick the candidates whose names will appear on the November ballot. This gives the whip hand to those who view politics through partisan filter. Thus candidates who get to the November ballot don’t usually reflect the 56 percent, and openness, but the preferences of a distinct minority.

Because in Massachusetts the Democratic minority is three times larger than the Republican one, the two candidates facing  the November voter do not start off equal. The Democratic one has already been vetted by three times as many voters who vetted the Republican one. That’s an enormous handicap for a Republican November candidate to overtop. Most don’t. On Tuesday, not one Republican legislative challenger defeated a Democratic opponent, incumbent or not. Meanwhile, two Republican incumbents lost to Democratic challengers : Senator Richard Ross and State Representative Jim Lyons.

That the primary is the chief obstacle to absolute electoral openness in Massachusetts was proven by Governor Baker, who won 67 percent of the vote to Jay Gonzalez’s 33 percent, prevailing in almost every community. Baker had four years to be vetted, by all the voters, and the vetters liked what they observed and judged. The 56 percent who belong to no party voted Baker by about seven to one; he won a majority of registered Democrats. As the same voters who liked Baker also voted for Senator Warren makes clear that for almost two-thirds of our voters, party label, by itself, carries no advantage.

If political party means little to most Massachusetts voters, principles do. Our state’s voters have gateway issues on which they hold very specific views. Civil rights for all is one such. On Tuesday, the state’s Transgender civil rights law — which accords transgender people the same public accommodation rights as everybody else — was confirmed, versus repeal, by 68 percent to 32 percent. The ballot initiative won all but four towns and one city (Lawrence), and those it lost, it lost narrowly. There is but a small constituency in Massachusetts for discrimination, as for the pro-life position, and candidates who insist on the minority position do so at great risk.

Jim Lyons, a Republican who had represented North Andover, Tewksbury and part of Andover since 2010, was beaten 55 to 45 by a first time Democrat, Tran Nguyen, for his advocacy of repealing our Transgender Civil Rights law. He lost in a District in which Republicans outnumber Democrats and in which Governor Baker won over 75 percent of the vote. Can there be any clearer example of the commitment that most Massachusetts voters have to civil rights for all ? Lyons’s district is one of the most reliably Republican voting in the entire state, up and down the ballot, yet he lost convincingly even as the transgender rights law repeal he helped sponsor won his District by 60 to 40. Meanwhile Dean A. Tran, a Republican State Senator elected in a “special” early in the year,m was convincingly re-elected (32,500 to 27,500) against a strong Democratic challenger. It doesn’t hurt that Trans’ campaign manger is a transgender woman, or that he has a firm, personal support base in his district’s largest city, one in which Democrats occupy almost all the elected offices.

There are signs that the openness and consensus that have dominated Massachusetts state politics since at least 2014, and probably since 1990, may be diminishing. Governor Baker won the 67 percent in large part because the entire Democratic establishment, those who have worked with him on large amounts of reform, embraced him because he is a huge barrier to the “progressives” who loom increasingly i n the Democratic primary. The last thing regular Democrats wanted was a Governor whose political base is those “progressives.” Jay Gonzalez campaigned almost solely with “progressive” support; he espoused the entire “progressive’; agenda of higher taxes, medicare for all, and a “Safe Communities Act” which, however worthy — it would prohibit any local ore state law agency from co operating with Mr. Trump’s immigration police — would split the Democratic party and divide our electorate just as immigration has divided the nation. Unlike with civil rights, there is, in Massachusetts, no consensus for immigration reform – far from it. Regular Democrats understood that “progressives,” using Safe Communities as a “wedge issue,’ might swell challenge them in a party primary and maybe lose to them, just as Jeffrey Sanchez, appointed the state’s budget chief was beaten in  a party primary on the strength of that issue. (Nor can any regular forget the 59 to 41 defeat suffered by Congressman Mike Capuano, who would have been a Committee chiarman, by Ayanna Pressley, who will be but a freshman.)

Such challenges may well arise in 2020 — the “progressives” loathe Speaker DeLeo and frustrate over his partnership with Baker — but without a Governor Gonzalez to mobilize the power of a state-wide organization such challenges face barriers as formidable as the Eiger North Face.

That said, the “progressives’ aren’t stopping. Just the opposite. Plans are afoot to challenge legislators and Mayors, and certainly the 2020 Presidential election will give them an organizing opportunity likely to bear fruit in the 2022 mid-term elections. The politics of division foisted on us by Mr. Trump may affect only a minority of Massachusetts voters,m but it’s a passionate minority , in both directions.Even as “progressives” make inroads into Democratic primaries, so right wing ideologues impact the Republican. can we forget that the almost lunatic Trumpism of Scott Lively won 36 percent of the Republican primary vote this year ?

The media, too, stoke this new divisivenss: it gets attention and thus sells newspapers and collects “eyeballs.” It was probably no surprise that the lead about Tran Nguyen wasn’t her win but that she is of Vietnamese origin and thus gives a voice to voters who “look like her,.” This same “look like her”-ism was a big part of Ayanna Pressley’s message, and of course nationally gender identity was a major feature of media stories about the election and in campaign fund-raising. Myself, I don’t see legislating and governing as matters of what one looks like : the pens that sign new laws don’t have eyes, hair, a skin color or  national origin. But for the Instagram generation and the cult of selfie (don’t discount that Governor Baker is the Massachusetts selfie king), what one looks like is the only thing that emits drool from a political mouth. Expect more of it, not less. Even in Massachusetts.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

A LESSON IN LISTENING AND COMMUNITY

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Yesterday, at a 250-person rally at fairmount Grille in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Governor Baker gave his closing message stump speech. It was a lesson in the power of listening — in his case, to the voters. All the voters. It was also a lesson in community — its role in crafting a successful politics for our state.

This is what Baker said, at length and with much passion (I am paraphrasing at times) :

“We’ve gone to the every one of our 351 cities and towns and to the various communities — of color, Latino, LGBT, women — and we’ve listened. We’ve listened to what these communities want, and everyone in my office has done outreach to every community in the state. It’s hard work, but we hear what they want and it’s been up to us to give it.

“Haven’t we all had enough of the division ? Of each side trying to out-crazy the other ? that’s not how we roll. We’re a uniter, not a divider. A good idea is a good idea no matter which side it is said by.”

The 250 people listening to him exemplified his outreach and his unification. I saw Haitians, Latinos, African Americans, Caribbeans, LGBT, and more women than men. (Not since Ed Brooke’s time have I seen as many people of color at a Massachusetts Republican rally as at yesterday’s.) Tom Menino, Jr, son of Boston’s late Mayor, co-hosted the rally with his wife Lisa Menino. State Representative Angelo Scaccia Spoke; so did Hyde Park’s City Councillor, Tim McCarthy. Suffolk Sheriff Steve Tompkins attended. All are Democrats.

So were most of the campaign activists — many of them veterans of city and Congress campaigns — gathered in such large numbers that some had to look down upon the rally from upstairs.

Five Democratic State legislators, in addition, to Scaccia, have endorsed Baker, and at least 50 more support him even though they can’t say it publicly. But their supporters get the unspoken message: essentially, Baker is the Democratic establishment candidate for Governor. There’s a political pull to this — Baker’s opponent has married the “progressives’ who, at every point they can, are contesting establishment Democratic legislators in the party primary — but pull or no pull, Baker won this level of support by listening and more listening and by going out constantly to the 351 cities and towns and winning the trust of municipal officials — central to the support that Democratic legislators — who number 80 percent of the legislature’s total –rely on for re-election.

Even more than his — and the legislature’s — record of reforms, Baker’s outreach and his listening represent his core message.

If Baker has made community central to his message of action, what he has done is to commit his mission to the most passionate popular movement going on right now, in response to the self-containment and division imposed on us by Mr. Trump and his politics of revanche and isolation. Everywhere I see communities being created, by activists and by just folks, as people step out from behind their iPhones and engage in real life, in numbers, to reach communal peace and to innovate solutions to riddles of climate, transportation, education and inclusion. Baker hasn’t won over every community arising, but if the polls are right that he has 65 to 67 percent of the vote, he’s definitely won the trust of most. This may be why 22 Massachusetts mayors have formally endorsed him and why most of the rest support him without saying so.

That Baker spoke so pointedly and with passion may surprise those who see him as the epitome of no-drama and caution. These he is : but no one should ever assume that because he is slow to engage, he lacks ideals fervently believed. He leads by example, teaches by doing — and by what he does not do and does not say — and makes his point — anti Trump — by being, in every sort of the way, the opposite of what Mr. Trump is and presents.

The city Democrats who gathered for Baker and cheered his words and saluted huis introducers spoke very directly about why they were there : “it’s not about what party you belong to, its about getting things done,” said District Councillor Tim McCarthy. Tom Menino, Jr. said the same thing.

I have never, since he died in 2014, seen a member of the late Mayor’s family spearhead a political event, much less one for a Republican. Yet there they were, Tom Junior and his wife Lisa, co-hosting, in a neighborhood of Boston where, in 2014, Baker had no organization at all. Today he has there a large one, of all sorts of people, including every Hyde Park political leader. Listening isn’t a bad tactic for winning the trust of a community strategy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere