^ nobody in sight, in the “who cares” Boston election

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On September 24th a mere 44,972 voters bothered to  cast a ballot in this year’s City Council primary. 7,848 of those voters voted in District Five, with its eight-candidate , local fight. Which means that in eight-ninths of a 700,000 resident, 500,000 voter city, only 37,124 people bothered to vote. In some of the City’s 255 precincts only two ( 2 ) percent of the voters voted.

I may e wrong, but I cannot recall such a high number of opt-outs by Boston voters. Time was,m back in the 1970s, when I had already begun my long life as a Boston political activist, that a turnout of 27 percent (1973) was considered unacceptable. 27 percent would mean about 135,000 voters ! For comparison, in 2013, in a multi-million dollar Mayoral campaign, only 37.5 percent voted. Mayoral elections in the 1970s brought out well over 200,000 voters. South Boston used to see 9000 votes cast. Today, maybe 45400.  Charlestown once delivered 6500 votes. These days, more like 2700. In the 1983 Mayor election, more people voted in Ward 20 (West Roxbury and part of Roslindale) than voted in the 1972 Presidential race ! Today, in a City election, Ward 20 votes maybe 50 percent of its Presidential turnout.

Why his this happened ?

I have no polling firm providing me information, and you might have to ask individual voters why they did not vote last Tuesday, but I think one major development, these past decades, stands out : patronage has, by and large, disappeared from the City’s political system, along with the jobs that it accorded, and the people who lived by that system have, most of them, moved out to the South Shore and the Cape.

Having removed the overwhelming majority of patronage work from the system, all that is left to vote are the ideologically committed and people who grew up before the 1980s and were taught that voting is a duty.  These two groups  don’t amount to much, and in addition to small numbers, they have changed the tone of City Council campaigns,. name recognition, family ties, tons of personal friends, and popularity with City workers used to be the essentials for a City Council win. Today, not so much.

Turnout would probably be even lower were it not for the city worker residency requirement, which keep s many employees living in the City who otherwise would live elsewhere. i have never been a fan of telling city employees where they can or cannot live, but at least these workers provide the City an electorate different from the ideologicals.

In the 1970s the City and Suffolk County had some 30,000 employees. Add in Boston Edison’s 10,00 — jobs that in those days were often patronage — and the  families of all, and very quickly you could expect 100,000 voters. And they voted ! In that 1973 City election that I mentioned above, 99 percent — !!! — of the School Custodians voted. And they all lived in Boston, By themselves they constituted two percent of that 27 percent turnout. You can best believe that when the  Custodians union wanted something from the then elected School Committee, they were listened to.

We monitored who voted. If you didn’t vote, and asked us  for a favor, your non-voting was noted. Not surprising, then, that when a Council candidate wanted to do a city-wide mailing — in those days  candidates did their own — there was absolutely no problem getting 200 “volunteers” to show up a t a church basement or school assembly hall to “do a  mailing” for hours. Heck, those folks WANTED to be there, wanted to be SEEN there !

Try doing that today !

On election day you didn’t just ‘work a poll,” you were EXPECTED to. And you worked it and wanted to be seen working it, just as a union member wants to work a picket line and be seen working it.

Today, when union activists work a political campaign, they come to the headquarters and are signed in. That’s how it should be when you are depending on a union being strong and seen. City politics was once like that too. It isn’t t.hat any more. Today, people who work mostly work in a private sector, or have a government job hired on merit of one sort or another. They get up, clean up, go to work, come hole, do family stuff. City Hall is a place they call to get a street light fixed, if they call it at all. Nothing in their lives is bettered by anyone in City Hall.  Yes, the voters are taxpayers, and that should matter; but it doesn’t seem to. Tax paying is accepted as just another electronic deduction from your bank account, no different from the mortgage payment or the auto loan.

Back in the day, when you had to write out a check to pay the tax bill, and mail it to City hall, you felt differently, maybe.

This indifference to, or lack of relationship with, City Hall, is reflected in what voters tell at the door when you door knock. So me have issue with the school system, that’s for sure, and many complain about City streets and snow plowing; but just as many say they’re very satisfied with how things are going. Unless these voters are your family or est friend, good luck getting them to vote in a  Council election.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




The lessons that I find in last night’s results should unsettle those of us who see the issues differently from the coming majority. So what are these ?

( 1 ) Labor-oriented candidates lost to social justice and climate crisis folks. That much is clear. But there’s much more to the lesson than this. Ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s day, and to some extent before that, labor unions and government worked together to build  new, fairer America with securer jobs and higher wages, government aid, and stronger infrastructure. The GI Bill of Rights after World War II put millions through school and financed the purchase of homes. This partnership of labor and government found political expression in the Democratic party, and at times it fueled the Republican party as well. It was an immense social movement that fully engaged the immigrants, of Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Slavic stocks, in big cities all across the nation. The partnership has continued down almost to our own day.

Yet this major social and political movement has been losing force for some time. The new Boston has been  created in large part by people from elsewhere in America who come here for school and stay to work and innovate. They don’t share the immigrant traditions of “old Boston,” and they aren’t labor union kids. They’re independent minded, or they work in offices, and they draw salaries, not wages. Many are professionals — doctors, lawyers, architects, financial advisers — who work for themselves or in contract partnerships. These voters are building a political movement entirely different from the partnership of big labor and government.

( 2 ) the new workplace isn’t only a place to make money. It’s filled with moral dictates. Notices are posted, on walls or in employee handbooks, or in company mission statements, to the effect that “we are an equal opportunity employer.” In these office-work organizations, “sensitivity training” is now mandatory, in which workers are taught — required — to respect everybody’s sexual orientation, skin color, national origin, faith, disability, etc. Breach of these dictates can result in termination. The same is true for accusations of sexual harassment — a term interpreted a s broadly as possible. After all, no firm or organization wants to be known on social media as a place of “rape culture” or of “hate.”

Nothing could be more unlike the customs of workplaces in which labor unions s were formed or in which their members do a job.

( 3 ) the new workplace of dictated — preached — morality is not something new. It has been done before. In the major economic expansion that took place in Europe during the  century from 1050 to 1150, the upsurge of commercial guilds and the creation of an apprenticeship workforce was spurred by a religious revival that led to the most important reform the Papacy has ever undergone. A similar religious renewal accompanied the Industrial revolution. It was the merchant aristocracy of the North that funded Abolition of slavery and sent its sons to the Union Army, often to die, in pursuit of a moral mission. (famously, among others, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Robert Gould Shaw, of the 54th Massachusetts and the Beacon Street Shaw family.) 

( 4 ) This new movement, of commercially-based moral idealism gains strength also from the population movements accompanying it. As students from away move into Boston and stay to work, so immigrants come into our City and, as immigrants do, join the trend for job and social reasons. Most unions in the City are closed to immigrants because it’s hard to get a union job, most of which are spoken for years in advance if not decades. Thus most immigrants go to non-union jobs no matter what their skills level. (In the past two decades they’ve also fueled powerful, new unions. Notably, these new unions — Service Employees International Union and Local 26 Hotel & Hospitality Workers –have ast tended to link with the business-moralism model rather than with the old Labor Union & Government coalition. In the City primary they backed the candidates who did best, both city-wide and in some District races.) In addition, as most unions have been slow to add African-American members, for that same reason — jobs long spoken for — and as City Hall has long been staffed by the descendants of the Labor Union – Government partnership era, most of the City’s African Americans have joined the new movement of commercial moralism.

( 5 ) residents of Boston don’t just stay in the city. They move out, to the suburbs, usually in search of schools systems they have more confidence in. 40 years ago the descendants of Irish, Italian, Jewish and (some) Slavic immigrants dominated all Boston. Today, immigrants from the Caribbean, Hispanic nations, Viet Nam, the Maghreb and the Middle East, Nigeria and Albania have moved in, even as the City’s Irish, Italian, Jewish, and African-American descendants have moved away. The demographic foundations of labor Union – City Hall partnership are no longer the majority, not even close.

All of the above ranks highly in why last Alejandra St Guillen, Julia Mejia, and Michelle Wu topped labor-backed, native Bostonian Erin Murphy and David Halbert beat out Boston-born Marty Keogh city-wide and why Ricardo Arroyo edged out Maria Esdale Farrell in the District Five primary. (Different dynamics drove the result in the District Eight contest, where both the top two finishers voiced the commercial moralism theme, albeit differently from each other.) 

We can expect more of the same. This movement last year placed Ayanna Pressley atop Mike Capuano and Rachel Rollins over Greg Henning. It will not be denied.

By the way ; this movement is not by any means socialist as the Trump folks think, nor is it uniformly Democratic, as its leaders want it to be. Governor Baker last year won 49.3 percent of Boston’s vote — 65 percent in the Downtown neighborhoods where mostly new Bostonians live — and close to 40 percent of its voters of color, the same voters who gave Rachel Rollins and Ayanna Pressley 75 percent support. (Baker also had the support of the Unite Here, Hotel & Hospitality workers and benevolent neutrality from SEIU locals.) It’s a business-oriented, salaried, free-wheeling and socially directed generation that behaves like an institutional establishment, which is not surprising, because many of its people are as institutional as it gets in their thinking and connections. 

These are the lessons that i draw from last night’s results. I am personally not thrilled by it; my world is that of the labor Union partnership with government, of public service jobs and workplaces physical and constructing. I like big skyscrapers. I love the sight of rodmen walking steel beams. I like the noise and odor of factories. Suffolk Construction is the sort of firm I would love to have worked for — if I weren’t a journalist. I wanted the 2024 Olympics here. I like to see city hall guys out working a poll on election day. You are heroes all, a great bunch to down a frosty or two with after winning an election.

I also don’t like to be preached to by moralists, commercial or otherwise.

Yet I recognize that my world is passing from the scene, as are our pubs and taverns, and me soon with it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




Joe and Ed

This week Congressman Joe Kennedy III announced that would seek the US Senate seat now held by Ed Markey. Pardon me if I do not see what, purpose this contest serves.

Those who applaud it might cite as an example Ayanna Pressleys’ successful challenge of Congressman Mike Capuano. I see no similarity. Pressley’s campaign messaged radical change. The Kennedy campaign merely changes the names on the desk, office door, and pay check.

Pressley’s record since winning is the complete opposite of Capuano’s, in keeping with what she offered the voters. Capuano was a workhorse who diligently took care of details and brought targeted Federal dollars to Massachusetts for specific, infrastructure purposes. Pressley has been a human protest sign. Capuano was all working class; you could almost see him in a hard hat (and sometime she wore one, at a ground breaking of some transportation project his Washington clout helped to fund). Pressley is all upscale, business, advertising, and bill boarding — she’s as comfortable with sales slogans as she is with the high fashion clothing that is worn to business functions and awards dinners. Capuano is all street corner; like Fiorello LaGuardia before him — or Tom Menino — he’s a physical presence when speaking and a “get things done” spark plug.

No such contrast exists between Kennedy and Markey. Both are establishment Congress people. Both men work on legislation. Both are exciting speakers. They agree on almost every issue. The only difference is age. Markey is 73, Kennedy is 38. Some voters claim that being 73 is a disqualification; me, I think it a bonus. Experience brings knowledge and wisdom as well as the respect of peers.

There is, of course, another difference. Markey’s Dad was a mailman. Kennedy is a son of Massachusetts’s most famous political family. (One might also cite the Bush family, but its feet are planted in Connecticut as much as in Massachusetts.) Some observers, particularly on the radical left, accuse Kennedy of “entitlement.” (Unspoken in that indictment is the suggestion that he is especially entitled for being male in the “me too” age of ubiquitous accusation.)

Perhaps he is thus entitled. I’ll grant him the honor of his ancestry. The Kennedys have given so much to America, by so many of the family’s members. Joe as well. If his call to public service arises out of honor for his forbears, I see nothing in it but good.

What then will this campaign be about ? Campaigns with no obvious purpose tend to the purely personal. I think it will be vicious, unfair, a hurricane of sentiments vicarious and irresponsibly unleashed. I may have to vote in it; but I’m glad not to be an active part of it. My political time is worth more than expending on such a groundless street fight.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Met Hill

^ from Metropolitan Hill, all of Roslindale lies at hand and downtown looks so far away…

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Boston is a very lucky city. In addition to its downtown, it contains many of its own suburbs. Roslindale is one such. I know it well. I lived in Roslindale for 12 years and am still importantly connected to it — a linkage intensified this year as I canvass much of it on behalf of a City Council candidate. What I see in Roslindale this year has taught me a lot about smart city shaping. I say “shaping” rather than “planning” because Roslindale’s benefits to Boston weren’t anticipated by any generation of city creators. They exist nonetheless.

What are Roslindale’s lessons for the City ? Let’s try these :

( 1 ) it’s a family neighborhood, not merely a kind of dormitory for young singles. This means that Roslindale has stability. Those who live in it plan to stay, if possible, and every street has many residents who’ve lived in Roslindale their whole lives. Stability begets community, and community makes everyone in it feel safer and more at peace.

( 2 ) whence we are confronted by the singular importance of getting the school system right. People move out of Roslindale every week, almost always because they insist on the best school system for their kids, and they lack confidence that Boston’s school system offers that. Downtown’s neighborhoods of mostly young singles — regions of skyscrapers, night clubs, and trendy bistros that define “the city” for most — don’t depend upon successful public schools; but family neighborhoods do. Roslindale’s housing ranges from picket-fence single homes and huge Victorians to spacious “two-fam’s” to equally spacious three-deckers. Every bit of it is family housing, and Roslindale’s two playing fields, Healy and Fallon, bustle with kids’ activities. It’s suburban soccer mom living.

( 3 ) everyone who I meet at the door wants the same thing, regardless of their origins, skin color, native language, sexual orientation : good schools, well maintained streets, snow to be plowed, stop lights working, the trash picked up on time. Many who I meet say, when I ask them what are their concerns for a candidate to know about, that they can’t think of any; that they are satisfied. Given the quiet that I find almost everywhere in Roslindale, and the stability, I’m not surprised at all to hear this. Nor do the responses differ according to any of the identity issues raised by some politicians. Everybody wants the same thing.

( 4 ) over-development, as we see going on in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Downtown, isn’t immediate. There is some, in Roslindale Square, which on its own has characteristics of a City’s Downtown , and here and there one finds McMansions under construction on residential streets where their size jars the character; but for the most part Roslindale today looks not very unlike how it looked in 1983 hen I moved to it from Jamaica Plain.

( 5 ) what IS different is what we used to call “the melting pot.” 40 years ago Roslindale was almost uniformly Irish and Italian and Catholic. Today its’ Greek, it’s Albanian, it’s Haitian and Hispanic; it’s doctors, lawyers and chemists, it’s mental health workers and bankers and City employees and educators as well as advocacy people, of varied faiths and differing lifestyles. Customs differ, and tastes; but so it is in today’s suburbia, which is no longer the utterly milk-white, commuter universal that we grew up picturing.

( 6 ) Roslindale is a homeowner community, as is true of most suburbs, and its house prices track the median price of Boston suburban housing. Home ownership is itself a stabilizing fact, as is having sufficient income to buy and to afford. Between work, the kids, walking the dog, and neighborhood activities, people are far too busy — and too positively motivated — to bring public trouble.

Roslindale is proof that housing built for stability — for family — on streets wide enough for cars to park, and hilly enough to impose variety on the scenery has more power to shape people’s behavior than any other day by day factor. You move into Roslindale, and you soon become what Roslindale is, regardless of where you moved from. Safety also plays its part, a comfort arising from the stability that Roslindale houses impose on those who live in them. It’s not all roses, because nowhere that human beings are present is roses. But the devilries that make downtown Boston a nerve-wracking place to live or work — enormous traffic, noise, odors, parking costs, no parking at all, tall buildings blocking light, air, and views — have no claim on life in Roslindale, a suburb in a city that includes many suburbs within its expansive borders.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


annissa mike Wu

^^ our endorsees : Annissa Essaibi George; Micahel Flaherty; Michelle Wu

This year we at Here and Sphere decided to adopt another method of arriving at endorsement. Instead of just us, the founders of this blog, choosing, we asked a very diverse, City-wide group of political types, 29 in all, to give us their recommendations. Six of the 29 decided not to disclose their choices, but 23 others did so, and another person chimed in, and so we do have a result.

Our threshold for endorsement was nine votes. Only three candidates made that cut. We endorse them : Annissa Essaibi George, who had 18 votes; Michael Flaherty, who had 15; and Michelle Wu, who received the support of nine. Allo are incumbents.

Because there was no fourth endorsement, and because three candidates – all challengers– received seven votes each, we decided to “recommend” all three. They are : W E David Halbert; Alejandra St. Guillen; and Erin Murphy.

Several other candidates received votes. Martin Keogh had the support of 6; Althea Garrison, an incumbent, won 4 votes; Jeff Ross had two votes, and William King had one. I have stated that I was surprised by the result. I fully expected Julia Mejia to receive some support. What happened ? Julia is a very likeable candidate. She ought to have been in the mix, but the results are what they are.

About our endorsees

It was no surprise that the three elected incumbents received the most votes from our panel. They’re the best known. They have a record. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Michelle Wu, who is the Council’s President, just barely made the cut. I also think that Annissa Essaibi George’s 18 votes — fully three-quarters of our voting respondents — may surprise many. She hasn’t received anywhere near the amount of publicity that Wu has: but perhaps that’s to her benefit. Wu certainly gained no friends with her suggestion that residents should pay a  $ 25 fee for a resident parking sticker, and her suggestion that the T should be free, while popular with some. could not have been welcomed by taxpayers. Meanwhile Annissa Essaibi George has quietly done her job, with flexibility and discretion : her focus on improving Boston’s schools performance, on many levels, surely helped her support, because Boston’s school shortcomings are by far the issue on most voters’ minds. She also sends staffers to community meetings all across the city,a s does the Mayor. It has been duly noticed, and clearly it is appreciated. As for Wu, we endorse her for re-election, despite the criticisms made above, because it’s good to have a Councillor who is willing, in good faith, to make suggestions which, being controversial, evoke discussion

Some will be surprised that Michael Flaherty won the support of 15 of our 24 respondents. They shouldn’t be. Flaherty knows the City budget as well as any Councillor in recent memory, and during a term in which several Councillors – not only Wu — proposed stuff that either doesn’t match what the voters want, or which won’t work, or which can’t be done without legislative approval that will never happen, Flaherty steered clear. He epitomizes long-term Boston and exemplifies the wisdom and caution that serve the City far better than impulse purchasing; and his support for Governor baker, in 2014 and in 2018, has certainly been noticed by the 49 percent of Boston voters who chose Baker — also a man of caution and thoughtfulness — for a second term.

About our Recommended candidates

Halbert  Erin st guillen

^ David Halbert, Erin Murphy, Alejandra St. Guillen

Rather than being disappointed at not receiving endorsement, I think that David Halbert, Alejandra St. Guillen, and Erin Murphy should be pleased at coming very close. All three received much more support than incumbent Althea Garrison — who, to be fair, was not elected to the Council seat that she occupies because of Ayanna Pressley’s election to Congress; Garrison was the fifth place finisher in the 2017 election; almost certain ly one of these candidates will win the Council’s fourth at-Large seat. I know Halbert and St. Guillen well and like them. They’re earnest, experienced in government, and are campaigning city-wide and effectively. I am skeptical of the “progressive” agendas that they seek to represent — and in some cases I oppose it strongly; but the “progressive” wish list has sufficient support in the city to merit representation on a Council in which diversity of opinion is a must. Erin Murphy, I know less well; but her campaign emphasizes support for unions, a view which I consider crucial to the City’s economic health. We aren’t going to alleviate the housing ‘affordability:” riddle if we can’t get much higher wages for average workers. Every other method I have heard either doesn’t work, or can’t, or actually makes the problem worse. Erin Murphy definitely deserves your consideration.

A few words about the other candidates who received votes

Martin Keogh, 6 votes : Keogh has chosen this year to campaign as the voice of the traditional Bostonian, many of whom object to the Council’s “progressive” proposals, and of everyone else who objects. There’s plenty of room for such a campaign this year. Much of what the City has put in place imposes unnecessary hardships on car owners, for example, and the law enforcement disconnect between the Boston Police and the Courts, on the one hand, and the newly elected Suffolk District attorney, on the other, also creates the need for serious discussion of where do we go from here in matters of public safety. There’s probably no issue in which the City’s “progressives” differ more radically from the views of average Boston voters. I would prefer to see the opposition candidate be a person of color, because the “progressives” have made policing and prosecution a skin color issue, and Keogh is white and, heaven forbid, an Irish-American — a heritage which some “progressives” consider particularly heinous. But Keogh is the public safety candidate we’ve got. Can he garner enough support to win ? Maybe, but it won;t, be easy for him to move past all three of Halbert, Murphy, and St. Guillen.

Althea Garrison, 4 votes : she’s an incumbent, even if not by election, and she has received notice and some support, on many fronts. Some of it arises from her very conservative views on many issues. Some comes from her personal life story as a transgender.. Some comes from her refusal to raise big bucks, some from her advocacy of rent control, and some from her unflinching candor. It is highly unlikely she can win. There just isn’t enough support out there for her unusual politics. Yet she is far from being a quirk. She’ll get her vote.

It’s hard to know what to make of Jeff Ross. I know him well. He was an at-large Council candidate in 2013. His views are progressive enough, and he has plenty of campaign money and has manged to canvass much of the city. Yet the organized “progressives’ don’t seem to have embraced him. Is that because he is a white male in an era in which  the politics of skin color and gender seem gateway matters to so many on the left ? Or is it that Ross is a gentle soul, with a more or less academic, ruffled look far from the Instagram glamour that seems as much a part of the Left’s politics as skin color and gender ? The Instagram Generation is fond of calling its idols “queen” and “king.” no one will ever call the modest, soft-spoken Ross a “king.” I am, of course, here speculating. I could well be wrong about why Ross is in the position he is in. Frankly, he deserves better than he seems to be getting.

William King, 1 vote : the one respondent who recommended King said this about him :  The other guy I recommended, William King, has ideas for improving community-based policing, and education.  I have never met William King, though I see many of his lawn signs in some parts of the City. I’m not sure what community-based policing means, but it’s never a bad thing for the city’s police department to involve the community in its work.

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So there you have it. You can follow our endorsements and recommendations, or you can differ from them, it’s your right. The one thing that I do urge you, however, is to vote. To me, it’s an obligation. Americans fought and died to assure that you have the right to vote. Honor them by going to your polling placer on September 24th and casting your vote for up to four  at-large City Council candidates.

—- Mike Freedberg / for the edditors, Here and Sphere